As a final study hall post from me, something from Shohaku Okamura's newly-published Living by Vow, which I was naturally excited to pick up at the bookstore a couple of weeks ago:
"Usually, taking a vow is like making a promise: if we don't keep it, we feel bad, or fear that we might be punished. But vow in Buddism is not like that. It's not something we do with our intellect or shallow emotion. We vow toward the Buddha, toward something absolute and infinite. As a bodhisattva, we can never say, 'I have achieved all vows'. We cannot be proud of our achievements, because in comparison to the infinite, anything we achieve is insignificant. Each of us has different capabilities of course. If we cannot do very much, we practice just a little. There is no reason for us to feel small or to say we're sorry. We just try to be right there with this body and mind and move forward one step or half a step. This is our practice in a concrete sense.
Katagiri Roshi used the expression 'living in vow' because it sounds natural in English. I like 'living by vow', perhaps because D.T. Suzuki has this expression in his book Living by Zen. In the Japanese translation of this book, he says something like, 'All living beings are living in Zen, but only human beings can live by Zen'. Saying that all living beings - dogs, cats, plants, flowers - are living in Zen doesn't mean they abide in meditation or samadhi, but rather that they are living the reality of life as it is, or tathata in Sanskrit. Everything lives in the reality of life, in Zen; but only human beings have to make a conscious effort to do so. We devote ourselves to the study and practice of Zen, and consciously live by Zen. As Suzuki says, only human beings do this, but that doesn't mean we are superior to other beings. Because of our doubts and delusions we cannot simply live in reality. We have to consciously return to reality and make an effort to live on that basis."