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Buddhadharma : Winter 2005
buddhadharma| 43 |winter 2005 and never has been any discrete or substantial “self,” that any notion of personal territory is a dream, and that our habitual patterns are completely beside the point. To what extent, then, can we allow the implications of the primordial lineage to per- meate our karmic history, our lives, and the persons we thought we were, so that there is no corner of a “me” left over? A great teacher has become completely transparent to the primordial lineage, so that he or she is nothing other than the primordial awakening manifesting in an apparently human form. Such a person is known in the Buddhist tradition as a nirmanakaya, a person in whom the primordial lineage has arrived at full maturation and perfection. Yet it would be a mistake to overemphasize the distinction between the very greatest masters and others who authentically hold the primordial lineage. As Tulku Urgyen repeatedly empha- sized, it is just a matter of development. In fact, the challenge to every practitioner – indeed, the expectation – is that each of us, through a life of dedicated and devoted meditation practice, will come to hold the primordial lineage in the full and perfected sense. Such was the confidence of the Buddha himself in his disciples, and such has been the confidence and encouragement of all the great teachers down to the present day. The Transmission Lineage The transmission lineage comprises the various ways in which the primordial lineage, the buddha mind, is communicated and transmitted to students. Again, we can see this meaning of lin- eage in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha. For seven weeks fol- lowing his enlightenment, the Buddha remained in the vicinity of the bodhi tree. During this time, he experienced some uncer- tainty. Should he abide in the beatific silence of the awakened state, or should he try to communicate his realization? He won- dered whether anyone would be able to receive his teaching. Nevertheless, after a certain period of time, the piteous cries of suffering beings all over the world reached the Buddha’s ears and, in response, great compassion spontaneously arose in him. At this point, the Buddha faced a challenge: how should he communicate his realization and the path to it? The Buddha himself had followed a very circuitous path to realization. He had studied with many different teachers and followed a variety of paths, and his journey was filled with obstacle-ridden routes and dead ends of all kinds. He did not want to put his own disciples through the same kind of un- guided trial and error that had marked his own path. So, begin- ning with his first sermon in Deer Park, the Buddha began to develop methods, often unique to his dharma, of bringing oth- ers to the primordial truth. The first teaching to his five friends marks the beginning of the transmission lineage in Buddhism. The early texts tell us that far from settling on one method or “program” for transmitting the awakened state to others, the Buddha spent his entire teaching career developing differ- ent “gates to awakening” that reflected his disciples’ differing capacities and needs. By the time of his death, so we are told, the Buddha had developed 84,000 different methods of trans- mission of the awakened state. By now, among the various Buddhist traditions, there are probably many times the original 84,000 dharmas. Part of the genius and creativity of great teachers is the variety of ways they lead their students to the heart essence. A central concern of the practice traditions of Tibetan Buddhism has always been to maintain the full range of the transmission lineages. In par- ticular, the renowned Rimé masters of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries sought to preserve, as living traditions, the many different transmission lineages that were in danger of dying out in their day. The multitude of transmission lineages is important because every person has a different set of capacities, inclinations, and karmic connections through which to receive the primordial lineage. The job of the skilled teacher is to find that one teach- ing or practice that at this precise moment in a student’s jour- ney will open his or her mind to its full depth. In Buddhist history, different schools and lineages have tended to emphasize particular transmission lineages, or approaches. Zen, for example, awakens us through sitting, walking, oryoki, koans, interviews with the teacher, poetry, brush painting, flower arranging, and so on. All of these are examples of the transmission lineage, of gates of access to the primordial itself. Both Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism have many common and also distinctive transmission lineages. Altogether, the abun- dance of transmission lineages is quite extraordinary. It is important to note that the transmission lineages do not maintain their validity and effectiveness on their own. Transmis- sion lineages only fulfill their intended function if they are taught from the viewpoint of the primordial lineage, if they are given in a completely selfless way, and if they lead trainees more deeply into the unborn nature. If the passing on of specific practice teachings is done with other motives, such as institution build- ing, attracting supporters, or ensuring the allegiance of students, then the transmission lineage has been co-opted to some differ- ent purpose. It doesn’t matter how traditional a practice may be; if it isn’t taught from the viewpoint of the primordial and if it doesn’t lead to awakening, then it has lost its integrity. How may one determine the authenticity and integrity of a transmission that is being given? The most important point is that the transmission is offered from the vantage point of the primordial lineage and that it opens the way for the disciple to realize the awakened state. The person giving the transmission must be well experienced in the practice that he or she is trans- mitting. And the student receiving the transmission must have the proper understanding, motivation, and preparation. First, the student needs a correct understanding of the purpose of the practice he or she is doing. The purpose of all Buddhist practice is to strip away the conceptual overlays that obscure the awakened state within. This may sound attractive in principle, but the actual process of the path, as the hagiographies of the great meditators amply show, is the most challenging and painful thing that one can ever go through. The journey clearly involves much self-confrontation, many obstacles, and more than a fair share of suffering. If we don’t understand that what is at stake is our very being, our treasured life, and familiar world, then we will be unable to actually engage the practice. In order to engage a particular practice, we also need the right motivation. This is different from an accurate under- standing of the basic intention of the various practices. We may know what practice is about, on a general level, but when we hIRoshIsuGImoto/CouRtesyofsonnAbendGAlleRy