Excerpted from a recent episode of Life As It Is, Tricycle’s monthly podcast hosted by James Shaheen and Sharon Salzberg. Listen to the full conversation here.
Every Buddhist tradition that I’ve studied talks about lineage. Every teacher will talk about their teacher and their teacher’s teacher and their teacher’s teacher’s teacher, going all the way back to the Buddha. We talk about lineage to honor the people that came before us and to have gratitude for them. But lineage also connects us to all these other beings and reminds us that we’re not alone. There are a lot of others who have gone before us, they will in the future, and they are right now.
That was very inspiring to me when I first started studying Buddhism. Then I realized that we all have a lineage, even if we’re not Buddhist. Our lineage is all the people that have supported us, all the animals that have supported us, and the earth that has supported us. You can even go back to before you were born. There were very likely people who helped your mother while she was pregnant: medical providers, family, and friends. People probably opened doors for her. This lineage continued when we were kids. People taught us how to walk and to read. And even if our families weren’t so great, there were teachers and strangers and friends.
When you start to review that lineage, you can realize that it continues today. A lot of beings are supporting us, and we’re supporting a lot of beings. Our lineage can remind us that we aren’t going through this alone. We can ask for help, and people will come out and help us.
[This happened to me] soon after my mom died. My mom and I had a terrible relationship, and when she died, I thought I would be relieved, or at least I wouldn’t be so affected. But her death was very, very affecting. For about six months to a year afterward, I was really, really struggling. My mind was very unsteady, and I really didn’t know what to do at times.
A Tibetan teacher once told me, “When you’re in trouble, you can just call on the buddhas because that’s their job. They’ll come. They’ll help you.” It seemed so silly, and I didn’t really believe that sort of thing. But, one day, I was feeling so hopeless, and I thought, “Alright, buddhas, if you’re here, I really need some help.” I was on my way to an appointment with a therapist. When I walked out of the subway, I encountered a street vendor who said to me, “Hey, are you OK? Can I give you a cup of tea?” And he did. Then someone else smiled at me, and then I got a text from my oldest friend saying, “I’m thinking of you. Are you OK?” And then, of course, I got to my therapist’s office.
I still continue to believe that that’s what’s meant by the buddhas, at least today. That’s how they’re manifesting. They’re from each other, from us. They’re all here right now. And we can ask for that help and really tap into it.
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