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Thread: Importance of the Zen lineage mind to mind transmissio

  1. #1

    Importance of the Zen lineage mind to mind transmissio

    Hello all,

    I was wondering if anyone would offer their opinions on whether the lineage of Zen is as important as Zen institutions make out.

    Also, what do you think of the mind-to-mind transmission thing and the whole idea of certification.

    Gassho

  2. #2
    Senior Member Martin's Avatar
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    Well, I'm torn about this (and much else!).

    On the one hand, anyone can call themselves "enlightened" and set themselves up as a "teacher", and perhaps it's good that there's some ability for beginners like me to check on someone's "lineage".

    On the other hand, presumably Shakyamuni Buddha had no lineage or certification?

    Mind to mind trasnmission I don't understand. Perhaps one has to have experienced it to "get" it?

    Gassho

    Martin

  3. #3
    On the one hand, anyone can call themselves "enlightened" and set themselves up as a "teacher", and perhaps it's good that there's some ability for beginners like me to check on someone's "lineage".
    Mmmm. But how does a lineage of any sort qualify anyone as being enlightened? Being able to check on someone's linage means what exactly? That they had a teacher, who had a teacher, who had a.......? How does that make anything any different?

    The semi-fictional Bodaidaruma is claimed as the twenty-eighth patriarch of Zen in direct succession from the Buddha. But that lineage has no actual historical warrant. In their anxiety to prove direct transmission back to the Buddha, the Chinese of the Sung and T'ang periods fabricated the whole lineage thing. The lineage of both Sõtõ and Rinzai since has been suspect too, with many buying their "certification" and some simply inheriting it.

  4. #4
    What part of the lineage qualifies our zazen? None! Remember, there is a rumor going around that zazen is enlightenment itself. There is no lineage inside of our zazen. Just zazen inside of zazen.

    On the absolute level, it is funny to think that there is this official line of beings trailing off into the past. How ridiculous! There is no past to trail off into?! On the relative level, minds think and organize events into histories. Minds make things important or unimportant. This string of beings stretching back in time is in itself neither important and unimportant.

    In these matters I strive to take Bodhidharma's advice - "Nothing holy -- No knowing."

    Respectfully
    Will

  5. #5
    Hi,

    As the 'Lineage Holder Resident-On-Call' of this Sangha, Mind-to-Mind Transmittee, Perfectly Enlightened One, Entity Free of Time-Space, President-for-Life and 'All-Around Great Guy' ... I ("I" being merely a convention useful to communicate with lesser beings) offer this opinion on the subject:

    Some common sense and historical context is required to understand these things.

    If Zen Practice and philosophy may be thought of as 'Karate of the Mind,' (breaking down our little perspectives on self, suffering, time, space etc. etc. the way some folks break boards and bones), then a 'Dharma Holder' may be thought of as a fellow who has done this Practice for a good long time, knows the kicks, jumps and punches, and can show others the ropes, thereby granted a 'Black Belt' ... all as recognized by a seasoned, older teacher to whom the successor has been apprenticed for some years. In that way, 'Mind-to-Mind Transmission' may be said to mean something like that I know the same mental kicks, jumps and punches as demonstrated by my 'Master', even if I do not necessarily do them just as he does, and have my own twist on things.

    Traditionally, 'Dharma Transmission' has been bestowed for several reasons in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The best reason is the one above, I think, namely that one non-understands and can pass that non-understanding on. But sometimes it was given purely for reasons of political or social connection (like the Queen might bestow a Knighthood), or because the Transmittee was useful to the lineage, for example, as a good cook or translator of texts. In Japan, since priests were allowed to marry in the 19th century, the Soto school has tended to allow lineage and Transmission to be passed from blood father to son almost automatically so that temples can be 'kept in the family'. My own teacher, Nishijima, is a critic of that whole system whereby temples have often become little more than money making operations passed from generation to generation to do expensive funeral ceremonies.

