As a Westerner who has benefited immeasurably from the Buddha’s teachings, I want to take this opportunity to thank all my brothers and sisters from the East who have kept these teachings alive, expanded on them, and carried them West. What a treasure trove of gifts the Buddha and his descendants have left us! Born into a wisdom-drenched atmosphere of mendicants who, just outside the palace gates, roamed the forests in search of the ultimate teaching, Siddhartha Gautama realized that the search for answers to the causes of suffering was the most important use of his precious life. He was innovative and brilliant, pushing the cultural envelope as far as he could, given the cultural climate of his time. Bucking social norms, he included women and “untouchables” in his sangha. There is more work to be done here, but the Buddha, a wise activist, pushed as far as he could without breaking his young sangha. He understood that evolution is incremental.
The Buddha’s teachings and practices have informed all areas of my life. The basic wisdom of mindfulness brought me into the present moment when I was not fully inhabiting my body or my life. The examination of suffering, no-self, and impermanence helped to align me and create less resistance to the way life operates. The practice of vipassana saw me through pregnancy, mothering, divorce, and illness. It helped me navigate these challenges with much more buoyancy than I could have had without this practice. I was lifted up by the beauty of koans after my father died, brought to sanity by shikantaza, just-sitting meditation, when illness made my life small, and had my heart broadened and opened by tonglen, the practice of giving and receiving, and the lojong teachings, the Tibetan practice of bringing meditation into each moment of everyday life. In my 50-plus years of study and practice, I have never run out of ways to grow through these practices. My life is living proof that the Buddha’s teachings are profoundly useful to today’s householders.
These teachings have never stop evolving. They are living, growing structures, as alive and relevant today as they were when the Buddha walked the Earth. In each era, and within each culture, challenges present themselves in various ways. But the impulses of greed, hatred, and delusion, which create the challenges, are essentially the same all over the globe. The antidotes, generosity, love, and wisdom, are also universal. Practitioners in each era and culture rise up to translate core Buddhist teachings, rendering them useful to people living in their own time, atmosphere, using their own languages and customs. Translating and transmitting the teachings is a creative process. The goal is for the wisdom to remain accurate while becoming more relatable to each culture and time period. The translator is challenged to interpret the Buddha’s wisdom into the contemporary vernacular while staying true to the core teaching.
So, thank you to all past, present, and future traveling monks from Korea, India, Taiwan, Japan, Tibet, Vietnam, China, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and other Eastern countries. Thank you for leaving the comfort of your familiar surroundings in order to bring these teachings to foreign lands. Thank you to the translators who spread the teachings far and wide, into homes across the world, where anyone with an interest can access the wisdom of the Abhidhamma, the sutras, koans, chod practice, silent illumination, and all of the other brilliant teachings. Thank you to the Westerners who traveled afar, bringing back the concept of personal awakening to Judeo-Christian cultures, and the tools and inspiration to move in that direction. A deep bow to all of you for your sacrifices and sincerity. You have enabled me and many others to awaken at home.
As the shadow of authoritarianism sweeps the globe, and free speech and action are threatened and stifled, it is good to remember that our greatest freedom, the freedom to move closer and closer to awakening, can never be taken from us. We face many challenges now, with many more to come. More than ever we need wise support as we move into the world to ease suffering. How fortunate that we have the Buddha’s teachings to ground us. Stories of ancestors who have also traversed dangerous territories open us up to thinking positively as we, too, traverse our own unknown territories. The wise council of all the buddhas help keep us buoyant as we walk through this bone-field together.