March 6, 2012

by Norman Fischer | March 06, 2012 at 4:45 PM

Lately i have been thinking about the past, the long long past. Each life comes out of it, and, at the end, each life returns to it. When you forget this - when you think your life is just your own little life - you can feel very lonely and lost. But when you remember it, your life takes on a great weight and a great meaning. You do what you do not only for your life but for the lives that have gone before and for the lives that will come. This means we all live in deep time.

In Japan, where the Soto Zen practice is really warn and intense and full, practice is mostly for the past. Temples are established to honor the ancestors - Buddhist ancestors as well as parents and grandparents. And are preserved for hundreds of years. I remember a Kurosawa movie (the one with Richard Gere in it, about survivors of Hiroshima as old people, remembering that horror). There's a scene in the film - anyway as I remember it - in which two old ladies are sitting in a very small temple in the middle of a grassy field. Wind is blowing the grasses. The women are chanting the Heart Sutra. One of the most beautiful moments in cinema I have ever seen. As if the power of the past - as it lives in the present - were depicted directly.

In the West, where we have so little sense of the power and importance of tradition, we are practicing for ourselves and for now. That's good. Probably it's no good to practice for the past and only for the past. But also it's no good to practice for now and only for now. What now? Is there any such thing as now?

The older I get the more I appreciate my parents, my grandparents, and the many generations that have gone before. And the more I appreciate my teachers, and their teachers, and the teachers who have gone before. The Dharma is a precious thing. It's not for us - we experience it for a minute, and then we pass it on to others who will experience it for a minute and pass it on. It's the passing on, in time, through time, as time (the Dharma may be nothing other than time) that really counts. That counts now, as we live this life with its full power.


Norman Fischer