    Lineage should serve as some evidence to new students that a teacher is 'qualified'. Unfortunately, it does not always or in most cases (because of the way the system operates, as described above). The only way to know is, ultimately, to sit with a teacher for awhile and see if he/she is sincere, seems to know the ropes, and if he/she actually helps the student practice the Dharma (and that there is no abusive situation, cult activity, money making motives. Listening to the opinions of other students of the teacher may not be that useful, as people tend get hypnotized by the guru they latch on to ... only to find out years later that maybe they should not have given the guy their house and savings and run off to his Ashram). You just have to try a teacher and see if the teachings somehow seem right and work in your life. Because a lot of fakes and con-men have hung out the name 'Zen Master' on their own ('Zen Master Rama' was a self-proclaimed 'Master' and a true piece of abusive work) or questionable authority and knowledge (a fellow who calls himself 'Adyashanti' gets my goat, and is almost a parody of what a Zen teacher should be), students need to be careful. Two organizations were established in the US to check teacher's credentials and to attempt to uphold standards (the 'American Zen Teachers Association' and the 'Soto Zen Buddhist Association'), and I belong to both. We often get complaints from people who are coming out of abusive situations with self-proclaimed masters and gurus and charlatans of all sorts.

    Western students have romanticized the whole idea of Zen Teacher, and many of the books about Zen (D.T.Suzuki, Three Pillars and others) were an encouragement to their doing so because those writers presented a very idealized, mystical picture of the process. Many teachers, enjoying the power trip and the adulation of the crowd, encouraged this (read "Shoes By the Door" about SFZC in the 70's), resulting in all kinds of sex and other scandals at Buddhist centers. Don't get me wrong: A good Zen teacher can help the student swallow the whole universe, drop away time and space, see beyond life&death and all that ... but he/she is just a human being complete with dandruff, bad habits and annoying foibles too (just ask my wife when she can't get me to take out the garbage). Here are a couple of excellent articles done on the whole subject a few years ago ...

    http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Cri ... Clouds.htm

    http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Cri ... zation.htm

    I did my own parody of what many students want in an 'Eastern Master' here, for one of the daily 'Sit-a-Long with Jundo''s on the blog.

    http://treeleafzen.blogspot.com/2007/05 ... gi-xv.html

    I do think that it is good to for us to honor our Lineage, and our history, and all the teachers who came before to make the teachings possible. It is much like honoring one's own mother and father and ancestors. It is not merely a lineage in time or a single place, nor a single line, but encompasses each mountain, grain of sand, blade of grass and star. It is ordinary, but it is plenty funky too! I think.

    Well, anyway, no "perfect beings" around here. Only "perfectly imperfect, perfectly-just-what-they-are" beings.

    Gassho, Jundo

  6. #6
    Hi Jundo,

    Many thanks for your wise words on that important subject. That once again reinforces my feeling that I'm in the right sangha!

    Gassho
    Kenneth

  7. #7
    Jundo, your way of approaching tough topics with a mixture of humor and guidance continues to put me at ease here at Treeleaf. Thanks for your post on this topic - it was extremely helpful (especially since I'm currently reading The Three Pillars of Zen!).

  8. #8
    I do concur! I know I am in the right place and feel very grateful to call Jundo my teacher and Treeleaf my Sangha.

    We're building a great community here.

    gassho,

    Gregor

  9. #9
    During the Edo period in Japan most Zen practitioners shared the common conviction that Zen had become corrupted and manipulated by the lineage system. It was common also to hear the statement that Zen in Japan had ceased to exist and that enlightened teachers were no longer to be found. If Zen relied upon the unbroken mind-to-mind transmission, but no enlightened teachers were to be found to continue this transmission, what were they to do?

    At this time it became necessary to win realization on one's own and to sanction one's own enlightenment, to strive independently as the Buddha had done. The only authentic legacy remaining from the past was the original mind of enlightenment. It dawned on many that this mind alone, not the paper sanctions of unrealised teachers, was what linked them back to the Buddha. The motto of the time was "Those who carry on the wisdom of the Buddha and the patriarchs rely on themselves, being enlightened independently, without a teacher, so that the reality continues."

    During the Early Edo period, there were hundreds of celebrated priests who achieved realisation on their own. They were referred to as "jigo jishõ" - self-enlightened and self-certified. Suzuki Shõsan was one of these, together with Tõsui, Gudõ Tõshoku, Dokuan, Daigu, Itchũ, Ungo, Isshi, Genshin, Daijin, - all famous Zen masters. Some were abbots of large temples such as Ungo who became the head abbot of Myõshinji.

