By Sensei Ken Madden
As a Buddhist, I have always explored my understanding of dependent origination or “interbeing.”
As a human being, this can be related to where my family and I fit in: I have become interested in recent years with learning about my ancestry.
Growing up, I had been told that we “had some Irish” in our background and that is what I accepted. I had red hair and freckles and white skin and I am a big fellow after all, so it all seemed to fit the usual Big Irish Guy stereotype.
When the internet made things so much easier to get info, I looked up my family name: sure enough, the Madden family name is from Galway area of Ireland where there are records dating back many centuries. They held some minor local political power in that area for a long time.
Yay, I am Irish—partly anyway.
But dependent origination and ancestry lineages aren’t really that simple. Part of my direct ancestry story that I hadn’t paid much attention to when I was young was that my dad’s father wasn’t the father who raised him; Mr. Madden, my actual Grandfather was a Mr Barber. Therefore we had no real blood ties to the Madden name or ancestry after all.
Bye-bye Irish background.
So, my blood Grandfather was Mr Barber. I knew little about him. I knew that he had passed away in an auto accident in the 1930s when my Dad was still a young child. We knew he was born in Ontario and that his father was in Ontario too. That’s all—end of knowledge.
Mr Madden came along later and adopted my dad and his brother (my uncle), giving them his family surname and raising them, and being a great father to them both until he also eventually passed away in the late 1950s, before I was born. This is all that I knew about my dad’s ancestry and upbringing, until 2018.
The internet came through once again for me. Someone out there in the world was researching their own lineage and entered information online that filled in some of the gaps for my dad’s birth father, Grandpa Barber. There had been no information and then in 2018, suddenly there was. Thank you, Internet!
It seems that his grandfather was actually from Ireland, before immigrating to Ontario, but instead of Galway, they were from Limerick and County Sligo areas.
Our Irish was back!
But it gets even odder: my grandmother’s side of the family, who Grandpa Barber married and who birthed and raised my dad and uncle, were of German background. I travel to Germany regularly these days and it can be called my “home of the heart.” I had never been there before 2007, in my 40s, but had felt an instant connection to Germany—the Black Forest Area in particular. I even married a German-background spouse. I don’t speak German, I am just completely and oddly comfortable there.
Looking at my newly-revealed Irish ancestry lineage, the surnames stood out; some of them were not particularly Irish, in fact.
I researched these names in that area of Ireland and I found out a little European history. In the early 1700s, the French militias had been rampaging in the Black Forest area of Germany, burning towns and razing castles. 13,000 Germans had fled their homes for Belgium. Some of those then went on to London, where they were forthwith dispatched to County Sligo Ireland. They resided there for two centuries before some immigrated to Ontario and became my forebears.
So, they were Irish for two centuries. To me that qualifies them as Irish in the same way that I am a Canadian, and some German before that. I now believe that when I am in that area of Germany, my comfort might arise from some deep-in-my-bones sense of my origins there.
An Ireland visit is high on my list. Maybe I will enjoy the craic!
So, the past few years I again raise a glass of lovely dark brewed-art on that March 17th Day when everyone is a little bit Irish, knowing that I thought I was Irish, then wasn’t, and am again.
We can understand our origins and delight in them even while understanding that each person has different but unique origins of their own. And understanding is another word for love.
Sensei Ken was ordained in Kyoto and joins us after teaching for over a decade at a local Buddhist Temple. He is the University of Calgary Buddhist Chaplain and actively works for Interfaith harmony. He created and has run The Circle Sangha: their mindful practices of emotional intelligence align with Calgary Buddhist Meditation. His approach is non-sectarian and practical, and he is delighted when Buddhist understanding aligns with science. Oh! and this life can be joyful and fun and kind when we allow our difficulties to drift away!
Editor: Dana Gornall