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Buddhadharma : Winter 2005
buddhadharma| 41 |winter 2005 But even in the theistic traditions, there is some irony to this institutional bias. Consider the main burden of Jesus’s teaching mission. In his time, the official Judaic establishment in charge of the Jerusalem temple and its sacrificial cult, with its network of financial obligations, require- ments, and specific procedures, claimed to offer the sole access to God. Jesus, by contrast, taught that the kingdom of God was already within, and that therefore one did not require any external mediating force to attain salvation. Consider as well Martin Luther’s primary criticism of the Ro- man Catholicism of his time, which insisted there was “no salvation outside of the church,” with its exclusively male hierarchies, its institutions, and its undeniable politics. Luther championed the “priesthood of all believers”: that no person or institution can get between the individual and God, and that every person had his or her own unmediated relationship with the Almighty. In a nontheistic tradition such as Buddhism, the question of authenticity has its own particular challenge. On the one hand, like all organized religions, Buddhism has its institutions, power structures, and organizational hierarchies. In some Buddhist traditions, such as Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism, these are front and center; in others, such as Zen, they sometimes stand more in the background. Given our own religious history, we Western Buddhists may find ourselves looking to these external authorities to determine what is spiritually legitimate and what is not. On the other hand, as a nontheistic tradition, Buddhism holds that the ultimate is discovered not in any external agent, but in the innermost heart of the meditator. This leads to the obvious question of how the internal and the external “authorities” are related to one another in the various Buddhist lineages, and by what measures we can determine what is authentic. In Tibetan Buddhism, the term “lineage” has historically been used in a variety of ways. Three specific meanings of lineage are particularly important to this discussion: lineage as “pri- mordial lineage,” as “transmission lineage,” and as “organizational lineage.” By understanding these three ways in which the term has been used, we can arrive at some useful insights into the question of authenticity. The Primordial Lineage The primordial lineage is the most important of the three and is historically the most ancient, being original to Buddhism. What is the primordial lineage? It is the direct experience of the awakened state. It is what the Buddha uncovered in the moment of his enlightenment. The Buddha discovered that within us is a totally uncompromised, immaculate awaken- ing – right now, in this very moment. He realized that all of the trappings, ideas, practices, and paraphernalia he had encountered in his spiritual journey were at that point irrelevant. He found himself simply awake and present, seeing all things nakedly and directly. He experienced his life in a completely stripped-down and unadorned way, beyond hope and fear, with no sense of politics whatsoever. Completely present and direct – that’s the primordial lineage. From a certain point of view, that is what all Buddhism is about. It is discovering the primordial lineage within us and learn- ing how to express it in our lives. It is the primordial lineage that the Buddha principally transmitted to his own students. ya, fell fully open and he directly realized the awakened state within. The Buddha, seeing that his friend had met the primordial lineage face-to-face, exclaimed joyfully, “Kaundinya’s got it; he’s got it.” The various major Buddhist traditions give different names to the primordial lineage. In Theravada, it is called cessation, meaning that with which we come face-to-face when the five skandhas fall away. In the early Mahayana, it is known as prajnaparamita: the transcendent wis- dom underlying all ordinary human knowing. In Zen, it is known as “no mind”: what occurs when we have utterly worn out trying to know anything and find we have lost ourselves – and found ourselves – in “don’t-know mind.” And in Tibetan Buddhism, it is Mahamudra, “the great seal [of reality],” and Dzogchen, that which is the “utter and final fruition.” As a nontheistic tradition, Buddhism holds that the primordial lineage is our ultimate and inmost essence, our buddhanature. Nevertheless, the primordial lineage is so foreign to who we think we are and to the habitual operation of our ego that we are generally not aware of it as the ground of our being. Typically, we first encounter the primordial lineage in other people who manifest it, and specifically in our revered teachers. When we do meet it in another person, it is not uncommon to feel some kind of tremendous intensity in their presence. We may experience Time’s Arrow, 1987 (seascape: 1980; reliquary fragment: Kamakura period, 13th century) Gelatin silver print, gilt bronze CouRtesyofsonnAbendGAlleRy