Monday, July 31, 2017


by Elihu Genmyo Smith

Gatha of Atonement:

All harmful actions ever committed by me since of old,
All harmful actions ever committed to me since of old,
On account of beginingless greed, anger and ignorance,
Born of body, mouth and thought,
Now I acknowledge and am at-one with them all.

Doing the Gatha of Atonement, we can reflect on this “harm.” Most people much of the time do not intend to harm. And when we feel harmed by others, much of the time it is likely the others do not intend to harm us.

“Harm” is one way of translating the original kanji/ideogram, which can also be translated as “evil” or “evil karma” - “all evil karma ever committed by me.” For various reasons the phrase “evil karma” is not as useful for us because of cultural and language connotations, even confusions, about “evil” and “karma.”

What is harm, what is harming? Where does harming come from? Harm is important to clarify, since most of us, most humans most of the time, do not intend to harm. Yet harm occurs.

Harm and harming are the consequence of “I want,” “I don’t want,” “I like”, “I don’t like.” While we often use like and dislikes, want and don’t want, as a way to enhance and enrich our self, to protect or add to our life, there are effects from holding and entangling in them that inevitably arise - and those effects are often disastrous to our well-being and to that of all with whom we share life. It is not the likes, dislikes, want, don’t want that are the issue but our sticking to them, our reacting out of them, or what follows along when they do or do not get “fulfilled.” Out of sticking to self-centeredness like, dislike, want, don’t want in the midst of ongoing change, in holding to that and entangling in that, comes frustration, disappointment, blindness, anger, greed and fear in self-centered actions and reactions. Holding to this is suffering harming. The practice principles refer to this in the phrases “caught in self-centered dream, holding to self-centered thought.”

As Dogen Zenji says, “Self advancing and confirming the ten thousand things is delusion.” This “self advancing” is harm arising - and this is why “non-harming”, “not doing evil,” is the first of the pure precepts.

In working with harming as a practice opportunity, in doing the Gatha of Atonement, doing atonement with body-mouth-thought, there can be transmuting from the habit of “I want”, from trying to make someone something into something “else”, from trying to change something to fit our wants. Experiencing supports and nurtures transforming these habits of “following reactions” into experiencing right here perfection, being “all-right” here as is, and “then”, so-to-speak, doing what is appropriate, even skillfully “improving” perfection.

Being this universe - this moment universe confirming self - is enlightenment, to paraphrase Dogen; experiencing, even experiencing frustration disappointment. Even experiencing “having harmed” or “having been harmed” – which is the doing atonement opportunity. This is acknowledging being “at-one”, being not-two. Experientially digesting this moment reveals the wisdom of the present at-one moment universe that is our life. And this allows us to reveal our life as wisdom, functioning this moment, manifesting compassion life this moment.

Atoning allows and supports us in noticing how and where we believe and hold beliefs that we have harmed, that we are or have been harmed. And this sensitizes us to our actions and reactions which might harm, which have harmed. What to do when we discover this? What to do when we notice this? This is our zazening opportunity, our practice effort. Please reflect upon this, please work with this as your life.

Because this moment is so, including the “having been harmed” and even “having harmed,” this is the opportunity effort of atoning, of at-oneing – experiencing and working with thoughts emotions of wanting, not wanting, and all the sequela of that, all the consequences of that for “self” and “other.” This is transforming and revealing this universe at-one-moment arising-passing – and discovering that wanting, not-wanting, do not have to become a cudgel for us to bang self and others with suffering and harming.

“Now” is the arising passing of harming and being harmed, from beginningless past - and now is the opportunity of atoning in acknowledging and being at-one with harming and having been harmed, of doing atonement and being done by atonement.

Being, experiencing this moment, includes experiencing frustration, experiencing pain and suffering, when those arise - the willingness to experience whatever arises, whether so-called what we want or so-called what we don’t want. This is our life-entrance, body-mind willingness to be fear, be what we fear makes us vulnerable.

The alternative to acknowledging at-one-ment is holding to and believing harming and being harmed. Believing harming and being harmed, we engage in volleys of harming-being-harmed with self and others, engage in this so easily and reactively when we and they volley “I want, I don’t want” (and all sorts of variations; “I want, I don’t want” is just a short hand, so don’t get stuck on want, don’t want, there are all sorts of other ways to articulate that). However we say it or act on it, the practice choice is whether we get caught in it, hold to it, or whether we notice it - and in experiencing this moment refrain from acting it out.

If we cling to and continue the beginingless harming and being harmed personally in our life moment-moment, then we know that harming will flourish, suffering will be nourished.

Even if the “harming” comes from someone else, we have the opportunity to not volley it back to them - and maybe even to transform both “my” harming and “their” harming. Zazening, responding out of experiencing, is allowing this moment wisdom that is the universe life right now, zazening - willingly noticing and experiencing arising of “I want, I don't want” and other variations such as, “I am, I am not, I shouldn't, I should, I was done to, I did.” If unnoticed, somehow harm trails these along, trails holding to likes, dislikes, wanting, not-wanting, should have, shouldn't have, they should, should not - even if we don't "want to harm".

Observing “desires” arising, in being non-knowing experiencing, we are able to clarify and not be at the effect of them. Experiencing digests experience – this is atoning at-one-ment.

© 2017 Elihu Genmyo Smith