The Ancient Way is the Way of the Ancients, the path of all Buddhas and Ancestors. They paved the Way, so that we can follow. This means that, essentially, we are followers of the Way. The Ancient Way gives us direction on how to navigate our life and not lose sight of what deserves our highest priority. And we are not the first ones to tread this path – even Shakyamuni Buddha himself is said to have been preceded by other Buddhas, stretching back in time beyond anyone’s memory.
This can give us the faith to continue even when the going gets tough, as there are great examples of practitioners who went before us and who faced similar challenges. In a way, you and I are just the next ones in line. It is apparently up to each one of us to make sure that the Buddha Dharma stays alive. At times, doubts may come up about whether I am really the right person to take on this responsibility. And yet, if not me, who then? Who will be there for the next generation to follow?
When we look at the Jukai lineage chart, however, we can also read our situation the other way round. After receiving Jukai, I am indeed the next one in line, but not necessarily behind all the Ancestors – I can also see myself as listed before them, as if they are pushing me forward from behind! Looking at it in that way, there really is nobody to follow – I am the first one to make the next move! No wonder I feel uncertain at times, as if I am taking risky steps into an unknown future. Somewhere high up on the chart is a mysterious circle and below that circle resides Shakyamuni. It makes me into the one who brings life to the Buddha, and he depends on that circle, which symbolises enlightenment. So in the Ancient Way I am an absolute pioneer. Its continuity depends on my courage and daring, my commitment to realising the Way so that others know where to go. In other words, the order is completely turned around. We are not only followers of the Way, we are also – unexpectedly – trail-blazers!
Realising the Way can be compared to suddenly remembering what we had forgotten. But what is it that we have forgotten? Usually, when we forget, it has to do with something we used to know and, at some point, can remember again. In this case, however odd it may sound, we remember something that we never knew! And yet it is some kind of remembrance. It opens our mind far beyond whatever we can comprehend and reunites us with all the Ancestors. Time and space suddenly turn out to be very relative and we can go forward and backward in just an instant. In one koan we study, it says: “The sound of something struck! And I have forgotten all I knew. Training was not even temporarily necessary. In movement and deportment I manifest the Ancient Way.”
How strange and interesting it is that, in order to really find my way, I first have to lose it. Then suddenly, rather than making only faithful copies of famous paintings, I become the painter of my own highly original work of life.