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Living by Vow: PMZC Winter 2021 Class

Six Thursdays 6:30 - 8:00 pm beginning Feb. 4

Offered by Reverend Chikyo Ryunin Ewan Magie


We will study and practice with Shohaku Okamura Roshi’s book Living By Vow. Each week, after zazen, we will chant these together to start our evening class session. Ideally, each of us can incorporate these chants into our daily and weekly practice.


This class at Prairie Mountain Zen Center will be online via Zoom for any interested practitioners. It takes the place of our usual Thursday evening practice for these weeks. Zazen begins at 6:30 pm and the class runs from 7-8pm. Each week there will be brief presentation followed by group sharing to keep classes interactive.


Texts: Living By Vow by Shohaku Okamura. Red Cedar Zen Chant Book

Week 1: Living By Vow: The Four Bodhisattva VowsHere the way unfolds.


Shohaku Okamura Roshi begins his book with a wonderful Preface and Introduction. These frame our understanding of what he calls “Living By Vow.” In addition, they reveal the roots of Mahayana Buddhism as well as Okamura’s own teachers, the very different approaches they took, and how they influence us today.


Week 2: Awakening to Incompleteness: The Verse of RepentanceAll My Ancient Twisted Karma.


Chapter 2 in Okamura’s book focuses on the interdependence of Repentance and Vow. While some of us may hesitate to practice this chant, given our backgrounds in Western culture, practicing together helps us loosen our grip on the self and understand it helps us in our practicing of letting go and helping all beings.


Week 3: Final Shelter: The Verse of the Three RefugesGiving Oneself to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

Chapter 3 is titled Final Shelter and focuses on the practice of Taking Refuge. Again and again we chant the refuges, yet Okamura Roshi helps us see the depths and breadths of this fundamental practice-orientation. In his final moments, Eihei Dogen drew the three characters, hung the scroll on a pillar, and circumnavigated them while chanting his final breaths.


Week 4: Cultivating the Virtuous Field: The Robe ChantWrapping Ourselves in Practice.


Dogen Zenji brought the Robe Chant back to Japan from his sojourn in China. Today we wrap ourselves in Buddha’s Robe every day; it is a fundamental reminder of our practice-orientation we chant each morning, helping us care for and save all beings.

Week 5: Sound of Emptiness: The Heart SutraFar Beyond Inverted Views.

The Heart Sutra is the fundamental expression of the Emptiness Teachings in Mahayana Buddhism. Okamura Roshi himself confesses his own confusion and incomprehension upon first reading this sutra as a young college student. We will study how Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva of Compassion instructs us and Shariputra on the emptiness of the five skandhas.

Week 6: All is One, One is All: The Merging of Difference and UnityPracticing with Absolute and Relative.


Chapter 6 focuses on Zen Ancestor Shitou’s The Merging of Difference and Unity, a fundamental text that engages our study of the Absolute and Relative, a profound aspect of Zen training. Just as the Heart Sutra encourages us to let go of self, this sutra helps us let go completely, even to let go enlightenment.

Concluding Remark: Incorporating liturgy into our personal practice enhances our vows to embody the Bodhisattva Way. Ideally, we chant them together in morning service at the zendo. However, each of us can engage these Zen chants at home as a way to deepen our experience of Zen practice. Learning by ourselves and with others helps nurture the Bodhisattva spirit within each of us, manifesting wisdom and compassion amongst all beings in the ten directions.

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