Brian Lesage displays on how we will honor previous and future generations of Buddhist practitioners by bringing the spirit of providing into our on a regular basis observe.
Lately, I turned inquisitive about what it could have been prefer to observe the dharma within the early days of the custom.
In these days, a big facet of the dharma path was preservation and transmission of the Buddha’s direct teachings. Practitioners who took on this work had been almost certainly monastics. Within the first 500 years following the Buddha’s dying, the teachings had been transmitted orally. This meant that practitioners memorized the Buddha’s spoken directions, reflections, tales, and conversations, after which recited and chanted them. A subsequent technology of practitioners heard these remembered variations of the teachings, memorized them, and in flip handed them alongside to following generations, who did the identical, directly creating and preserving the custom.
How huge the trail is — a lot bigger than my very own quick life.
Following the primary 500 years of oral transmission, preservation of the teachings through written recording additionally turned a observe. In lots of locations, this turned a standardized course of, as strictly maintained as memorizing, reciting, and chanting. In Sri Lanka, for instance, the teachings had been written in Pali, one of many early scriptural languages of Buddhism. Monks gathered leaves of the ola palm, dried them, and cured them in a way that made it doable to etch the teachings into them with knives. As soon as the leaves had been etched, the monks stained them after which dried them once more, so as each to make the textual content extra legible and protect the leaves.
But even after this painstaking course of, the ola palm leaves wouldn’t survive lengthy in Sri Lanka’s tropical local weather — probably for now not than six months or a yr or two. In consequence, the method can be repeated nearly instantly — and naturally there have been many teachings to report. Thus, even because the written report got here into being, memorization additionally continued, as a sort of insurance coverage. Memorizing and writing the texts had been carried on proper alongside meditating, moral conduct, and the observe of generosity, compassion, and kindness. When first taking this in, I questioned what would have been the inclinations in such practitioners’ hearts? How did the oral and written practices of transmission inform their notions of what it means to observe the dharma?
Think about the spirit of the impulse behind such a observe. What wouldn’t it really feel prefer to have that as a big a part of one’s path and observe, together with the practices that we discover as up to date practitioners?
Had I been a monk etching palm leaves with teachings I knew by coronary heart and recited and chanted day by day of my life, would I’ve imagined that I used to be making an providing to an unlimited multitude of future practitioners? Would I’ve held that in my coronary heart and been sustained by it in each motion I took? And this can be a sense not solely of future practitioners. To make such an providing, should I not even have in my coronary heart the reminiscence of all of the practitioners who over generations have made the providing to me?
From this angle, how huge the trail is, a lot bigger than my very own quick life. Greater than an historical custom intertwined with a distant previous, additionally it is in service of uncountable future generations.
Now I questioned, what wouldn’t it be like, as a practitioner in my time and place, to observe compassion or kindness from day after day with this huge sense of providing? What may I expertise if I obtained up each morning and meditated with it on my cushion? What wouldn’t it do to me, to intertwine that immensely broad sense of providing with my every day routines? What would happen in my observe, if I stepped with it into this huge internet, a lot bigger than myself alone?
These questions turned extra compelling once I encountered one other story like that of the Sri Lankan palm leaf observe, one which additionally evoked in me the huge sense of providing. About 2000 years in the past, in an space known as Gandhara — now an space of jap Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan — a gaggle of practitioners etched some early Buddhist texts onto birchbark scrolls and positioned them into clay pots. In 1994, these pots turned up in an antiquities market in Peshawar and had been handed into the fingers of students. Not solely have they knowledgeable our mental understanding of Buddhism, however they’ve additionally supplied additional historic context for Buddhist observe. These fragile clay pots, stuffed with much more fragile birchbark etchings — this practically miraculous discovery — are the fabric proof of minds and hearts stuffed with an unlimited compassion and generosity, grounded within the observe of transmission.
Imagining these Gandharan practitioners evokes in my coronary heart a extra sensible query of my observe. What do I need to provide to this world for future generations? What message-in-a-bottle do I need to ship alongside, nonetheless fragile it could be? Or, what actions may I or any of us in our Buddhist communities provide now to be carried ahead? Perhaps it may be so simple as providing a toddler a secure place to sleep tonight or making ready a meal for a good friend or member of the family. Perhaps it might be letting one other driver merge in a visitors jam. Or possibly we may attempt one thing a little bit tougher, equivalent to discovering the braveness to talk out about social injustices or preserving silent when phrases can solely make a scenario worse.
