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  1. #1


    I posted the following at ZFI today on Lineage, fact and fiction. Since it connects to our readings, I thought to post it here too. I am sorry that it is a little long:


    For centuries, Zen Masters claimed authority based in part on their membership in an unbroken Lineage of Masters stretching back to Shakyamuni Buddha and beyond. They also created and passed on stories and fantastic legends about the magic powers of many of these Masters ... ... ta&f=false

    The historical evidence is now overwhelming that the "Zen Lineage" ... as so much else about Buddhist history in general ... was a cook-up, and paste job, a creation of later members of a club trying to give legitimacy to their claims of authority. There are now many good books on the subject ...

    "Fathering your Father" ... 610&sr=8-1

    "Seeing through Zen" ... pd_sim_b_5

    The tradition of Chan Buddhism--more popularly known as Zen--has been romanticized throughout its history. In this book, John R. McRae shows how modern critical techniques, supported by recent manuscript discoveries, make possible a more skeptical, accurate, and--ultimately--productive assessment of Chan lineages, teaching, fundraising practices, and social organization.

    Likewise, the Flower Garland Sutra, and many or all of the other Suttas and Sutras ... are highly edited or totally original stories that were the imaginative works of later writers (inspired or not) to express their religious vision. Turning to those made up legends to make some argument about the illegitimacy of some other legends is like the fairy tale pot calling the legendary kettle black.

    So, what arguments can be made in defense of "Zen Lineage" in this skeptical day and age? How can I dare put my robes on each morning and look in the mirror with a straight face?

    Well, for one, there is that one perspective by which the one True Lineage of the Buddhas is as real as real can be, for it is merely the Lineage that sweeps in all time and space, every grain of sand or child's tear, future-present-past ... and whatever is real when all thought of each and all and here and there and time is dropped away too ... whatever is real and true and whole is the "Buddha's Lineage". It is ALL a FICTION ... because, at heart, ALL of our experience of a "world and self" is a FICTION created by our false sense of those things ... and simultaneously it is ALL REAL AS REAL CAN BE ... every chair and table, myth and story too, just the very REALLY WHAT IT IS content of this 'dream within a dream' (much like saying that "Mickey Mouse" is truly the manifestation of "Mickey Mouse-ness" ... not one hair to add or take away from Mickey to make Mickey more wonderfully Mickey ... as so many an adoring child will attest). This whole world is a paste job fairy tale cooked up in the mind of a writer ... the mind.

    What better way to celebrate the TRUTH of the MYTH AND MIRAGE that is this whole world than with myths and mirages which instruct us in the Truth of that Fact of Fiction! :shock:

    And, for one, myths and legends stand for very real truths about the human condition too (thank you, Joseph Campbell and the like, for reminding us of that). The "demons" which Upagupta fought in the legend cited above may not be literally "real" (I am rather skeptical of the story)... but is not our practice about the suffering of human beings, and the very real "demons" of greed, anger and ignorance with which they wrestle each day?

    And, for one, the persons in the "Lineage Legend" may not be the actual people ... but SO MANY SOMEBODIES WHOSE NAMES HAVE BEEN FORGOTTEN, gave birth to our tradition and kept this darn 'Chan/Zen Way' developing and alive through the centuries, generation by generation. The Chan/Zen way was probably a later development in Buddhist history ... when the Buddhist teachings came to China and mixed with Taoist and other Chinese cultural influences. However, like a great river which begins upstream in the headwaters or a great fire which begins from a spark, certainly our Way stretches right back to the start ... and the "legends" celebrate all the nameless teachers, men and women, who kept the "flame" alive, nurtured it and found ever fresh ways to express it. The "solid proof" that these nameless teachers existed is simply the fact that we are here now, inheritors of the flame and sailing that Great River here, downstream.

    And, for one, though "Chan/Zen" ... and all "Mahayana" Buddhism ... may have been "later developments" hundreds of years after the time of the "Founder" ... and although we may be now beginning very new and original forms of Buddhist practice today in the west ... FORTUNATELY, WE DO NOT BELIEVE IN BEGINNINGS! Or, better said, each beginning expresses all time and space such the each beginning is all beginnings, stretching back to the future and forward to the past. When you and I plop down on the cushion right today ... all the Buddhas and Ancestors are sitting right today, sure as shootin'. Life begins now, and now, and now ...

    And, for one, "Buddhist Lineage" is like a 'flesh and blood' DNA inheritance, or any "cultural inheritance". I do not know every ancestor in the "Cohen" family (supposedly, by another legend, the oldest extant family name in the world, stretching back 5000 years) ...

