Today I was listening to a dharma talk on the Prajna Paramita, which encompassed a number of interesting things. One of them was the first explanation of 'emptiness' that I have heard that made sense- emptiness is another word for the lack of intrinsic stability in the world of form, or more simply, everything changes so don't get too stuck on it.
The other lesson was this- we are all aggregate manifestations of every circumstance and situation that came before us, or we are completely a product of everything that has ever happened in the universe.
I have no issue with either teaching. They both make complete sense to me, and in a way, are the wording for things I have thought without words for years. What has come from those thoughts is interesting.
When I look at myself, I have tremendous gratitude for all the factors that brought me into this world. While I have made a large effort to study Buddhism, lately, I do not find myself to drawn to the teachings of suffering. There have been difficult times and situations in my life, but I do not feel that I have lived a life of suffering. However, in feeling the gratitude for my life, I started to think about some of the circumstances of the world that allowed me to be born- some of them take some effort to be grateful for.
War- My family is predominantly English, and what isn't English is from some other part of Brittan. My family, on both sides has been profoundly affected by The Battle of Culloden, The Tudor wars, the Boer War, WW1, WW2, and many, many dozens of others. So my gratitude has to go out to not only those who died, but those who killed. My gratitude must extend to not only those who died in the camps, but those who ran them, right up to Hitler himself. I must be thankful for the French sinking English ships, the Russians for killing the Czar, the Vietnamese for ousting the French, the colonists for tossing the tea. I have to thank the Cesears for all they did, and all those that opposed them.
Religion- Romans and Pagans, I must give my thanks to. Pontius Pilot must have equal ranking with Jesus. The Crusader's make the list as does Mohammed. Buddha walks hand in hand with Jim Jones in the ranks. The Pope (s) and Martin Luther..... even King Henry the Eighth (which of his wives could be left out of the story and still have 'me' be here?)
Conquest- All of them can line up, I owe them my life. From Alexander and Genghis Khan, to Teddy Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. All of them beat and stole and murdered their way to me. Would I be here if Cortez had not sought his fortune?
There are so many 'aggregate circumstances', that make up who I am, and I can't just put in the ones I like. General Custer is as much my ancestor as Crazy Horse, as are all that died that day, and all who lived to tell the tale.
How do I look at history again? Everything I have ever learned, every person I have ever read about it, is my ancestor. Everyone, everything they did is responsible for my life. And yours.