25 Oct 2007 |
Posted by Lama Surya Das | 1 Comment.
I read recently in the NY Times that people everywhere are making Life Lists, a contract with oneself to do meaningful things with this precious life before it is over; you can fill in the blanks on your own dreams and fantasies, wish-list, priorities and aspirations. One of the things you are supposed to do is to cross them off one by one as you achieve them. I’ve thought about it and found this a little hard, since I have already traveled almost everywhere and experienced almost everything, and my personal ideals and dreams tend now to aspire to large undertakings and abstract achievements, such as solving the great inequality between rich and poor in our land and our world; becoming enlightenment; leaving the world a better and more beautiful and kind place than when I found it, and so forth.
But it did make me think about what I really want to do before the end, and an important part of that is the idea of legacy, of passing it on. Traditionally, this is the responsibility of the great teachers and the leading lineage holders, but it seems to me also a task for every one of us. We all have something to share, and we ought to become less consumers and distributors and providers as we get older—and hopefully wiser—and give all we can while we can as we can.
The idea of ethical or spiritual legacy traces to the first book of the Jewish and Christian bibles, in which the dying Jacob gives his children what in Hebrew is called his “spiritual estate.” Passing along the wisdom, advice, and blessings of elders is a familiar tradition in other cultures as well. Native American grandparents teach children about the traditional ways so they won’t be lost. My Tibetan lama masters and Indian gurus always stressed the importance of lineage. That is, being connected to a tried and true line of wise ones steeped in ancient yet timeless wisdom, and immersing oneself in it until one becomes a vessel and conduit and can internalize it totally, as well as pass that living flame of truth on to the next generations for the benefit of one and all.
But what exactly is worth passing on? And how do you do it? These are large questions, which are worth grappling with. I personal believe that we ought to gather and preserve in some form or another the life wisdom and experience we have accumulated, and pass it on to the next generation: mentoring, teaching, coaching, organizing things for them to participate in and learn themselves, and so forth.
We can also refer those to come to the great world masters and truth tellers—such as Lao Tsu, Plato, Epictitus, Montaigne, Shakespeare and so forth—as well as to the written works and living presence of wise ones still among us, eminence grises such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, Maya Angelou and Byron Katie, Huston Smith, Ram Das, Pema Chodron, Bill Moyers, Elie Wiesel, Howard Zinn and Ken Wilber.