I Swore, I Fought, I Lied
All of the ancient twisted karma
From beginning-less greed, hatred and ignorance
Born of my body, mouth and thought
I now confess openly and fully.
~ Purification, PZI’s Texts and Service
A couple of weeks ago, as we chanted the above verse, which is included in our traditional book of sutras, I felt my old Catholic angst rise, as it usually does when we do Purification. Granted, transgression and forgiveness are deeply embedded in most religious traditions. But why in Zen do we feel the need to confess all our ancient twisted karma?
I think Purification is less about wiping out sins and more about about reiterating that we are vulnerable and imperfect members of our community, of the world community. And that itself is perfection.
‘Bless me Father, for I have sinned: I swore, I fought, and I lied.’ It was May of my seventh year, and I was practicing to myself my lines for my First Confession, which proceeded the First Communion. Father McLaughlin, a crusty old Irish priest, was sitting in the Confessional, which was bracketed by two small closets with kneeling benches.
I was toward the end of the line of dozen second graders, each one only taking a few minutes. I went into the darkened room, and could hear he was quietly talking to the little girl on the opposite side. Her panel closed and mine opened, and in the faint light I could see his silhouette.
I had been told was my cue: ‘Bless me Father, for I have sinned…’ Father McLaughlin gave me three Hail Mary’s and two Our Father’s to say as penance, along with the admonition to stop fighting with my brothers and to always obey my parents.
In the intervening years, I have grown into those sins, and more. How could it be otherwise, entering the world fully? All of the ancient twisted karma, I now confess openly and fully.