One understanding of making meaning is the realization that life is more than random events with no connection backwards or forwards. Our lives, and this is a fundamental teaching of Buddhism, are and endless stream of causes and effects stemming from causes and effects and morning forward to future causes and effects. Beginning to understand our present and making a choice as to how we proceed into the future.
Legacy has a connotation of choosing what impact our lives will have on our future and possibly on the future of others. Legacy and meaning making are tied together in our advance into the future whatever it may be. Legacy is also a history of our past regardless of whether it had meaning for us.
After being called to provide a Buddhist prayer for a patient I spent time with her talking about her faith and understanding of Buddhism. Over the course of more than a month in the hospital she made great effort to deepen her understanding of Buddhism and the death she knew she faced because of ovarian cancer. What had it meant to live, what was the value of her life?
The parable of the physician and his sick children can be understood also from the perspective that being born in this Saha world is to the act of taking poison. We are born forgetting out eternal connection to the Eternal Buddha, we are unaware of the truth of our Buddha potential residing in the core of our lives. Our lives as Buddhists is the journey to rediscovery of that truth or the realization of the good medicine.
When I was in first and second grade there was not a moment in school when I didn’t experience fear, terror even. Going to the bathroom or any place in school where I could potentially be trapped by other boys and made fun of was frightful. Late one afternoon even the playground became unsafe as a group of those same boys got ahold of some rope and used it to hang me from a tree. I was cut down and taken to the emergency room.
When my mother came to get me I would like to think her anger at me was more about her fear that something bad had happened, I’m not sure. Even at home when I complained of the way the other boys made fun of me there was no understanding. It was as if I were inventing the whole thing in spite of the evidence of the hanging.
The summer between second and third grade we moved to a new city, which meant I would be going to a new school. Though I lacked the capacity to explain what occurred with my thinking at the time I now understand as an awakening. In the study of children who grow up in abusive environments there are those who develop skills of resilience. Common among that group is the realization that the environ they are living in is broken, they can not depend on others to fix it and so they usually either withdraw and develope inner defenses or develope survival strategies to exist as active players.
During that summer I made a decision that I would change my name and use my first name. I remember even going through all the ways in which my fist name might be used to tease me. I practiced all the torments in my head, I played them over and over, to the point where I could say them better than anyone else could possibly say them. Going to school I introduced myself by my first name and that is the name I kept in my public life even if my parents refused to ever use it.
I had an awakening if you will that I am ultimately responsible for the meaning of my life, and what is most important is how I understand myself and how I view and value myself.
As the woman who had ovarian cancer was dying her last words to me were “I didn’t realize I would have to participate so fully in my death.”
We don’t have to participate in either life or death. We have a choice. We can choose to wander aimlessly on, ever endlessly moving towards and unavoidable end of our lives. We can choose to ignore this reality, but we can not escape it.
Some people when they hear a term such as spiritual awakening immediately think of some mystical experience, perhaps some brilliant light, or some other physical or emotional experience. Of course those things may happen, however fundamentally I believe it is an awakening, even if only subtly of an awareness of the ability to participate fully in life, living, and even death and dying.
The Lotus Sutra teaches us that our legacy for the past and into the future is as Bodhisattvas with an eternal connection to the Buddha who arise from our seemingly mundane lives in a seemingly impure world and manifest our true potential and reveal our connect from eternity as Buddhas. The medicine the Lotus Sutra offers us from the skilled physician, the Buddha, is that we are not who we seem to be but that we are truly are Buddhas who have simply emerged, awaken to an understanding, that we have always been disciples of the Eternal Buddha and as such possess all the inner potential to become equal to the Buddha.