Editorial: Repaying Our Debt of Gratitude
Featured in Mountain Record 24.4, Summer 2006
What does it mean to practice, not only as a householder, but as a member of a family living in the world? This is one of the questions we pose, and the articles we’ve included illustrate a few of the ways in which certain individuals have chosen to live out full, awake lives within the context of family.
Shundo Aoyama Roshi gives a brief but moving account of her mother’s acceptance of her decision to become a Buddhist nun. What would it be like for a mother to give up her five-year-old daughter, knowing they will see each other but rarely—knowing, as the mother says, that she has given her daughter to the Buddha? And what about the kind of giving up the Crimps, two Zen practitioners from New Zealand, have had to do after a sudden illness turns their 7-year-old daughter into a stranger, someone they have to get to know all over again?
Setting formal practice aside for a moment, we have the equally powerful examples of those who do not consider themselves dharma practitioners, yet are living thoroughly aware and engaged lives. One of them, Ruth James, is an African-American farm worker who finds freedom, not in embracing her family, but in breaking away from it and the highly dehumanizing work of the migrant laborer. Another example is that of Gabriel Khougaz, a young Arab-American activist writing to his estranged mother about his struggle to be true to himself and his ideals in a world that insists that everything he stands for is somehow “off” or contrary. Yet he knows, despite all evidence, that it is possible-—in fact necessary—to find a deep, personal truth among the craziness he sees around him, and to then live by it.
The second issue we deal with is the broader definition of family. “Buddha Families,” “God as Mother,” “Five Houses of Zen” and Daidoshi’s tribute to his teacher, Maezumi Roshi, all point to different ways of understanding family within the context of spiritual practice. In Maezumi Roshi’s last dharma words, he invokes the lineage of ancestors that has made it possible for us to practice today, urging us to not let this lifeline be broken. As if in response, Daido Roshi says in his memorial poem, “The debt of gratitude is not yet fulfilled.” Is it in fact possible to ever fulfill the debt to our parents, our ancestors, the millions of men and women who over the centuries have given their lives to the spiritual path so that we too can tread it? Only our lives and the legacy we leave our successors will be able to even begin to answer that question
Mn. Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, MRO
Mountain Record, Editor