Good Morning. To begin with I would like to express my appreciation to John [Chu] at the Reception Office for being so helpful year after year in arranging tours for my Mendocino College Religions of the World classes. He is always very helpful in finding us tour guides for the day. And I would like to thank the Dharma Masters for being such gracious guides during our visits in the past several years. They are always very informative and encouraging to myself and my students in our efforts to understand Buddhism. I know that the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas has always been very supportive of its neighboring educational institutions in this area and I believe that this support provides a valuable cultural exchange for the citizens of the area.
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to you at this ceremony honoring elders as I believe that this event is a wonderful and much needed contribution to our community. I want to begin by remembering my own elders, specifically my parents. I remember my mother Barbara, for being a woman who deeply cared for her family, for her love of children, and for her reverent connection to nature. I remember my father Bill, who passed away this year just before his ninety-fourth birthday, as a man of active involvement in community work. He was, in fact, the Director of the Ukiah Senior Center for a few years. He was interested in international exchange and traveled extensively as part of this activity, even traveling in China in the 1930s. It is probably from him that I get my long-standing interest in Asian culture.
When I think of elders I think of those who have been with us a long time; of those who have given much to their children, families, friends, and communities. I think of those who have given years of service to those they love and principles they believe in. I think of parents, grandparents, and I think of our ancestors going back to antiquity who have helped develop and preserve the traditions which shape the life of our culture. And furthermore, I think of those members of the natural world who likewise have been here a long time, and who also provide support and comfort for our lives. I think of the earth, the water and rocks, and of the great, aged trees that give so much beauty to our region. I experience all of these as elders, and I am grateful to them.
But as I remember these elders, I cannot help being struck by how poorly we in the United States honor them. We have many celebrations in the year – Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Halloween, Easter, Christmas, etc – but none which specifically focuses upon the senior members of our community. I believe that we too easily forget to honor our elders because the United States is still a young and immature culture. The dominant culture in this country today emphasizes youthful glamour and speed, flashy wealth, and technological power. It is unfortunate but I believe true that we often display a regional and global arrogance and shortsightedness. Ken Wilber, a Buddhist-oriented philosopher, writes:
It is not the forces of darkness but of shallowness that everywhere threaten the true, and the good, and the beautiful, and that ironically announce themselves as deep and profound. It is an exuberant and fearless shallowness that everywhere is the modern danger, the modern threat, and that everywhere nonetheless calls to us as savior.
We might have lost the Light and the Height; but more frightening, we have Lost the Mystery and the Deep, the Emptiness and the Abyss, and lost it in a World dedicated to surfaces and shadows, exteriors and shells, whose prophets lovingly exhort us to dive into the shallow end of the pool head first.
So I believe that the culture of the United States is immature. It is still absorbed in the fascinations of the teenage years. Our culture in the United States is very powerful, but it is not yet wise.
It is urgent that we begin to move on, to deepen and mature our culture. To do this I believe we need to see that all people and all stages of life are deeply interconnected. If we fail to appreciate these interconnections we will automatically fail to honor one another, and especially our elders. If we fail to honor our elders we imply that what they did is not important to us. Do we also thereby imply that what we are working so hard to create each day need not be seen as important by our children? We imply and teach them that accomplishments and values are only important in the present and not worth preserving. So why should we expect our children to honor us or our accomplishments in our own future elder years? In honoring our elders we express appreciation for all they have given for our benefit, and we express respect for the values their lives have instilled in us. In honoring our elders we teach our children the fundamental importance of service to our families and communities. So in honoring our elders today let us all rejoice in saying to them, our children and to each other: “This is what I wish for you – a long and meaningful life in a whole and healthy community.” Thank you!
Statement by Ken Wilber is quoted from the Introduction, page xi, in his book
Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. Shambhala, Boston and London. 1995