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Listen to this talk:
Practicing for Our Ancestors (14 min.)
"Practicing for Our Ancestors"
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
Awakening Heart (Community of Mindful Living)
May 9, 2010 - Dallas, Texas

Mother's Day 2010

I remember that my first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in Santa Barbara... I remember learning about sitting meditation and walking meditation, and eating meditation. And I had read about it, and I had tried practicing it at home by myself, but when I actually went to the retreat it was really funny for me because it was like, "Oh, that's how you do it!" I had tried my best to do it by myself just from what I read in the books, but to see people doing it helped me so much to flow into that river of the Sangha, a river of the Dharma practice together with others.

And on one of the days of that retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh was feeling perhaps a little tired and instead of him giving the teachings that day, he asked his niece Anh-Huong Nguyen to give the teachings. So there she was sitting on the stage, a small little woman in front of 800 - 900 people. And she started the Dharma talk with, "breathing in I'm aware that 800 people are looking at me, breathing out I'm aware I am very nervous." Everyone started laughing and she started to talk about her life and her practice and about raising her little son in the Dharma, teaching him to observe things mindfully, to be aware of the full moon and the blossoming of the flowers, to appreciate in gratitude all the wonders of life. And as she kept talking, I kept thinking wow, what if I had had a mother like that. Would I have gone through the suffering that I had gone through as much. And then as I continued to think about that, all of a sudden my heart opened and I realized that my mother only was able to manifest what she was able to manifest as a mother because of her mother and father and her upbringing. And then my grandparents, they were only able to manifest the parenting skills that they inherited from their parents, my great grandparents. And going back generation after generation, ancestor after ancestor, I felt the whole line of all my ancestors going back into the past, all the suffering being passed on generation after generation. And then I realized that I was simply inheriting the suffering of my own mother and her mothers and fathers and ancestors. And it wasn't just my suffering it was my mother's suffering and all the suffering of my ancestors. And they did the best they knew how and my mother did the best she could. And perhaps some of my ancestors, perhaps my mother did not have the same opportunities that I had to practice meditation and mindfulness and the transformation of suffering.

And anyway I began to just... something broke in me and I just started to weep and then to cry and then to bawl. And I couldn't stop even though I was starting to feel embarrassed because of all the people around me. I just couldn't stop. It was like something broke. A dam broke and everything, all of the suffering of my ancestors broke through in that moment and I cried for about twenty minutes non-stop. And my friends later told me that throughout the whole entire audience of 800 people, the people who were near me started to cry and then the entire auditorium was crying. I didn't know anyone else was crying, but it was like the whole room was crying and there was a great powerful healing taking place in that moment. All because of one mother willing to just be vulnerable and to share the light of her practice with us.

A few years later when I was in Plum Village, France at another retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh mentioned something about meditating and seeing our mother and father as a 5 year old child, and seeing that, can we forgive them? Can we really be angry at a 5 year old child? If we could see our mother and father that way, as a 5 year old child, with their sufferings and their uncertainties, can we forgive them? Can we see that they too were just like us as a child? That made me cry again too. But I had friends with me and I laid down and I put my head on the lap of a friend, and there was this girl there who started to cry who was sitting next to me, and she put her hand on me as I was crying. Anyway that female friend later became a nun so whenever I see her we smile because that was the first time we had met in that particular retreat and she's very precious to me.

I remember my mother taking good care of me. I remember my mother holding my hand and cuddling with me as a child. I loved my mother so much. I remember one time when my mother was swimming in the swimming pool and she didn't calculate the other end of the pool very well, so she kept swimming and hit her head against the cement side of the pool, and when I saw this I just rushed over to my mother and I felt so much pain for my mother, knowing that she was in pain. And I remember my mother telling me that when I was in her womb, she would go to a church nearby and just sit during her lunch break and pray for me. And I remember hearing stories like that. But as I was graduating from college, my mother and I had a major break and the love and intimacy and camaraderie and understanding we had up until that point never has returned. And even now, I'm so grateful for my mother that no matter how much she thinks that I'm crazy and a heretic and the black sheep of the family, she's still there for me. But it's just not the same anymore and I know that from her perspective, I'm a disappointment to her. And yet she still loves me and she still tries to show her love in other ways besides physical affection.

But as we grow up, we are called to practice with whatever our experiences are. Whether we have an experience of our parenting as positive, or as negative, or a mixture of positive and negative, we are called to take all those ingredients and practice with them because we have this opportunity in this time to transform the suffering of our mothers and fathers, to transform the sufferings of our ancestors in ourselves. Because within us, is that internal mother and internal father... our internal ancestors.

So we have this opportunity to transform their suffering in us and to break the cycle of the suffering, to create a new opportunity from this time forward for all of our physical and spiritual descendants, to transmit this transformation of suffering, to transmit compassion, love, mindfulness, wisdom. If we were only doing it by ourselves, it would indeed be a very depressing situation. But the truth is we have so many helpers in this universe, so many divine mothers and fathers, visible and invisible all routing for us. Even this flower is helping us... so many divine helpers everywhere within and around us. When I hear the music of Gary and Robin, that to me is an expression of that divine help. It's a beauty that is coming through the form of Gary and Robin. But when you listen with your heart, you know it's coming not from them, but through them. Through them from the divine mother, the divine father, the divine spirit that is the source of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. That spirit of wisdom and compassion that is our true nature, that is expressed through this beautiful rose, that is expressed through this beautiful candle, that is expressed through the beautiful swan outside that greeted us during our walk, and that is expressed by this practice that has been given to us by our spiritual ancestors. Without them we wouldn't be here. And without our fathers and mothers we wouldn't be in this body practicing. So on this Mother's Day, let us remember that we can be grateful for all of our ancestors and we can practice for them. And we can be grateful for all the support that we have in this practice.

Transcribed by Jennifer Baquero

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