In this passing moment

by Hogen Bays

Original Language English

"In the presence of Sangha, in the light of Dharma,
in oneness with Buddha -- may my path
to complete enlightenment benefit everyone!"

In this passing moment karma ripens
and all things come to be.
I vow to choose what is:
If there is cost, I choose to pay.
If there is need, I choose to give.
If there is pain, I choose to feel.
If there is sorrow, I choose to grieve.
When burning -- I choose heat.
When calm -- I choose peace.
When starving -- I choose hunger.
When happy -- I choose joy.
Whom I encounter, I choose to meet.
What I shoulder, I choose to bear.
When it is my death, I choose to die.
Where this takes me, I choose to go.
Being with what is -- I respond to what is.

This life is as real as a dream;
the one who knows it cannot be found;
and, truth is not a thing -- Therefore I vow
to choose THIS dharma entrance gate!
May all Buddhas and Wise Ones
help me live this vow.

-- from The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

There's something both delightful and deeply challenging about this vow poem.

The entire poem is summed up at the beginning:

I vow to choose what is

You would think the unavoidable nature of “what is” makes a statement like this meaningless, but the human mind is not entirely sane. It often chooses fantasy and imaginings, shoulds and coulds, possibilities and even impossibilities over what is. Very few of us truly dwell in reality. Rarely do we fully experience the moments of our lives.

What is it that we are straining for as we constantly lean away from “what is”? What do we think is missing that we need? We don't need someone else's life. We don't need a perfect marriage, better finances, or a better place in society. We don't even need to be a saint living in the mountains. What's missing is ourselves. What we really need is to stand in our own shoes, to be utterly ourselves. We need that missing ingredient—being present. We need to live, with honesty and an open heart, the life that already moves through us.

When starving--I choose hunger.
When happy--I choose joy.

When we are hungry, can we choose anything other than hunger? When happy, isn't joy automatic? The truth is that we constantly choose. Ask yourself, how often do we really sit with our hunger and sorrow? How often do we allow ourselves to dance with the joy bubbling up inside us? How often do we notice these things at all?

The power of a practice like Zen is that it defines the human journey, not as escape, but as coming home, of settling into ourselves and being present with the present. It challenges us to actually live the moment that continuously arrives and passes and renews itself.

By making this journey to “what is,” we finally meet ourselves and learn what this amazing thing is that we call life, with all its rich, joyful, painful, and transitory beauty.
May all Buddhas and Wise Ones help me live this vow.

Recommended Books: Hogen Bays

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Morning Dewdrops of the Mind: Teachings of a Contemporary Zen Master Path to Bodhidharma

In this passing