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What Is the Meaning of ‘Legacy’?

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

By Rev. John Iwohara Gardena Buddhist Church

The above is one of the definitions for the term “legacy” as defined for us by Random House through its website. I wanted to quote this definition because of how it seems to me that we have recently been changing the way that we use words like “legacy.”

Although the sample sentence given in the definition is “the legacy of ancient Rome,” and more or less describes what we — the future — received from our past, the way that we tend to use the word legacy today is, “What will you do to establish your legacy?” or “What legacy do you hope to create?”

Whereas the use of the word legacy in this context appears to focus on what can be done in the present, it is probably more accurate to say that it is focused on the individual. If legacy, used in this way, is about the person, then the focus of legacy has changed.

Instead of being focused on what has been handed down from a previous generation or culture, it is more focused on the potential future status of a particular person. In the original use of the word, individuals received and then participated in a legacy. It was not something that one consciously worked to create. A person can contribute toward a legacy, and there are certainly accomplishments that one can achieve within a legacy, but the focus was always on what was received. It was never something that an individual purposely created in the hopes of being remembered by the future.

I wanted to share this because Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, does speak about legacy. He frequently expresses his joy in being able to participate in the legacy of the Buddha-Dharma. He states, for example:

How joyous I am, Gutoku Shinran, disciple of Sakyamuni. Rare is it to come upon the sacred scriptures from the westward land of India and the commentaries of the masters of China and Japan, but now I have been able to encounter them. Rare is it to hear them, but already I have been able to hear.

Reverently entrusting myself to the teaching, practice, and realization that are the true essence of the Pure Land way, I am especially aware of the profundity of the Tathagata's benevolence. Here I rejoice in what I have heard and extol what I have attained.

— “CWS,” Page 4 (Passage from General Preface of the Kyogyoshinsho)

Further, in the concluding line of the “Shoshin Nenbutsu-ge,” Shinran Shonin writes:

With the same mind, all people of the present, whether monk or lay,

Should rely wholly on the teachings of these venerable masters.

— “CWS,” Page 74

From the time Rennyo Shonin made the “Shoshin Nenbutsu-ge” part of the daily morning ritual at the Hongwanji, every time we chant it at any of our BCA temples we are reminding ourselves that right here and right now we are participating in and contributing toward the legacy of the Nenbutsu or Namo Amida Butsu. We, like Shinran Shonin, are able to “rejoice in what we have heard, and extol what we have attained.”


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