    ... nor did I ever meet personally Jefferson, Lincoln or Susan B. Anthony ... yet I now stand as the living, breathing heir of each and all that. I am a "yankee", culturally inheriting the nation where I was born (even though I no longer live there, recognizable by the accent and slang whenever I open my mouth) ... and though I do not practice traditional "Judaism", I am certainly culturally a Jew. Likewise, I am an heir of the Zen tradition which gave birth to me as a teacher after years of immersion in that cultural milleau. I am a product of my fathers and mothers.

    This lineage and blood line is as real as real can be ...

    ... because of what it manifests through us right in this moment. The Zen practice we bring to fruit here, on this tree in this season, owes its sweetness to all the countless generations of trees and farmers ... some nameless, some forgotten ... stretching back endlessly. Only because of them can we taste this sugar on our tongues right now. I bow down, and honor them.

    Now, this all begs the bottom line question:

    Can one also inherit these timeless teachings without a teacher and without "formally" being part of a Zen Lineage, or just simply by (as someone proposed) sticking a couple of Sutras in your backpack and hiking the "holy trails of Yosemite"? YES! Of course.

    But you are also more likely than not going to end up with someone with their own, very personal and half-baked ideas of these teachings ... someone who is convinced they "figured it out" when (without the sounding board and mirror that having a teacher provides) they are skimming the surface or lost in circles and fooling themselves ... someone who thinks they are a diamond when (without the polishing and shaping of the jeweler-teacher's hand) they remain a diamond in the rough unable to bring out the true brilliance of imperfections.

    That does not mean, of course, that every product of a "recognized Lineage" will necessarily end up a shining diamond ... certainly not (there are a lot of questionable folks out there with a "robe and a piece of paper certifying their enlightenment"). However, one is more likely to end up with a well formed "teacher" when the "teacher's teacher" was a gifted teacher who knew how to pass on those teachings, and who had an eye for his students ... could sift out among them the special ones ... could be a good judge of character who could see which students manifested wisdom and compassion and which did not ... all to insure (just a little bit) that things would be left in good hands for the next generation.

    I believe there is great value in having some recognized and respected teacher or institution (in modern Dharma Transmission, it is usually a combination of multiple teachers and institutions) approve someone else as a teacher. It is the same reason that you don't want to turn over your heart surgery to anyone with a white coat, but would like to see that the doctor graduated from medical school. It does not mean that the Harvard Graduate doctor will not also screw up your heart transplant, but there is a little level of confidence there that the guy knows what he is doing more than turning your heart surgery over to the butcher in the super market.

    Many lineages may have cheapened Dharma Transmission, the more serious lineages tend to take its passing on seriously.

    Now, there are many licensed doctors with white coats and fancy degrees who are just butchers, and will do real harm. But there are far more butchers who are just butchers.

    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. But, far more common is the fellow who has had a little insight into "oneness" or "one beyond one", and can dish out a few Zenny fortune cookies (even some beautifully written and composed fortune cookies), conundrums and bits of cheap philosophy ... and thus thinks he should immediately be qualified as the One True Heir of Shakyamuni. Yes, there are a few of both kinds of Zennist on this very forum.

    Yes, people take someone more seriously when they see the robes, a shaved head, and that someone has had "Dharma Transmission", like when they see a white coat on a doctor or a shiny diploma on the wall. As I said, there are many bad doctors out there despite the clothing, and degree, and same with priests. But, I feel there is a better chance of getting good care if the fellow went to medical school or had formal Buddhist training.

    So, Dharma Transmission is a fiction and bullsh*t.

    The way it is handed out as easily as newspaper shopping coupons by some sects of Buddhism these days in Asia (I refer to the Japanese wing of my own Soto sect among others)** cheapens it. It is passed on from father to son so that the latter may inherit the family temple funeral business, and with about as much procedure and difficulty as getting a driver's license. It is bullsh*t. (**The western branch of Soto is actually doing a MUCH better job of taking Transmission seriously)

    And Dharma Transmission is a jewel, everything (while, of course, nothing at all).

    Let me close with this ...

    As the parent of an adopted child, I often compare it to parenthood. Basically, to create a parent-child relationship, the former needs to fornicate and drop a kid. One the other hand, to truly create a parent-child relationship ... well, there's everything that goes into the next 20 years of a parent's selfless nurturing of a child who will reach adulthood, the love and sacrifice ... that is a true parent-child relationship.

    Dharma Transmission is much like that.

    At its best, the child/heir and parent/master can look each other in the eye with an unspoken trust, love and understanding ... and the parent/master helped guide someone who will live with a special wisdom and compassion ... and raise his/her own 'kids' to do the same, on and on.

    Now, don't get me wrong ... the child is rarely exactly a copy of the parent, and parent and child will not (and cannot) see eye to eye on many things. Otherwise, we would live in a world of carbon copy clones, there would be no change and development. As in a real family, heir and teacher can often disagree quite forcefully on practices and beliefs ... yet, look each other in the eye-to-eye and have that understanding beyond words ... just like any kids and parents.