    The famous Takuan Sõhõ, although he had received ordination, refused to appoint a successor, despite pleas from the Shõgun Iemitsu. He sided with the thoughts of Tõsui, and said, "That which is the Dharma cannot be passed on, I'm not interested in paper Zen."

    I find it strange that these Zen pioneers were accepted in their day as great Zen masters, many of whom wrote respected texts on Zen, but today unless one has a teacher or certification from a teacher, or is a member of the big Sõtõ beauocracy one is in some way not legitimate.

  10. #10
    Hi Jun

    Quote Originally Posted by Jun
    ... He sided with the thoughts of Tõsui, and said, "That which is the Dharma cannot be passed on, I'm not interested in paper Zen."

    I find it strange that these Zen pioneers were accepted in their day as great Zen masters, many of whom wrote respected texts on Zen, but today unless one has a teacher or certification from a teacher, or is a member of the big Sõtõ beauocracy one is in some way not legitimate.
    A very interesting post. I am thinking the source is "Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan?")

    I think that there are many, many experienced practitioners alive today who, although not certified by a teacher or even ordained, are wonderful full or part time teachers (I think that several of the folks who participate in this forum show such potential). It is just that, if one is serious about becoming a teacher, one will usually head down the route of formal training. I mean, I was teaching before I was ordained, but my teacher (Nishijima) suggested I be ordained at one point (and receive "Dharma Transmission" later). At first I resisted for many of the reasons you state (true Zen is beyond all that), but then I thought it would be appropriate (true Zen is also all that).

    Yes, people take someone more seriously when they see the robes, like when they see a white coat on a doctor or other black robes on a judge. Of course, there are many bad doctors and judges out there despite the clothing, and same with priests. But, I feel better about the chances of getting good care or a fair trial if I see the fellow went to law/medical school (I say this as a retired lawyer myself).

    No, there is nothing to stop someone from hanging out their Zen shingle and just starting to teach. Nothing at all. And the person could be better than any fellow with a fancy robe. The -ONLY- test is whether the person speaks wisdom, and is a true aid to his/her students. That is the only real test, I think..

    Gassho, Jundo

  11. #11
    Probably inspired by the whole Edward Penney/Edo Shonin debacle, the Buddhist Channel has just published the articles How to spot a Buddhist Cult and Handling a cult situation.

    Some very good advice:
    Ask questions, do research

    If you wish to take affirmative action, or want to help someone who cannot seem to get themselves out from the clutches of the group, it is imperative to find out about the respective teachings that the group purports to follow.

    First thing off the block is to research on the background of the teacher. Find out what lineage he or she belongs to, and how long the person has been ordained. If the teacher cannot provide evidence of ordination on when, where and how it took place, and is evasive about who their teachers were, his or her credentials can be assumed to be suspect.

    An easy give away is the robes worn by the teacher. If it looks like an ensemble of garments which is not consistent with what is worn by mainstream Buddhist monks or nuns (i.e. Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana), it is likely to be self created. If information of the ordination is provided, bring it to a third party for authentication and verification. The people whom you have asked for help will be able to provide the required assistance.

    Find out about the type of teachings that is being propagated. This means looking at the ways chanting (or puja) is conducted, how meditation is practiced and the types of sutras that are used for Dharma studies. Compare these with the lineage or tradition which the teacher purports to follow. There are many sites on the internet that provide such information.

    Other signs to look out for are the type of food taken (in particular, such things like alcohol, drugs or even [excessive consumption of] meat) and the time of the meals concern (for instance Theravada monks do not eat after lunch). Also pay attention to any particularity with regards to the frequency and intensity of meetings held with regards to fund raising activities.

    Make a note on the behavior of the people involved with that of the precepts. These rules are summarized in the Patimokkha of the Vinaya Pitaka (Book of Discipline), and amount to 227 rules for the monks, 311 for the nuns (at least in the Theravada tradition). For lay practitioners, they either follow the five or eight precepts.

    If you find discrepancies between the activities carried out by the group with that of other mainstream groups within the tradition, identify them and note it down.
    I don't think that any Japanese groups follow the Vinaya Pitaka, so I wouldn't read it unless I was investigating a Theravadan group (actually I don't think I'd even read it then). The Japanese kesa and surplus are very specific to the lineage and school, I believe Tibetan clothing is as well. So showing a pic of the teacher to another member of the lineage can give them away immediately. But the colour and style of Chinese/East Asian robes aren't standardised. Chinese monks/nuns typically will have circular burn marks on the top of their heads - if they don't then you can ask why not.

