December 24, 1918 – November 17, 2002
I’m grazing through Taizan Maezumi Roshi’s book, Appreciate Your Life. Straightforward. Uncluttered. Opening the book to random pages, I find clusters of sentences and paragraphs that have me pause, put down the book, and reflect.
Our life as the Way itself is what gives value to our lineage.
Today is my father’s birthday. Christmas was a three-ring celebratory circus in our home because December 26 is my daughter’s birthday. Through my childhood and into adulthood, we would start the season with a midnight feast for Dad’s birthday, followed by opening presents, and general mayhem that lasted into the early hours of Christmas Day itself. This became very convenient when my brother and I developed relationships that extended the family. We never had those unenviable battles about whose home would be featured in the annual Christmas dinner bun-toss. When the Kid came along, it became a bit more complicated. But we managed. Midnight feast, lie around the next day, and dive into the birthday cake on the 26th, Boxing Day in Canada.
We are not just blindly believing in something; we raise such faith in the Way and make it work as our life. What is handed down to us? What is most precious?
After Dad passed away, the season seemed like a wonky three-legged bar-stool. It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years already. His things still clutter up my study; the silver cigarette holder, fountain pens (Parker only!), tennis trophies – physical evidence of his attachments. The stuff of his life also clutters up my studies: love of good literature, fierce devotion, and incessant playfulness. And the dark side: unpredictable pessimism, cold intractable withdrawal, and mercurial responses.
What is the vital and warm blood that runs through ourselves and through the lives of the buddhas and ancestors? What IS the living essence of the lineage?
I’ve valued my heritage as he did. His mother was a devout Buddhist who, in marrying his Catholic father, had to agree that her children would be raised Catholic. My father became a devout Catholic whose faith sustained him through 60 years of marriage and his last five years of cancer treatments and recurrences. His mother being the dragon lady of the family nevertheless saw to it that his legacy would be an intermingling of both faiths. So, she took me into her charge, a move that one could only call “guerrilla re-conversion.”
Please take care of this most important matter.
Maezumi Roshi’s words caught me by surprise as I gazed out over the sun-jewelled ocean. It is (also) my life as the Way which gives value to my lineage because in the bloodline* I am connected back to the source; it is not just a linear flow from Buddha through my teacher to me. The authenticity with which I live my life infuses my lineage with genuineness. The strength of my practice empowers my lineage to carry the weight of transformation. The bloodline flows in a circle beginning with our original nature and through all its forms – father, mother, children, friends, colleagues, all beings – and closes the circle back in our true self.
The lineage is simply this one circle… It is complete.
Thank you for practicing,
– and Happy Birthday, Dad. I hope you don’t mind if I take your share of the monstrous pig marzipan – again!
*When a zen student takes the precepts or jukai, the student prepares a lineage chart which starts with a circle representing the Buddha and then weaves through the names of teachers in the lineage who preceded the student. The second-to-last name is the student’s teacher and the last is the student’s name. Then the red line continues back to the Buddha, closing the circle of the Way.