Talks by Sr. Madeleine Seikai Tacy, OP, Sensei
Some Reflections on the Gatha of Repentance
Sr. Madeleine Seikai Tacy, OP sensei
All evil karma ever committed by me since of old,
On account of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance
Born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all.
Before each of our sittings we chant this gatha of repentance. And, if it is like other chants and/or prayers we seldom pay attention to what we are saying. We may in fact be busy wondering why the chanter is off key or whether we are really filled with greed, anger, and ignorance. In addition, there is the issue of whether the body and the thought are capable of committing anything. And finally, how does one atone, fix, or make up for what has happened in the past. And so, these are some thoughts on what is usually referred to as the three poisons, greed, anger, and ignorance.
Buddhism is not the only way of life that has a list of what stand in the way of our being whole individuals who live in harmony with their surroundings, people, institutions, and society in general. Christianity also has a list of seven such obstacles to spiritual growth and maturity. This list is referred to as the Capital sins pride, avarice, envy, wrath, sloth or acedia, gluttony, and lust that are seen as the roots of other sins. As you can see both lists are composed of the same issues, one is just longer than the other.
In iconography greed is portrayed as a rooster. Basically, greed includes attachments, lust, gluttony and is a going toward some object, person, or place that will fill our wildest dreams. It is a running towards something. This is portrayed in the gospel accounts of Jesus coming out of the desert after fasting for 40 days and being presented with opportunity to fill all of his with needs. He is challenged to fill his needs to pleasure with food, to prestige by jumping off the temple, and to power by worshipping his tempter. He came out of the desert experience knowing there is nothing to chase after. Each of us needs to look seriously at what we chase after since with greed as part of our life there is never enough of anything be it money, friends, praise, power, vanilla ice cream, or something as simple as “my collection of teacups or baseball cards.” The emotional push is the same. I want, I want, I want. The sad part is that what I want is always perceived as just over the horizon. There is never any thought that what will finally make me happy is right in front of me.
In iconography anger is portrayed as a snake. Unlike greed which pushes us toward something, anger is a running away from what threatens us, from what we perceive as a threat. It is an aversion, a hatred, that frequently gets work out through aggression. There is a feeling that I will lose my status in society, at work, and in my social circle. It is whatever I believe is going to ruin my life. So, I exclude those who are different from me because they may want my job, or my money, or my “stuff.” As a running away there is never a time to ask, where am I going and what am I running from. Anger, hatred, and vengeance are allowed to fester as protection. This attitude is exemplified in the rewrite of the 23 Psalm, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil because I am the biggest bully in the valley.” I basically build a wall around myself, my way of life, and my possessions and need the energy from anger to continue to run away.
In iconography ignorance is portrayed as a pig. If there is a root cause to anger and greed it is ignorance. Ignorance comes in different forms. There is simple ignorance, the result of not being educated. There is invincible ignorance as seen in “I’ve made up my mind so confuse me with the facts” and there is ignorance born of not being aware of what is going on or the reality of life. Everything seems to be fine and it is going to stay that way. It is the inability to live with “not knowing.” Unfortunately, coming to terms with not knowing is difficult and can be considered a kind of blindness in the sense we fail to see the reality of life. This separates us from understanding we are part of a greater
Zen Meditation and Practice, Instruction, Spiritual Development