August 7, 2007
I’ve just returned from a trip-of-a-lifetime to Africa and am in the midst of preparing for another trip-of-a-lifetime to Plum Village. With four days to prepare, I’m very involved with checking my packing list, brushing up on my French, and making certain that I understand all of my plane and rail connections.
While looking through the papers from Plum Village, I notice that on Wednesday, July 11, we will be celebrating Ancestors Remembrance Day. This makes me even more joyful about the retreat, because I know many of the wonderful seeds in me have been nurtured by my most recent ancestors.
As I make an inventory of the gifts from my ancestors, I acknowledge:
From my mother, I received a deep appreciation of non-human beings. Trees, mountains, sky, wind, clouds…all of these were to be loved, treasured, and respected.
From her mother, I learned unconditional love. When we grandchildren involved ourselves in thoughtless, unhelpful activities, we knew that she still loved us and accepted us wholly.
From her father, I learned much about equanimity. He had the great gift of helping newly met people understand that they were seen as friends.
From my father, I learned how to be still. He showed me that if one sat quietly in the forest, it would become possible to see what was really there.
I now move on to the memory of my father’s mother. From that grandmother, I received the helpful gift of…
A feeling of loss and emptiness fall over me as I realize that I can’t recall anything of value imparted to me by that grandmother.
There is only a feeling of being judged by her as not being quite good enough. I find this very unsettling.
All three of these grandparents lived close to me in San Francisco, and I spent much time with them. I trust that through looking deeply, I can contact the wholesome seeds within me that have been watered by my father’s mother.
I sit down on the bed and breathe for several minutes. Nothing but blankness presents itself.
I take the memories of my grandmother and mentally sling them over my shoulder. Grandma, right now I can’t see how you have helped me, but I’m taking you with me to Plum Village. We’ll work on this together, once we get there.
August 10, 2007
I’ve been in Plum Village for a few days. Tomorrow is Ancestors Remembrance Day. Sitting in my room, looking out the window at the green trees, I invite my grandmother to join me. I do my best to see who my grandmother was, yet still cannot see how she is helping me.
Dear Grandma, I don’t know all of who you were. I never felt as close to you as I did to my other Grandma. I do recall receiving nurturing presents, birthday cards, and family meals, but I feel that there must be something more important that I’m missing.
Dear Grandma, we are so different, you and I. The Catholic tradition was a very important factor in your daily life. I remember you reciting prayers with your rosary beads. You had crucifixes in your home’s bedrooms and I recall a picture of the sacred heart of Jesus. You prayed very regularly. You went to church on days other than Sundays—on days when religious practice did not require your attendance. Grandma, I do not follow these religious practices. I am not like you at all!
I have a mala made of bodhi seeds that I use to count my breaths. I have several Buddha statues in my home. Thay’s calligraphy hangs on a wall. I sit in the morning and I sit in the evening. I come back to my true home as often as possible. I love being in a local Buddhist temple and find comforting joy in the presence of monastics. I have just travelled far to join other practitioners in a monastery.
Dear Grandma, I am you!
Thanks for all you’ve given me. Thanks for helping me to become deeply involved with this wonderful practice. I now see how you have been very important in making all this possible. I’m so glad that you came here with me.
Dear Grandma, please excuse me for taking so long to appreciate your positive influence in my present life.
Let’s go outside for a walk.
John Salerno-White, True Peace on Earth, teaches high school chemistry and lives in Vacaville, California. He facilitates three local Sanghas: Light Heart Sangha (Vacaville), SammaSankappa Sangha (at California Medical Facility State Prison, Vacaville), and Fresh Breeze Sangha (Davis).