By: David Astor Sensei
[This short dharma talk was given on January 22nd, 2020 during the Installation Ceremony for our new Prior General. I am very pleased that the Order of Engaged Buddhists has achieved this milestone that allows me to pass on the leadership responsibilities to the next generation of servant/leaders.]
The lessons associated with the type of clinging and unhealthy attachments we encounter almost from the beginning of our exploring Buddhist thought and values is well know to even the novice students of the dharma. We speak often about how to overcome everyday life challenges that results in unsatisfactoriness in our practice, both real and assumed. This challenge requires us to recognize when what we might be clinging to is something we own and is particular to our life circumstances, or is outside of our ability to control. It is about how we can go about changing things to achieve a good outcome in order to bring more peace into our practice, and thus into our lives. We learn that the study of Buddhism is about subtraction more than it is about addition. It is about letting go.
It says in the Buddhist Na Tumhaka Sutta that “Whatever is not yours: let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit.” In life we become attached to a lot of things: people, material things, our work, our ideas, opinions, goals and desires. Attachments do not need to be negative of course. But attachments, however, are tricky things as they can sometimes sneak up on you before you know it. It is when attachments become personal and needed is when we might expose ourselves to them in such a way that makes letting go an emotional journey. This letting go does not equate to not caring about them, instead, we must learn to accept things for what they are.
There are several additional Buddhist concepts that are interconnected and interdependent to this notion of letting go. In the Six Perfections we come to understand the very first element we try to perfect in our practice is Generosity. But what we do not discuss often enough when we engage generosity is the concept of gratitude. Gratitude is worth thinking about when we study the importance of letting go. Because gratitude is the place-holder we should consider when we create a void that letting go often creates. Gratitude is one of the foundations of the principle of generosity. It is both directed toward another as well as directed back to ourselves. So letting go is an act of gratitude. And when we awaken to this powerful reality we also realize the importance of what it means to be grateful. Generosity, gratitude and gratefulness is the safety net for letting go. It is also a sign of spiritual progress.
Today I sit before you as a grateful ordinary individual with a Buddhist practice, one I hope is perfected, but one I hope more shines bright when I teach. What I breathed life into over five years ago, this unique Western contemplative Order, begins a new chapter in it’s march through the 21st century. It has always been my hope that when the time comes for turning over the leadership role to another, I can do so while I can observe how the seeds that were planted and nourished over the years continues to thrive. By letting go now I have become aware of the importance of what it means to experience a strong sense of gratitude for all that has been accomplished by everyone that has chosen to join us on this path that reflects the mutual-causal reality expressed over the centuries and passed along to me by my root teacher, Eubanks Sensei. But above all I feel a strong emotional sense of gratefulness.
Venerable Brian Shen-Jin becomes our second Prior General. I bow to his readiness to assume this responsibility. But my bow is more then a sign of respect, it comes from a grateful heart that also reflects what can be accomplished when we are able to let go and yet never having our hands empty. From one hand to another. These hands were never really empty over the centuries that our legacy masters handed down to us what the Buddha put into motion, hand in hand, unified always one, yet more then one. And when the time comes for him to let go, it will be “just like this.”