    Legitimate teachers should be more than happy to provide details about their lineage and its history, and to explain the significance of their rituals, the setup of their shrine, and their garments. All this stuff should be Google-able. Writing or phoning their teacher or another senior member of their lineage to express concerns seems to usually work well. If the questionable leader is faking their credentials, their supposed master or guru will likely want to get the word out ASAP.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    A very interesting post. I am thinking the source is "Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan?")

    No, there is nothing to stop someone from hanging out their Zen shingle and just starting to teach. Nothing at all. And the person could be better than any fellow with a fancy robe. The -ONLY- test is whether the person speaks wisdom, and is a true aid to his/her students. That is the only real test, I think..

    Gassho, Jundo
    Hello Jundo,

    Thank you for offering your opinion on this. To date, you are the only one (together with others here) to have even bothered to answer at all.

    My primary sources are:

    Myõshinji roppyakunen shi, Amakuki Setsusan
    Nihon no Zen Goroku, Fujiyoshi Jikai
    Shõsan Mon Haja Sõ Retsuden, Wakagi Taichi
    Mõanjõ, Suzuki Shõsan Rõshi
    Bushi Nichiyõ, Suzuki Shõsan Rõshi
    Letting Go - The Story of Zen Master Tõsui, Peter Haskel
    Warrior of Zen, Arthur Braverman

    Together with what is told to me by my current teacher and the people with whom we practice when in Japan. Currently we are sitting with this group as we find they are not interested in beauocracy. The Zen they practice is in the tradition of Suzuki Shõsan Rõshi.

    Website about Suzuki Shõsan Rõshi - http://www.geocities.jp/shimizuke1955/1 ... ousan.html

    As for the wearing of robes, it doesn't actually prove anything. I have been to plenty of shops in Japan who will sell you the correct robes, rakusu, kesa etc. that you ask for. A quick search of Yahoo! Auctions Japan shows a number of people selling koromo and kesa.

    I agree with Jundo, the teachings are not truly to be found in outward signs of affiliation or membership. "The -ONLY- test is whether the person speaks wisdom, and is a true aid to his/her students."

    Gassho

  13. #13
    paige wrote:

    I wouldn't want to study with a "self-enlightened master"............
    That would mean Philip Kapleau Rõshi then as he considers the lineage system a myth, and was not ordained by Yasutani Roshi. I understand he has started his own line much as Suzuki Shõsan Rõshi did.

    That would also include the people with whom my wife and I practice when in Japan as they are carrying on the tradition of jigo jishõ as set out by Suzuki Shõsan Rõshi and hundreds of others in the early to mid-Edo jidai.

  14. #14
    That's not what I meant, Jun.

    I'm talking about the people who claim that they never needed teachers in the first place.

    Whether they have a kosher ordination or not, it sounds like the people with whom you practise in Japan wouldn't get cagey about providing the names of their teacher, or their teacher's teacher, etc.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by paige
    That's not what I meant, Jun.

    I'm talking about the people who claim that they never needed teachers in the first place.

    Whether they have a kosher ordination or not, it sounds like the people with whom you practise in Japan wouldn't get cagey about providing the names of their teacher, or their teacher's teacher, etc.
    I see.

  16. #16

    zen lineage and mind to mind transmission

    Once you get a taste of what is sane and true,
    nothing else will do
    alone or with others too
    there on the zabuton, on the zafu

    I did not invent this practice, true
    yet every time I sit it is discovered anew

  17. #17

    zen lineage and mind to mind transmission

    Sorry--I only had time to write my little poem and had to head out the door. Lineage and pedigrees--somewhere these things make sense and have a place but what does it have to do with my sitting--everything and nothing--what do my parents have to do with my sitting--everything and nothing.
    It is great fun to look into the historical aspects. I greatly appreciate those who put so much effort into meticulous research. I especially appreciate those whose loving labor brings us translations of works of great zen masters such as Dogen Zenji.
    Even after reading an inspiring insightful passage, when I sit--no matter who else might be with me--I sit alone and with all sentient beings.

  18. #18

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