Aug 30 2019

Hogen Bays – In this passing moment

Published by at 7:38 am under Poetry

In this passing moment
by Hogen Bays

“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


/ Image by Agustin Ruiz /

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


Hogen Bays

United States (Contemporary)
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Hogen Bays is co-abbot of the Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon.

More poetry by Hogen Bays

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Hogen Bays – In this passing moment”

  1. Annaon 30 Aug 2019 at 9:52 am

    Good reminder, Ivan, with the poem as well with your commentary.

    Oh, this time I promise and vow I won’t take a counter point and completely agree with your saying:

    “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.”

    …with a pinch of salt, as a basic ingredient – to know ourselves …

    Always love Zen poems, haikus and koans. Very often when sat to eat, remind to myself the great Zen saying and smile:

    “When I am hungry , I eat, and when I am tired, I sleep”

  2. Ivan M. Grangeron 30 Aug 2019 at 10:18 am

    Oh, I think a little counter point and disagreement can be a good thing… 🙂

  3. Carol Burnson 30 Aug 2019 at 11:37 am

    Thank you Ivan for posting this beautiful, comforting, and challenging poem.
    I suppose I read it back when I received The Longing in Between. So good to have
    it refreshed. Needed that wisdom now.

  4. steveon 30 Aug 2019 at 12:10 pm

    the PRACTICE of ZEN
    is that it defines the human journey,
    not as escape ..
    love this , rings true.feels true
    so clear AND simple.
    yes

  5. Annaon 31 Aug 2019 at 4:57 am

    Hi Ivan again,

    Today I re-read this so timing poem as well your commentary.
    I was contemplating upon your words:

    “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.”

    I realised, that right before to get completely insane, I made my vow to choose “What is”.

    And remembered one of my favourite before Zen sayings:

    “Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters.
    When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters.
    But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest.
    For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains,
    and waters once again as waters.”

    – Ching-yuan

    Now mountains are again mountains and waters are again waters!
    What a relief!
    Now I am at rest!

    Thank you and I hope it will help to other people too…at the right time and in the right moment.

  6. Elaon 31 Aug 2019 at 10:49 am

    there are as many paths in the
    world as many minds,

    we all want to share our views,

    if we come across a view which
    strikes us right we like to adopt that,
    if we have an open mind.

    we like to learn about the various
    religious leaders and also
    different religions of the world,

    there arise many questions
    in our minds about life, death,
    joy, sorrow, bondages, salvation etc.

    if fortunately one finds the answers
    obviously it is good that
    others may also be
    benefitted.

  7. Elaon 31 Aug 2019 at 6:59 pm

    if there had not been sun
    there would not have been the world and

    if there had not been elevated souls
    there had not been enlightenment and

    if the creation is so much top class then
    how much lovely and beautiful
    must be the Creator !

    all the divine spiritual intellects
    remind us only of that most
    Superb Soul !!

    if divine lights are
    praised and worshiped then
    why not we must sing the
    unlimited praises of
    that Power House !!!

    why not we must listen and
    imbibe His directions and
    replace this tarnished world with a
    new blissful world !!!!

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