I have been reflecting on the gifts of “ancestors” and the fleeting nature of life—mine and those around me. My father recently celebrated his 88th birthday, I am the age at which both of my grandfather’s died, a close friend suddenly died after a very brief illness just last month, and three of my beloved students were recently diagnosed with cancer within a few weeks of each other. Time passes swiftly. As the Tibetan teachers like to say, “Death is real. The only question is how and when we will die.”
I feel immense gratitude for the wonderful people who have helped shape who I am. If we are honest and generous, we can all name people we would designate as worthy role models or ancestors. These are the people we have learned from; people who saw something in us and encouraged us; individuals we may have never met but whose work profoundly influenced our decisions about ourselves and our lives. I am blessed to have had some wonderful ancestors several of whom are honored with pictures resting on my personal altar.
As I reflected on the beauty and power of ancestors I scanned my bookshelf to see if I could identify some of the very first books I bought as a young man, when I was hungry for wisdom and guidance. I came upon the classic, On Becoming a Person, by Carl Rogers. Published in 1961, I obtained my copy about ten years later. The title intrigued me at the time. I was naive and longed for wisdom and guidance I could trust. I was curious, looking for direction. Now, over forty years later, as I re-read some of this amazing book I discover the seeds of the dharma that were planted in me by this man I never met and who would not have thought of himself necessarily as a Buddhist. I was particularly taken by the very first chapter—“This is Me: Some Significant Learnings”. Rogers presents these learnings as a list which I have included below along with a few brief notes of my own. There is much more about this in the Inquiry recording at the end of this post.
This is Me: Some Significant Learnings
“I speak as a person, from a context of personal experience and personal learnings.”
- In my relationships…I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not.
- Suzuki Roshi would say, “When you are you, Buddha is Buddha.”
- I find I am more effective when I can listen acceptantly to myself, and can be myself.
- Zazen is our ongoing enactment of listening acceptantly.
- I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand another person.
- Step aside from the self-centered dream and open to another.
- I have found it enriching to open channels whereby others can communicate their feelings, their private perceptual worlds, to me.
- In this I hear echoes of the Bodhisattva Vows in which one is committed to the freedom and well-being of the other.
- I have found it highly rewarding when I can accept another person.
- The deepest nourishment comes from accepting another, not necessarily being accepted.
- The more I am open to the realities in me and in the other person, the less do I find myself wishing to rush in to “fix things.”
- In Zen we say, “Nothing is wrong and nothing is missing.”
- I can trust my experience.
- In Zen we say, “Just this is it.” This moment, this body, this experience. This where we awaken.
- Evaluation by others is not a guide for me.
- A quote from Sojun Mel Weitzman of the Berkeley Zen Center: “Our job is to not take offense, even when it is meant.”
- Experience is, for me, the highest authority.
- We chant, “Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher.”
- I enjoy the discovery of order in experience.
- The dharma is everywhere because that is the definition of dharma—THIS! NOW! HERE!
- The facts are friendly.
- The Zen teacher John Tarrant says: “There are no circumstance under which it is wise to refuse life.” We turn toward each moment, rejecting nothing.
- What is most personal is most general.
- We enter the universal by being intimate with the particular. Suzuki Roshi would say, “Doing one thing completely is enlightenment.”
- It has been my experience that persons have a basically positive direction.
- Awakening is our direction. Our nature is that of a Buddha.
- Life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed.
- Inter-being and impermanence are the core teachings of the Buddha.
Samsara is being caught in reactivity. Nirvana is freedom from reactivity.