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Buddhadharma : Fall 2012
FALL 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 7 Shambhala Sun Foundation An independent, nonprofit corporation. Publishers of the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly. Recently I empowered two of my senior students—Rinso Ed Sattizahn and Kuzan Peter Schireson—as full-fledged independent Zen teachers, in a weeklong cer- emony we call dharma transmission in the Soto Zen tradition of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. The ceremony has many aspects, but two are paramount: lineage and precepts. As I stud- ied these aspects of the ceremony, I found it useful to understand each of them as having three levels: outer, inner, and innermost. Lineage means a succession of generations. Lineage was particularly important for the emerging Zen tradition of seventh-century China, which gained credibility with the more established Buddhist sects of the time by trac- ing an unbroken line of “mind to mind trans- mission” back to Buddha. This is the outer aspect of lineage, and in Zen we have a list of over ninety names, going back through Japan, China, and India, that define this succession. Modern scholars have pointed out that, par- ticularly in India, this list is somewhat ficti- tious. Many of the teachers on the list did not live during the same time as those said to be their teachers, and there is a total exclusion of women. (Myoan Grace Schireson and Zoke- tsu Norman Fischer have been instrumental in reintroducing the women ancestors to the American Soto Zen community.) But while the scholars may be right in a technical sense, there is still something deep and profound in lineage that cannot be denied. There is some palpable continuity in the conveyance of wisdom from teacher to disciple that is alive for us. I see this con- tinuity as the inner meaning of lineage. We are bonded to these generations of men and women, whoever they were and whenever they might have lived. When you spend a week immersing your- self in lineage, it becomes deeper than an idea, and you actually start to feel its presence in your body and the surrounding space. This is the innermost aspect. I would not go so far as to say that the ancestors appear in the room as ghosts or spirits, but it sometimes feels that way. Many traditional cultures feel that their ancestors are with them, provid- ing guidance and support through dreams, visions, and intuition. Lineage in this sense is not just Buddhist; it is a primal human experience. As for precepts, these too appear in multiple levels. In an outer sense, precepts are the ethi- cal guidelines of sila first taught by the Bud- dha and kept by all Buddhist traditions. In an inner sense, precepts are the person you have become, the life you have lived, and the actions that you take. Dharma transmission ceremoni- ally honors all of that. And in an innermost sense, precepts are the universal, transpersonal moral glue that ties everything together. The weeklong ceremony took place at Empty Nest Zendo, a remote mountain temple led by abbess Myoan Grace Schire- son, who was kind enough to host the event, since I do not have a physical temple of my COMMENTARY Three Levels of Transmission BY LEWIS RICHMOND LEWIS RICHMOND is a Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and the author of Aging as a Spiritual Practice (Gotham 2012). PENNIGLADSTONE