by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Part XX
One Calls, One Replies

One calls and one replies; one points and one appears: this means 'no deliberate thought; no natural thought:'--THIS IS YOUR REAL LORD.

--Great Master Keizan, Denkoroku ("The Transmission of the Light")

The Origin of a True Vow

A genuine spiritual vow is a response of willingness to a call from the Eternal.

The call from the Eternal is Love reaching out to that which is of Itself. Our longing, and then our willingness, is elicited by the call from the Eternal. For there is nothing within us that is not of the Eternal.

Rev. Master said, "Before we longed for the Eternal, the Eternal longed for us." Yet Infinite Love does not insist on love: the Eternal waits for our response of willingness with limitless patience.

In this very lifetime, we have the opportunity to shepherd a load of spiritual need back to the Eternal. In a genuine spiritual vow, we sign up for shepherding service.


The Eternal asks us whether we are willing to do the shepherding. But the Eternal does not show us what we will be getting ourselves into if we say, "Yes!"

We say 'Yes!' and do not know
Where our willingness will go.


Anyone who responds "Yes!" to the Eternal's call is in for many surprises: it is the great adventure of the spirit. Of course, continuing on in the way of the world also has some surprises, but its basic character is well-established and can be seen in the expectations and disappointments, striving and anguished self-reproach, killing and being killed, births and deaths that make up every karmic stream.

Gradually, in an educational process spanning lifetimes, a seed of enlightenment works its way up through layers of ignorance until, one day, an heir to this legacy of longing and grief awakens to the truth that the the wheel of suffering will roll on and on into the future without end unless someone stops it. Thus, while the person who says "Yes!" to the call from the Eternal cannot know what lies ahead, he has some sense of what would lie ahead if he ignores the Eternal's call.

The Reluctant Bodhisattva

"All Bodhisattvas, when converted to the Truth for the first time, search therefor, but their minds are hard and set and cannot be broken."--This statement, recited by the ordaining master to the new disciple during the monastic ordination ceremony in Soto Zen Buddhism, aptly conveys the dilemma of the "reluctant Bodhisattva"--the person who has begun to awaken to the truth that worldly life is an endless round of suffering, but who clings to the familiar--and above all to his own opinion of himself-- and resists the call that draws him into the Unknown.

It is not infrequently the master's unpleasant job to pry the disciple's fingers loose from their tight grip on the familiar. Yet, as a verse in the Bible says, "God loves a cheerful giver," and sooner or later each person must freely choose to let go--or freely choose to not let go. We are a reluctant Bodhisattva when we choose to not let go. We are a willing Bodhisattva when we choose to let go and fall looking up into the Unknown.

We can be a reluctant Bodhisattva one day and a willing Bodhisattva the next; a willing Bodhisattva one moment and a reluctant Bodhisattva the next. There is no enduring self that has the quality of "reluctance" or the quality of "willingness;" there is no permanent state of being mired in reluctance and no permanent attainment of willingness. From hour to hour and day to day, we choose to say "Yes" or "No" to the call of the Eternal.

Therefore, it is always a mistake to underestimate our own capacity, or the capacity of any other being, to hear and respond to the Eternal's call. The hard and set mind of the most reluctant Bodhisattva can dissolve in an instant into unconditional willingness.

The Vow that Takes Us

Where did that initial "Yes!" come from?--Even if it was colored by old habits, old emotions, and old opinons it came from a deep Place within us.

One day--and always when we least expect it--the old habits, old emotions and old opinions are not in the way. Great Master Dogen calls this "body and mind dropping away." Then the Real Vow surges up and bursts forth in a great "YES!" Who called?--Was it not the Eternal?--Who answered?--Was it not the Buddha Nature Itself through the vehicle of body and mind?

We take the Precepts to heart, and one day the One Precept takes us.

Far Away and Nearby

I think it is worth reading the chapter in How to Grow a Lotus Blossom entitled "The Spirit Rises to Greet the Lord" (Plates XXVII-XXIX; first edition, Plates XV-XVI) with the above discussion in mind.

Spiritual experiences of great depth and clarity show the meaning of more seemingly mundane, yet genuine, experiences. Every time self is out of the way and we respond in reflexive willingness to the call of the Eternal, That which is of the Eternal rises to greet the Lord. The unselfconscious willingness to undertake that which needs to be done--that which is good to do--partakes of this rising, as does the unaffected expression of gratitude and the quiet and completely private welling-up of love--love for the Eternal and love for all that is of the Eternal.

Appearances can be very deceptive. When we are trudging through darkness and confusion, we may feel as if the Eternal is a million miles away. Yet when a single beam of light pierces that darkness for a moment, we see that That which seemed to be so remote is right beside us. Its call is a call of Love; the response that it elicits is a response of Love. And That from which the response originates is very nearby indeed, for It is our own wonderful True Nature.

High amidst the floating clouds
One who has realized the Truth
Rises up to the Lord at dawn.


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