There is a verse chanted by Zen Buddhists called the “Four Great Vows.” The first line goes: “Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them.” Shujo muhen seigando. It’s a bit daunting to announce this intention—aloud—to the universe daily. This vow stalked me for several years and finally pounced: I realized that I had vowed to let the sentient beings save me. In a similar way, the precept against taking life, against causing harm, doesn’t stop in the negative. It is urging us to give life, to undo harm.

Those who attain some ultimate understanding of these things are called “Buddhas,” which means “awakened ones.” The word is connected to the English verb “to bud.”…

The test of the pudding is in the eating. It narrows down to a look at the conduct that is entwined with food. At mealtime (seated on the floor in lines) the Zen monks chant:

We wash our bowls in this water
It has the flavor of ambrosial dew
We offer it to all demons and spirits
May all be filled and satisfied
Om macula sai svaha

And several other verses. These superstitious-sounding old ritual formulas are never mentioned in lectures, but they are at the very heart of the teaching. Their import is older than Buddhism or any of the world religions. They are part of the first and last practice of the wild: Grace.