I Kinda Vow

Illustration by Andre Slob

Genine Lentine has been thinking about her murky relationship to the bodhisattva precepts, which are renewed monthly during the traditional full moon ceremony. The result is her humorous and perhaps more realistic “half moon ceremony.”

Click here to read an introduction to the ceremony, provided by the author.

Click here to listen to a segment from a Skit Night performance from last fall at SFZC City Center, as Rev. Paul Haller leads the “assembly” in chanting Vows 4, 5, and 6. (Links open in new window.)


Hālf my ancient twisted kārma

From well-nigh beginningless greed, hāte and delūsion,

Born through bōdy, speech and mind

I now kīnd of avōw.

Grave precepts

[Doshi reads each vow, and the assembly recites the vow

in response]


I vow not to kill.

Well, except when it comes to some very smāll,

very icky, perhaps sentient, but nevertheless very īcky,

very tiny, very nūmerous beings, beings who walk on food sūrfaces,

or crawl on my skīn, especially those beings whose bītes line up

     in thrēēs—

I made the mistake of gōōgling these bēings

I mēan, have you seen pīctures of those beings on the īnternēt?

Here, I’ll shōw you, do you want to look at some nōw?



I vow not to tāke what is not given,

but just to bōrrow it, or ōnly take it if I think

the person who ōwns it would have said, tāke it

if they’d been there, or if they had sō much

they’d never nōtice the little bit I tōōk.

Okāy, also, I should sāy in a.m. service, I have stolen glānces.

I have held my gāze well above 45 degrēēs.

I have in fact, held my gāze at 60 or even 70 degrēēs,

I have, I will tēll you, held such a glānce

far lōnger than would be requīred

for finding my place in a rōw.

Using service to chēck people ōūt

is decīdedly lēss than whōlesome

but some people dō look mad hōt in their rōbes.



I vow not to misuse sexuālity?

Um, misūse sexuālity? Trūst me,

you won’t find me misūsing ānything,

if you know what I mēān. Ask anyōne.

But okay, I’m giving the six-month rūle a spīn.

Six dāys is more like it, but I’m doing my bēst.

I tell myself: Penetrātion—only that of wisdom,

only that of rea lizātion, like a long summer rāīn,

that kind of warm august rāīn

when you’re out walking bārefoot in grāss,

and the āir is just shy of līquid,

and the mist is so fīne, and so deep, and so slōw,

you don’t even notice you’re wēt

until you’re sōaked, until your white drēss,

your very thin, very sheer, white drēss

is just drēnched and clīngs to your bōdy.

I ask myself, When the dhārma soaks your drēss

Can you then ever really take such a dress ōff?

I say to myself, Arōūsal: ōnly that of the bōdhi-mīnd.

But sometimes, nothing more than a shādow

passing through my ōwn, cast onto the zendo wāll,

can bring on a shūdder—or a sleeve brushing my bare ārm,

or in a very quiet zendo, the sound of a cērtain person’s brēāthing,

is quite mōre than enough, so māybe after āll,

six mōnths won’t be so lōng.



I vow to refrain from false speech.

Speech is just too pōtent and prēcious to be rēckless with it. L.Ō.L.

Thus, I would nēver, under āny circumstance, tilt the trūth,

ēven a little, and espēcially, not on the tēnken pād.



I totally vow to refrāin from abusing intoxicants.

Sēriously. I mean, abūse this excellent būd?

That would just be wrōng.

Plus, Dūde, is using it when I need it, abūsing it?

Have you ever had super harsh insōmnia?

Also my back is whācked, I got a card.

I keep it chīll. I don’t ōverdo it.

Like when Lūke and me were driving out to Mād River Beach?

and he just totally cāshed the bowl,

vacuūmed it, did not hand it to me ōnce,

and I’m like, Dūde!

and he’s like, Whāt?

Fīre up another one, he says,

and so I pull off of Old Arcāta Road,

and as the whēels turn onto the grāvel it’s just freakin’ wēīrd

because my favorite sōng is on

and it’s rīght at that point, you know

where Kūrt says, a mosquīto, my libīdo,

the most āwesome part of the most āwesome song,

and at that exāct mōment this huge dēēr leaps out

right in front of the car and Luke is like, Dūde!