    ... that teaching beyond words.

    That is why there is no hesitancy to bow down and offer incense, gratitude to one's Teacher ... just as we should express some filial piety to our own parents for raising us ... no matter that (as all human beings) they and we are far from perfect.

    No, there is nothing to stop someone from hanging out their Zen shingle, wrapping him self in a white bed blanket, 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.. As a teacher myself, I expect that new students who do not know me will gain some confidence by the fact that I have "Dharma Transmission", was recognized by an older established teacher, that I practiced for 25 years, and belong to the SZBA, etc. However, that trust should last for no more than a few weeks or months.** After that, I hope a student judges me ONLY for what I say and do, and for whether the philosophy I advocate is having some positive effects on their life and Practice.PERIOD. If anyone feels that I, or any other teacher, is full of bull crap ... RUN, DON'T WALK, FOR THE EXITS (and get full refund of your admission fee).

    ** Note: The reason some trust is necessary at the start is because the teacher is usually having to tell the new student some pretty wild stuff about how their "common sense" view of life is kind of a dream, and many things that the student does not want to hear, finds illogical or unpleasant. So, you need the white coat until the medicine starts to work.
    Anyway, enough about that. I have work to do in the garden.

    Gassho, Jundo

  2. #2


    A wonderful read! Thank you Jundo!


  3. #3


    Thank you for this timely and content rich teaching effort. It creates a great sense of gratitude and respect for all past efforts, both known and unknown, that have brought Zen to this moment. gassho zak

  4. #4


    Thank you

  5. #5


    It's kind of a miracle that everytime in my life that I needed a true teacher, one or many appeared. Good article.


  6. #6


    Gassho *** *** ***

    Seishin Kyrill

  7. #7


    Many thanks !



    PS : Have you ever thought of writing a book ? There are so many valuable texts that you can reflect upon and share. I was in China for a while and I could not access the website as it was blocked. I found a buddhist temple in the middle of the slums, what a beauty to discover that. I think for many people it is still impossible to see and hear the dharma.

  8. #8


    I apologize for commenting so late when I knew shortly after Jundo's first post what I wanted to say, yet my delay yielded some unexpected benefits and the ultimate prompt to get me on here.

    Years ago I watched Bill Moyers' series of interviews with Joseph Campbell and there was a point in one of those later interviews where, after Mr. Campbell had pretty much completely eradicated any shred of reality of truth to the issue of Jesus, as well as many other of the myths of christianity. To my great astonishment, Bill Moyers responded that all that Mr C. had said had actually strengthened his faith. What!!! Logic and history had completely laid bare it all, as far as I could tell, yet he said this completely illogical statement. Now, after studying Buddhism for a number of years, I get it. Bill Moyers was a man of great faith, and what he had faith in, I now understand, was the principles, not the people, of christianity. He no longer cared about what who did what and it meant, the facts. Instead, he was able to transcend the "factual" history into something more meaningful in his life. What more can any religion do than that? I get that now.

    My last comment is stupid yet worthy because it it what finally prompted me to post. But then again, it's because I keep finding wisdom in all the "stupidity" that surrounds us, especially as it applies to popular culture. I just finished watching the movie "Kung Fu Panda," which wasn't all that stupid. Anyway, here's the part that relates: Po, the hero, realizes the secret he is searching for resides within him, that the secret scroll is empty, that there is nothing more than just him! Every time he opens it he keeps seeing only himself. WOW! Isn't that a perfect example of our practice?

    The lineage is empty!
    Bodhi Svaha!
    And the fact that the lineage is empty is exactly what gives depth and meaning to our practice!
    It has never been the "who did what" of the story; it has always been what the story means.

    It's up for you to do the rest
    We have the ability to live the lineage every day
    That's what makes it real
    Bodhi, Svaha

  9. #9


    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    The lineage is empty!
    Bodhi Svaha!
    And the fact that the lineage is empty is exactly what gives depth and meaning to our practice!
    It has never been the "who did what" of the story; it has always been what the story means.

    It's up for you to do the rest
    Bodhi, Svaha

  10. #10


    Gassho as deeply as I have ever done so to that incredibly full empty lineage
    I alone make it real
    As it should be
    And you>

  11. #11


    I'm late to this post having just joined, but I wanted to thank you, Jundo, for this excellent teaching. I have always questioned the veracity of the Zen lineage claims (actually any religion's historical "truths"), so it is so refreshing to read your honest and positive assessment of what the truth of these claims really mean for our practice.

    Many thanks,

  12. #12


    Great lecture Jundo Sensei! Honestly, it's the Shikantaza aspect of Soto Zen that appeals to me most. The past must always be taken with a grain of salt. What is important is here and now. Not to say that these historical records don't have their place.....Just sit!


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