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Barbara O'Brien

Atonement

By September 18, 2013

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Still looking at Master Dogen's Vow -- the last post was on the third paragraph, and now I want to go back to the second --

Past negative actions accumulate and cause the arising of many obstacles to the practice of the Way.
May all Buddhas and Ancestors who have realized the Way extend their compassion and free us from these karmic effects, allowing us to practice without hindrance.
May they share with us their boundless compassion, and fill the universe with the virtue of their enlightened teaching.

The last post reflected on Dogen's understanding of past, present and future, and of Buddhas and Ancestors. The important point is that these things are not really separate from us and from our present moment. So when we call upon the Buddhas and Ancestors for help, we are not trying to dredge some Holy Other Beings out of a deep abyss of time. They are already here.

I want to say something about "past negative actions." This is a big sticking spot for a lot of us, I'm sure. We may bounce from blaming others, or blaming "bad luck," to beating ourselves up over boneheaded things we've done.  Neither extreme is helpful.

While fully acknowledging past negative actions, we can do so with compassion and forgiveness toward ourselves. We are imperfect; we have limitations. In this way, the old, negative stuff can drop away.

Just a quick note about atonement -- which seems fitting, since we've just passed Yom Kippur -- the word atonement in general usage means "reparation," but at etymology dictionary tells me it originally meant "the condition of being at one with others."  Literally, at-one-ment. So, as we reflect, take time to consider how both denial and guilt separate us from others. Seek at-one-ment.

Comments
September 19, 2013 at 11:21 am
(1) Hein says:

With all due respect to Master Dogen; (and I accept that he might be repeating what he studied in China) the principles of atonement was already said some 500 years earlier by Master Huineng. What Master Dogen is stating is contained in chapter 6 of the Platform Sutra. But the principle of atonement remains important feature of Buddhist (and particularly Zen/Ch’an). Without atonement the practice and understanding karma is futile. Atonement seems to be about confession of past ‘sins’ (wrongs) and “to reinvent oneself in the future” so said Master Huineng. This is where Master Huineng gave the Four Great Vows; ‘I promise to deliver all out-growths of the self-mind,. I promise to cut off all afflictions on the self-mind. I promise to learn the doctrine of self-nature. I promise to attain the supreme way of the Buddha’.

September 19, 2013 at 5:03 pm
(2) Barbara O'Brien says:

Hein — of course atonement was important before Dogen. I never said otherwise. I’m just pointing to this particular text because it’s something I’m working with at the moment and I thought others might enjoy it.

Huineng was Dogen’s dharma ancestor. Go re-read the “Buddhas and Ancestors” post.

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