A brief report from our first Eco-Dharma vows ceremony on March 12, 2016.
At the end of Ecosattva training organized by One Earth Sangha, many members of Ecodharma sangha participated in a voluntary vows ceremony to mark our aspirations as ecosattvas. The ceremony was led by David Chernikoff who was one of the two Buddhist teachers whose workshop led to the formation of this group in the summer of 2013. There were a total of 16 participants in the ceremony with six present as compassionate witnesses. Everyone was invited to contribute a small sacred object to a group shrine which was marked by a print of Bodhisattva Gyanin and slogan “Embody Fierce Compassion” that was handmade by One Earth Sangha before New York’s Climate March in 2014. David led an opening circle where everyone had the chance to share what led them to participate in the Eco-Dharma vows ceremony.
Refuge in community: After the chanting of the three refuges, David spotlighted the word, “saranam,” whose meaning can be translated as “reliable, or reliability”. This world that is so very fragile, impermanent, and uncertain, that it is helpful for us to reflect upon things that can be grounding, that we can trust or rest in. As we know, one of these reliable refuges is Sangha, and that this ceremony was a reflection of that truth. Being in community is the most natural and effective way for us to develop spiritually. Our innate compassion comes to life as we experience together our shared connection and common journey, our ‘inter-being’.
Importance of vows: In his short dharma talk based on Zen teacher Chozen Bays book ” The vow-powered life”, David explained a vow as a kind of spiritual GPS that can channel our intent into action and can be the expression of one’s heart’s deepest core values. He invited us to consider, “What is the unique way the Universe wants to work through me for the well being of all and where does my joy intersect with the need of community.”
The talk included a beautiful poem “To be of Use” by Marge Piercy (The pitcher cries for water to carry; and a person for work that is real) and a Martha Graham quote – “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.“
Collective aspirations: Following the talk, we all took the following collective vows “In my commitment to healing the earth and the living beings who inhabit it:
I vow to be aware of suffering and to work for the end of suffering.
I vow to do the inner practice that transforms my actions into awakened activity.
I vow to take refuge in and collaborate with the community of those who value social justice and the affirmation of life.
I vow to act with true compassion, whatever form that may take, and to remember the interdependent web that unites us all.
I vow to give of myself as completely as I’m able while recognizing and respecting my own limitations.
I vow to celebrate the path of service as an invitation to live with integrity and joy.”
Personal Vows: Our personal vows reflected how and what each of us had seen in the mirror for days and weeks before this ceremony. Some vows were very specific and some were general. Some of us stated vows that covered all three pillars of Eco-Dharma movement as symbolized by our group’s new logo. One can learn more about the three pillars by clicking here. Some vows, especially those related to our personal physical or psycho-spiritual resilience, were deeply personal. Everyone that we have heard from since the ceremony has shared that it was both a profoundly moving as well as joyous to experience the vulnerability while sharing such personal aspirations. We trust that ultimately allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and seeking each other’s support will be tremendously empowering for us as a community.
Seeking and receiving support: After stating our personal vows, each of us had the chance to ask everyone present for specific or general support that will help us meet our vows. Once we had stated our needs, the group was invited to respond to what we were seeking and in effect stating their aspiration to support us. This was the most moving part of the afternoon for me. Irrespective of the exact nature and content of our individual vows, each of us asked for deep and sincere friendships to be able to fulfill our vows. We were asking for buddies, gentle non-judgmental reminders, connection and mindfulness. This part of the ceremony truly reflected why communities are crucial for building a transformative Eco-Dharma movement.
We consider it crucial to have periodic follow up gatherings and to check-in with this first cohort of vow-takers how we can help each other stay true to our vows.