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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
fall 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 29 “This event today is in conformity with past cause”—this is always the case. This is never not true. Our presence wherever we are is fully and utterly in accord with past causes. We didn’t just suddenly get here by ourselves. We should reflect on the multitudes of past actions, just in this one brief flicker of a lifetime, that brought us to this moment. Prajnatara is reflecting in this way on eons past. One of our cultural identities or myths is of the one who goes it alone and pulls herself up by her bootstraps—the rebel, the outlaw, the self-made person. What a lie. What an ingratitude. What a danger. We are each the recipient of innumerable currents of life—through the lives of others— streaming into and influencing our own lives. How many thoughts and intentions, how many words and actions of others have influenced us to wonder about things or even led us to the dharma? How many acts of kindness or words of inquiry or con- cern have we received that helped lead us to this very moment? How is it that on this very day we can study these teachings, learn these practices, be tested in our understanding and be in intimate con- tact with a spiritual process that began over 2,500 years ago? For many Western Buddhists, this koan presents a challenge: how are we to understand the Buddhist teachings on past lives and rebirth? We could just dismiss them out of hand because we have no per- sonal evidence to verify them, but is it possible that we just don’t recognize the evidence? Does it make sense to deny something simply because we haven’t experienced it as being true? How often do we come to discover things as true that we didn’t know were true before? We rely on the observations or reflections of others—thinkers, scientists, explorers—to teach us truths even when we haven’t experienced them directly. Could we just decide to believe in rebirth with a kind of blind faith, simply because it’s a Buddhist teaching? That tension between deep faith and direct experience challenges us to hold the deeper truths and greater mysteries that are not easy to understand or verify. Is there another way of hold- ing something that we do not yet know to be true? We do this all the time. We come into practice not knowing much about the dharma, not having veri- fied it for ourselves. In the beginning, we may not even have experienced the truth of the suffering of attachment, but we take it on a measure of faith and begin practicing. We’re constantly practicing with faith in that which we don’t yet know to be true, even stretching sometimes to bring that faith for- ward. Through practice, we discover how to remain open, how to simply not know, and how to let go of our attachment to the certainty of yes or no. Punyamitra asks Prajnatara to reflect on events from the past. Now, we do this a lot in ways that are habitual, obsessive, and utterly nonconstructive. We can become mired in memories of things that are long gone, continually giving them life and › continued page 76 Time seems by nature to be dualistic, a witnessed measurement of something passing. What is time without the witness? (Opposite) Alive but barely breathing, 2011 Sarah Ann Loreth