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Lions Roar : March 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 87 THERE IS LITTLE OF THE BUDDHIST LITURGY or ritual that I find indispensable. I still follow a daily pattern of chanting the Heart Sutra, a Litany to Avalokitesvara, the Three Refuges, and the Bodhisattva Vows, along with the traditional bowing and ringing of the gong. I can’t tell you why I continue to do so. I think I once had reasons, but I’ve forgotten what the reasons were if I had any. I no longer ask why I’m doing any of this or feel any need to know. I just do what I was once taught to do, although none of it feels essential. It’s ironic that the one element of Buddhist liturgy that I do find indispensable is not among those I observe daily. I entered the path of Zen because I was weary of the hurt and pain I had somehow managed to cause myself and others, and I thought that Zen might help me stop. The truth is I felt guilty. Old wrongs of mine would rise up in memory, events of sometimes forty or fif- ty years earlier, and I would cringe at the recollection, feeling lost beyond the possibility of forgiveness. It puzzles me what sorts of memories come to haunt me in this way, seemingly minor lapses in kindness that might seem insignificant to others but somehow loom large among the things I wish I hadn’t done. One incident that returns to trouble me occurred fifty-three years ago. A draftee, I was stationed at the Presidio, an impres- sive waterfront military base in the heart of San Francisco, on my way to an assignment overseas. While there I met Malaya, a Filipina woman of thirty years or so who had lost a husband through separation or death. I never bothered to find out which, though she spoke of him often. We liked each other and spent a lot of time together. Neither of us had much money, so we took walks along the waterfront and sat at benches in the park. I sometimes took advantage of the privilege of including a guest at the Presidio mess hall in order to save us the cost of a meal, and Malaya got us in to free movies at a theatre where she worked shifts at the ticket counter. When we felt like treat- ing ourselves, we’d share a steaming bowl of cioppino at a little North Beach restaurant, sitting together at the counter with paper bibs strung about our necks and wiping our hands on terry-cloth towels still warm from the dryer. Malaya had two prominent gold fillings that flashed in the light when she smiled or laughed. My buddies at the Presidio who’d seen me with her kidded me about this and wondered if I was “getting any.” “I’m not,” I told them truthfully. “We’re just friends.” Malaya rented a small room in Pacific Heights and at length told me she was allowed visitors in her room and I could be the first. She hadn’t had any “visitors” at all for a long time, she LIN JENSEN is senior Buddhist chaplain at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, California, and founder and teacher emeritus of the Chico Zen Sangha. He is the author of Bad Dog! and the forthcoming Pavement: Reflections on Mercy, Activism, and Doing “Nothing” for Peace (Wisdom Publications, March 2007). Ten Thousand Mistakes The Buddhist liturgy of confession and contrition helps Lin Jensen to soften his guilt over long-ago insults, misdeeds, and lovers spurned. Through it he glimpses the vast and beginningless stream of karma into which we all are cast. ILLUSTRATIONSBYKATHERINESTREETER