By Acharya Samaneti
I have been reflecting a lot these days on lineage, my spiritual ancestors, most importantly my dhamma ancestors.
We acknowledge our ancestors or lineage to honour its origins; with the rise of anti-Asian racism with the global pandemic, I feel that, as Buddhist practitioners it is important that we honour where our spiritual practice comes from —Asia. Land acknowledgments have helped a lot of folks to connect with the land that they are living on, its origins, the indigenous communities that were here before our ancestors arrived and stole the land that was home to so many people before us.
Buddhism has a similar story, a spiritual practice born in modern day India, but it also has a history of colonialism, white washing, and erasure.
When I started my practice, I mostly had Western white teachers; some would mention their teachers that were Asian, but the room and the practices felt very Western and white centric. Things like merit practices, offerings, lineage acknowledgements were all kind of brushed off or simply ignored—the focus was on meditation and its value by way of confirmation from western schools like western psychology etc. to mirror its legitimacy and value.
I think that it is important that we acknowledge our dhamma ancestors, the many teachers in Asia that insured that these teachings survived and thrived against great adversity for centuries.
It is also important that we acknowledge and express gratitude to all the Asian immigrants that came to these shores and brought with them their beautiful lineages and teachings; without them, I do not know if these teachings would be so readily available to me today. They risked their safety; they endured violence and prejudice from my ancestors when they began creating the sanghas that would grow into the thousands of retreat centres and local groups and communities that we all benefit from today.
I have decided that before any teaching that I give, I will recite this acknowledgement, we must acknowledge the whole history of our practice, because without our ancestors, this practice could not live within us. Here is a first draft, inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh and an acknowledgement that he gave in the past.
May it help you connect to your dhamma ancestors and may it help honour all of those that have come before us and helped this beautiful practice survive and thrive.
We are the continuation of the Buddha, just as the student is the continuation of the teacher, and the child the continuation of the parents.
We have blood ancestors, and we also have spiritual ancestors, the Buddha is my spiritual ancestor –so are the centuries of teachers and practitioners that have followed him and kept these precious teachings alive. I am born from them, I am their continuation, I am them—in me they are alive.
I am the Buddha, I have accepted Siddhartha Gotama as my teacher, but I am aware that besides him there are many other Buddhas. I also acknowledge that I am Ajahn Chah, I am Ajahn Buddhadasa, I am Shunryu Suzuki, and all the thousands of teachers that have ensured that the teachings survive for over 2,600 years and is now available to me. These teachers of the Buddhadhamma, have fought against oppression and attempts to be silenced; because of their efforts and their struggles we are able to study these precious teachings in our homes an ocean away.
I bow in gratitude to all the people that came from Asia onto my shores that built dhamma communities (sometimes in secrecy from fear of violence from my ancestors), that were instrumental in ensuring that these teachings take root and thrive on these lands.
I bow in all humility for this gift of the dhamma, for their willingness to share its transformative practices and teachings so that I can benefit from them. Without my dhamma ancestors, I would not have these teachings and they would have been lost, instead of alive and thriving for the benefit of all beings.
It is important that we connect with our dhamma ancestors; we are a continuation of them. We must practice touching into our ancestors everyday, may we build an altar that honours them, as a point of contact between them and us. An example could be that we offer incense to them every day—they do not smell the incense, but when we light the stick of incense, we focus our attention on the presence of our ancestors.
This is an opportunity to touch your ancestors within yourself. This may help us realize that our ancestors are always alive in us, because we are a continuation of our ancestors.
I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the other Buddhas
I take refuge in the Bodhisattvas, the Mahasattvas
I take refuge in all the teachers and students that helped Buddhism survive in its birthplace, Asia
I take refuge in all the people that brought these teachings onto my shores
I take refuge in all my spiritual ancestors, followers of the Buddhadhamma
Editor: Dana Gornall