Our Ancestors Are Still Alive in Us

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Dear Still Water Friends,

I did my first Touching of the Earth thirty-five years ago at Budding Flower Sangha on a farm in Newburgh, NY. I was new to the practice, had only recently begun to sit in Woodstock with an instructor named Miles. (I was particularly struck by Miles’ name because one of my artistic heroes is Miles Davis.) Subsequently, I joined Budding Flower and came to love the leader, Patricia, and my fellow members there. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about the touchings. Then we went out to the vast yard of the farm, formed under a beautiful, old tree, and began. Prostrating on the pure earth and grass was like hugging Mother Earth — and her hugging back. And the experience of reflecting on my ancestors while physically prostrated on the earth was emotionally and spiritually powerful. I have been deeply attached to the Touchings ever since.

Over the years, as I have practiced various versions of the Three and Five Touchings of Earth, I especially have been moved by the way they deepen my awareness of my blood and spiritual ancestors’ continuation in me. I am also reminded of our collective humanity and its ultimate fragility. Pamala Ayo Yetunde and Cheryl A. Giles in Black and Buddhist express it well:

In the cosmos, we are permeable, transmuting, infinitesimal and vulnerable particles, and when we understand ourselves as such, we can begin to release delusions about each one of us being rugged, self-reliant individuals able to change the world all by ourselves. Our grounded soul is grounded in a connected collective – and that is what makes us boundless.

Even if we are infinitesimally small in a huge cosmos, we are connected and boundless at the same time. That is why the touchings are so powerful for me. They directly plug us into the earth we inhabit, remind us of our ancestors, and remind us that we are a “connected collective.”

Thay clarifies in a Dharma talk included in The Path of Emancipation:

Our presence here means the presence of all our ancestors. They are still alive in us. Every time we smile, all the generations of our ancestors, our children and the generations to come – all of whom are within us – smile, too. We practice not just for ourselves, but for everyone, and the stream of life continues. …

If you have made mistakes and caused your beloved to suffer, and if he or she is no longer alive, don’t be frustrated. You can still heal the wound within you. The person whom you think has passed away is still alive in you. You can make him or her smile. Suppose, while your grandma was alive, you said something out of forgetfulness that made her unhappy, and you still regret it. Sit down, breathe in and out mindfully, visualize your grandma sitting with you, and say. “Grandma, I am sorry. I will never again say anything like that to you or anyone else I love.” If you are sincere, focused, and utterly mindful, you will see her smiling in you and the wound will be healed. Mistakes come from unskillfulness and forgetfulness, which are in the mind. Because everything comes from the mind, everything can be removed and transformed by the mind. That is the teaching of the Buddha.

Although we think the past is gone and the future is not yet here, if we look deeply, we see that reality is more than that. The past exists in the guise of the present, because the present is made from the past. In this teaching, if we establish ourselves firmly in the present and touch the present moment deeply, we also touch the past and have the power to repair it. That is a wonderful teaching and practice. We don’t have to bear our wounds forever. We are all unmindful at times; we have made mistakes in the past It does not mean that we have to always carry that guilt without transforming it. Touch the present deeply, and you touch the past. Take care of the present and you can repair the past. The practice of beginning anew is a practice of the mind. Once you realize what mistake you made in the past you are determined never to do it again. Then the wound is healed. It is a wonderful practice.

This Thursday, after our meditation, we will practice together The Three Touchings of the Earth. We will use a Still Water version that has been slightly adapted from Thay’s original text to make it more inclusive and relevant for lay practitioners. In our Dharma sharing we will explore our responses to practicing The Three Touchings of the Earth.

You are invited to join us.

A video of part of Thay’s talk that includes the quoted sections is available online.

Warm wishes,

Paul Flippin