What’s going to we place for the longer term in our clay pots, totally conscious that the majority of these messages will probably be misplaced, disintegrated lengthy earlier than they could have reached the center of one other? I’m exploring the potential for partaking with this spirit of providing in my on a regular basis observe. What’s going to that really feel like? I got here to the dharma as the results of many circumstances, some of the potent and first of which was that life was troublesome for me. I used to be having a tough time and observe was all about my life and bettering it.
There was nothing fallacious with that. But now that I’ve realized a little bit about easing my very own troubles, I’m able to open to a broader sense of observe. This is a vital reflection — not just for me however for anybody searching for to deepen their observe or to grow to be extra balanced — partly due to how mindfulness in our trendy period can get located.
Our dharma paths are sometimes diminished to at least one observe of mindfulness, which is then considered in very slim phrases. We meditate and develop focus to deal with our nervousness or melancholy, or to free ourselves from our worrying minds. Then meditation turns into only one extra facet of our every day well being regimens. An individual will get some train, brushes their tooth, remembers to floss, eat their greens, and sure, meditates. What occurs? They’ve a wholesome physique and thoughts. That’s nice? And to be completely clear, I’m down with this mind-set. I do all this stuff in my every day life.
And but if that is all there may be to my life, properly, that feels fairly slim. So, I ask the query: Is that this a worthwhile life? I’m born. I brush my tooth. I don’t get cavities, after which I die.
In these easiest moments of consciousness, I etch the dharma onto the bark and protect it for future generations.
Nevertheless it feels very totally different for me once I increase the sense of what it means to observe. I really feel as if I’m coming into into the vastness of the dharma once I think about my meditation on this second as etching a type of palm leaves or birchbark scrolls: fragile, ephemeral, and nearly sure to be misplaced — and but such a strong reward in honor of previous and future generations. So, sure, we will meditate to scale back our worries and to enhance our life. And, on the similar time, we will observe with the spirit of providing, acknowledging what we now have acquired from previous generations.
It’s also necessary to affirm that our principally secular trendy Perception Meditation custom arose from this spirit. Within the late nineteenth century, there was an enormous surge of lay practitioners in Myanmar and what’s now Sri Lanka. Individuals in these locations started to have interaction in meditation and different dharma actions that had been normally reserved for monastics. They studied and went on retreat, and typically they turned way more concerned in native Buddhist traditions.
The spirit of this motion was totally different from most trendy, Western practices of Perception Meditation. At the moment, there was concern for the way colonization was demolishing the cultures of those international locations and their observe of Buddhism. Lay observe was a method of preventing colonization. Its intention might be articulated as, “After I observe, I’m enabling the survival of Buddhism for future generations. On this method, I honor previous generations of practitioners who provided this reward to me.”
This appears easy, however additionally it is true that in this time, Buddhism’s relationship to colonization and colonized methods of pondering was troubled and sophisticated. However however, the surge in lay observe was, a minimum of partly, in the identical spirit of connecting with and honoring previous and future generations because the observe of memorizing the Buddha’s teachings and, again and again, etching them onto palm leaves.
The which means of the providing is identical when it’s we who convey its spirit to our practices, even on days when our lives really feel like full disasters. We is likely to be scuffling with monetary or employment issues, or with well being points, or going through challenges inside household relationships or friendships. However we’re all the time capable of salvage moments of observe or mindfulness, to put them into our metaphorical clay pots, honoring previous practitioners and serving to to protect the trail for future generations. In and of itself this providing has energy to uplift our hearts within the midst of most hardships.
That is one thing to recollect in odd moments. I is likely to be rescuing a spider trapped in a tub, pausing at a visitors mild and reconnecting with my breath, or texting a good friend who has suffered a loss. In these easiest moments of consciousness, I etch the dharma onto the bark and protect it for future generations. And when the dharma is shifting by, immediately there may be a lot much less of me, and on the similar time, the sensation that I’m starting to completely arrive into the vastness of the dharma.