You almost kīlled that buck. And right then I was just all līke,

I haven’t had one hīt off that bōwl

and I’m just feeling how prēcious everything is

and this hum, like, my legs, are shāking

and these rays of light just, I kid you not, pōūr out of my body,

and Lūke’s looking out the front wīndow,

and he’s all, This is my mom’s truck, J, watch your drīving,

and I’m like, Friēnd, Friend, Friēnd, you know I lōve your mother.

And he’s all, I’m sōrry man,

and I’m all, No wōrries,

and—Wait, wait, wait, what was the quēstion?



I vow not to slānder, but to gossip mīndfully about juicy tīdbīts.

Grānted, haphazard talk is corrōsive,

But once in the gāītan, I was standing behind a pērson,

—I won’t say his nāme here nōw—

and he stepped into the zēndo with the fōōt

fārthest awāy from the doorframe,

and I raised this with my prāctice leader, and with hīs,

complained about it to my rōōmmate, and we both rolled our ēyes

as if to say, of cōūrse,

and in small group I brought it up without mēntioning his nāme.

I was just trying to hēlp his practice, but I would be ly ̄ing

if I didn’t say it was also because this gūy

really wōrks my nērve.



I vow not to praise sēlf at the expense of others.

If only other pēople would follow my exāmple on this!

Oh this one’s vēry up for me right nōw in my prāctice.

I’ve been prācticing with this one a lōt recently.

Not praising self at the expense of others. It’s a bīg one,

but you know I take it as an opportūnity

to really lōōk and see what’s going on for mē.

What’s coming up for me at the moment around this,

in my interāctions with ōthers,

is how when my needs aren’t being mēt,

and I make a request, and it’s simply not hēārd,

instead of just being able to take this up with the pērson,

what I’ll usually do is take it ōn and make it my own prōblem,

but then I’ll just vent with my pārtner about the whōle thīng.

I’m really looking at this clōsely and prācticing with it,

seeing, what if I just try āsking for what I nēēd with the person.

And then anōther thing I noticed when I lōōked at it

is that I’m more likely to praise ōthers at the expense of sēlf.

I was telling my friend from outsīde about this

but she couldn’t hēar what I was sāying.

She doesn’t understand things like Ī do.

But then, shē hasn’t been prācticing as long as I hāve.



I vow not to be avarīcious.

That’s why if there are only three cōōkies

in the smāll kitchen, I figure it isn’t enōūgh

for everyone, so I think in sūch a case, īsn’t it bētter

if I just hāve them mysēlf

so no one ēlse will suffer from wānting them?



I’m āll about not harboring ill will,

It’s fine, rēālly. It’s not a prōblem.

I accēpt it. Some. things. you. just. hāve to. lēt. gō.



I vow not to abūse the Three Treasures.

Sure, I’m bāsically on board with this one.

Abūse sex, I get it. Abūse drugs, okay.

But how dō you abuse the Three Treasures?

Am I mīssing something?

Should I try it once just to knōw what I’m giving up?

I’m not totally clēār on what I’m actually vowing to dō

or um, not do, but come ōn, I’m all for it.

I mean, what I’m all for, is nōt abusing them.

It’s the Three Trēasures we’re tālking about!

Count me in, I mean, or out, you know, of abūsing them,

but for sure, I vow not to abūse The Three Treasures,

whatēver that mēāns.



Thus on this half-moon midafternōōn,

at this time that is ōtherwise perfect for nāpping,

though we cannot yet see the mōōn in its fūllness,

we know it is there, in the shādow,

we’re at least pretty sūre it’s thēre—

let’s say we can go to the bānk on its being thēre,


Let us, thus, this āfternoon, tolerate the brōken,

the irrēgular, the flāwed, the not so swīft,

the not nearly quīte all thēre yet, the best guēss,

that which we just bārely manage to mūster, the half-āsterisked,

through āll world systems, to the unborn nature of all be˜ı˜ng.

Genine Lentine is a poet and author of the chapbooks Mr. Worthington’s Beautiful Experiments on Splashes and Poses: An Essay Drawn from the Model. She teaches an ongoing Sunday writing workshop at the San Francisco Zen Center, where she was recently artist-in-residence.