I come as one, but stand as ten thousand.Maya Angelou
Why do cultures and creeds the world over set aside a period of time each year to remember those that came before us? Is it to mourn the fact that they are no longer around? Is it to ‘tell’ the ones that have departed that we miss them; even though we know that they can never return?
An old Buddhist tale comes to my mind…
Once upon a time, there lived a young woman called Kisa Gautami. She was happily married to a wealthy and important merchant. When her only son was a year old, he fell ill and died suddenly. Unable to bear the death of her firstborn, the young mother was overcome with grief.
Weeping and lost in despair, she carried her dead baby in her arms and went from house to house begging all the people in the town for news of a way to bring her son back to life. But as we all know, once the soul departs from the human body… It cannot return into the same vessel.
The young mother, however, would not give up. One day, she came across someone who advised her to go and see the Buddha. She carried the dead child to the Buddha and told him the story of her great loss. He listened with patience and compassion.
After she finished, the Buddha said, “Kisa Gautami, there is only one way to solve your problem. Go and find me four or five mustard seeds from any family in which there has never been a death.”
Filled with hope, she set off on a journey to find such a household. She knocked on door after door and discovered that every family she visited had experienced the death of a loved one.
At last, she understood what the Buddha had wanted her to discover for herself. Death is inevitable and will come for us all. Once we accept this fact, our grief comes to an end.
I bow in front of the deities that have blessed and watched over my family for generations. Who am I, where did I come from, and where are we headed?
Growing up, I had no desire to run, let alone own a business. But life’s plans always take precedence over our own. For my ancestors, the story begins in 1901; but for me, the story begins in 2017, in the port city of Yokohama in Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture.
My best and brightest student raised his hand and announced, “Dipa Sensei, why don’t you start a business?”
My student had just turned 15: the legal working age in Japan. He was no longer a kid. He was an ambitious young man who was excited to start his career. A lot has changed since my time. A lot has changed since my grandfather’s time. We can’t just rope our kids (or students) in to work for us. Minors are protected by laws that prohibit them from seeking employment. In either case, I didn’t pay his suggestion much attention. After all, my students come up with all kinds of crazy ideas.
Later that week, I received a business proposal from that same student. It dawned on me that he was dead serious. While his business proposal was inadequate, I admired his courage. He had a dream, a vision, and he was willing to fight for it. He was not waiting for anyone to hand it to him on a silver platter. He was not waiting to inherit the fruits of someone else’s labour.
In March 2019, I unexpectedly found myself at the London Book Fair. Ten days later, while sitting on a couch in Leicester, I registered my first business at the encouragement of an unlikely mentor that I had met at the event.
When I returned to Singapore a few months later, I ran into an angel investor at a startup event. He came up with a business proposal and a plan that was much better than my student’s. And in 2021, I had the privilege of offering my bravest and brightest student his very first job.
I have come to understand that anything that is yours, that is meant for you, and that belongs to you; can never be taken away from you. And when the time is right, life will call you back.
Like the Banyan Tree, the roots that have been ripped out, will eventually return from the sky and back to the earth–where life that was once so mercilessly uprooted will return to take root once more.
I may only be one person. I may only come as one. But when I stand on the shoulders of those who have come before me, I stand as ten thousand.