the ministry of presence

April 21st, 2022

All evil karma ever committed by me since of old,
On account of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all.

It can be unnerving to come across this verse, which is routinely chanted in Zen ceremonies when we take precepts, or vows, and as part of the monthly ritual of atonement called Fusatsu. Gone are the sweetness and light, the fairy dust and moonbeams that might first attract us to Buddhism. Things suddenly take a serious turn. Evil? But I’m a nice person. Karma? It wasn’t my fault! Ignorant? Who are you calling ignorant?

The verse is not a confession of sin or an admission of wrongdoing. It is a statement of responsibility. I can make my life whole, and only I can do it. In performing atonement, we acknowledge the suffering caused by our own ignorant view of ourselves as separate from the world we inhabit. Our ignorance of the truth gives rise to greed and anger. The verse serves the same purpose as all Zen chants, which is to transport us beyond the self-centered view that judges, blames, sets boundaries, destroys peace, and splinters the world into opposing sides — our egocentric mind. It affirms the aspect of ourselves that is eternally present, selfless, generous, patient, and compassionate — our Buddha mind.

The voice that speaks these words has the power to stop suffering in its tracks. It has the ability to instantly restore harmony simply by invoking it now. It is an awesome responsibility, but it only takes an instant.

New dharma talk: Love Without Ending
If you listen to the talk, you might also be interested in:
Richard Powers, novelist  
Julian of Norwich
Benedictine hospitality
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash


  1. Thanks for posting your talks again. Naughty Benedictines made me laugh.

    Comment by Ralph — April 24, 2022 @ 7:48 am

  2. Your words are a halo around you. Like a stone thrown into the pond, it’s ripples eventually dissipate, requiring someone to throw in another one. But you are no more a saint than the rest of us. “Every word you speak is you.” We suffer, but not as much as others. I hear this voice all the time. Gathering with you in Fusatsu is one of life’s necessities, under the same tree. Thanks for helping us all understand. Larry M

    Comment by Larry — April 24, 2022 @ 8:14 am

  3. Echos are amazing. Each one the first.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 24, 2022 @ 9:26 am

  4. Rediscovering sometimes leaves me blinking, refocusing on something/one/conduit i lost sight of. Refound you from an older archived space of my life. In the moment i needed these words. I read once that atonement can be read as at-one-ment. Its in action in my life rn, thank you for clarifying my path with your words. 💓

    Comment by amiee — May 17, 2022 @ 9:20 pm

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