Tuesday, October 9, 2012

mumbling about lineage

For a variety of reasons, "lineage" has been on my mind for the last couple of days. In Buddhism, "lineage" is used as a means of talking about who or what came before -- the teachers and teachings in Buddhism that fill in a tableau which might bring a wider credibility to a statement like, "I am a Buddhist" or even just the word "Buddhism."

Anyway, I have been on a memory bender for the last couple of days. That is what old farts do while young sprouts yawn. As an O.F., the best I can figure is to let 'er rip when memory comes calling ... it's the best way to get over the current dyspepsia... sooooooo.....

Lineage is just the past masquerading in the present. The tricky part is that there is no past any more than there is a present. I too have literally wept for the kindnesses of my Buddhist lineage, but the tears have always fallen in the present... which 'became' past, which 'is' my lineage. The authentication of the present through the use of the past makes very good sense in one sense. Some even choose to make a religion out of it ... others may use it as an excuse or explanation. Either way, looking-back deserves looking-at, I think. No one is likely to be able to nail this Jell-O to the wall, but still....

Last night, in the course of remembering, I found myself utterly delighted with a bit of my own lineage. It was an odd feeling somehow, being pleased as punch with something so mundane. But there it was -- I was pleased with what I had lived and how I had lived it.

There was a time around age 30 when I fell ass over appetite in love with spiritual stuff. The stuff happened to be Hindu Vedanta, but that's not so important. The important part was the love. Each morning, I would get up at 4:30 or earlier in order to read one book or another before I had to get to work at 7:30. I read, I marveled, I underlined passages, I dog-eared pages that offered important insights ... I ... wallowed. Every page, every insight, was a blessing. The men and women I read about, the holy texts that dotted the way ... all of it left me gasping with delight or raised my curiosity level still further. This was holy stuff and I snuggled down as a child might snuggle in its mother's arms.

It was holy.

And like all holiness, it was something or someone else that was holy. Text or teacher ... it was all 'out there,' beckoning and bright and delightful. I might as well have been a love-struck teenager sitting in algebra class wondering wildly how I might get closer to the girl sitting two desks ahead of me. I read and read and read some more until one day....

One day, it was like putting my wet fingers in a light socket. Suddenly, after what I once calculated was something like 500,000 pages worth of reading, the thought rose up like a sea monster and would not be tamed: "If they [all those monks and nuns and sages and bits of scriptural wisdom] could do it, then so could I." I was aghast at my own presumptuousness: Holiness requires a sense that something or someone is an improvement, a saint, a wiser somebody- or something-or-other. Where did I get off imagining or even daring to think I might likewise be holy? It was somehow an apostasy in my mind, but however hard I tried to put the genie back in to bottle, the thought taunted and teased and danced: If they can do it, so can I. And it wasn't just intellectual or emotional ... this was serious and it simultaneously delighted and scared the shit out of me.

And once I had calmed down a little and allowed the thought to have its place and force, a second thought came up. It was linked to the first but was more practical in its importance: OK, if spiritual experience was something I too could do then for sure and for certain,  A. I wanted to find out for myself -- not as a means of convincing anyone else and B. If spiritual experience, whatever the hell that was, was incapable of being at home in a noisy barroom on Saturday night, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it... goodness was a fallacy I refused in the strongest terms ... even if I didn't have a clue as to what goodness might be.

All of this floated into memory as I muddled and mumbled about "lineage" yesterday. But what came with all this recollection was a delighted sense that I agreed with that younger "me." I wanted to give him a bear hug of approval and appreciation. "Right ... fucking ... on!" Not a "right on" that might be "right on" for anyone else, just "right on" for the present "me" reflecting on the lineage provided by an earlier "me." Imagine that! I had been right about something -- something I had and to a certain extent still did take seriously. How about them apples?!

Once, when I was little and very much into the manliness of cowboys and Indians, my mother heard me playing with a friend in the basement of our house. I was playing the voice-over of whatever story we were enacting and my mother heard me say, "Now it's ten years later and we're all grown up." All grown up with six-guns blazing and brimming confidence and bad guys overwhelmed. As it was in the movies, so it should be in the basement. Stories build from youth to maturity and finally, of course, ride off into the sunset of some conclusive ending.

And stories are wonderful. The lineage is there for the asking -- loving, horrific, informative, but in all instances, wondrous. But what is the "last page" in stories is never the last page in reality. Lineage is real enough, but the minute anyone tries to grasp it or quantify it or be in control of it, it slips away, dancing into the sunset ... laughing.

Gautama had his lineage as Mahakasyapa had his and the cashier at Stop & Shop has hers. Family, friends, forbears, enemies, tears, laughter ... it's a legacy without a legacy.

Can anyone stand toe-to-toe with the saints and sages they have chosen? Not a snowball's chance in hell.

Can anyone not-stand toe-to-toe with the saints and sages they have chosen? Not a snowball's chance in hell.

Go ahead. Have a lineage. Rely on it if you have to. Learn from and delight in it.

Just don't pretend that past and present are any different ... or the same either.


  1. Dogen said it best: "The designation Zen lineage is a twisted, false expression. It derives from the pretensions of bald headed little beasts."

  2. And to think I wasted all that time trying to work it out for myself when all the time some bald-headed beast had already nailed it.