Shiho (Dharma Transmission) bis.
Last month, I told about the Dharma
Transmission I had received from Master Gudo Nishijima.
Receiving said Dharma Transmission at the
same moment than me, there was the leader of the zen dojo of
Villeurbanne, a suburb of Lyons. The man was having a hard time, being
subjected to an intense psychological harassment by the chief of the
Lyons zen dojo so that he would stop trying to organize that new dojo
(a "commercial" attitude, of someone who'd fear competition?), and he
had wanted to combine a (dreamed trip to Japan along with practice.
Confronted to his sincerity, and to his dedication, Master Nishijima
offered him to give him his Dharma Transmission. (Let's remember, so
that things are clear, that neither him nor I had asked for that Dharma
Transmission, which is of the exclusive competence and judgment of
It is therefore during the very same ceremony
that he and I received that Transmission, which made us the
eighty-first generation descendents of the Buddha. And makes us "Twin
Dharma brothers". Indeed, in a perspective which is a heritage from the
Chinese, through Transmission, one enters the great family of the
Patriarchs, one becomes the "sons" of the transmitting Master, the
"brothers" of the others to whom this Master transmistted, the
"nephews"to those who had received their Transmission from the same
"ancestor" than the Master, and so on.
Here we are, then, the "nephews" of at least
two renowned French teachers in this field...
The other day, when I let the members of a
Buddhist mailing-list that I had received that Transmission, I received
some comments, which went on saying that one who'd claim to teach
without being a perfectly realized being would be like a one-eyed man
who'd offer to guide blind persons. Some other comments asserted that
we were depreciating the Transmission. It seemed to me that both these
elements deserved a reply. Let's first mention that the first type of
comment came from "tibetan" circles, and that the second came from
As for the first objection, I had the very
neat impression that what shocked my "tibetan" contenders was that I
should assert being fallible, human and that I should still have some
way to go. The model being indeed that of the perfectly realized
teacher, the teacher to whom one could abandon oneself with closed eyes
that he take us to the other shore. Now, when you read the Pali Canon,
I'm forced to observe that the Buddha sometimes take decisions that
contend his close relations, and that the latter, with the right
argumentation, succeed into having the Blessed One change his opinion.
I also have to observe that a good number of Eastern Buddhist
practicioners, Tibetan included, denounce the excess of veneration
which gets any lama in the West, this being slightly less the case in
their countries (I once heard someone make a comparison with our good
old country parrochial priests who had the benefit of some respect for
their function, indeed, but no more unless they really deserved it. But
the excess of zeal of the newly converts may bring any man normally
constituted to go wrong. This is implicitly what brought someone like
Dagpo Rimpoche to put his vows aside rather than risk failing them and
sully his ethics. Not everyone has done as much.
The second objection goes around to the
first, actually. Until now, Dharma Transmission gave to his (or her)
owner an aura of perfection which brought more than one person to
declare that Soandso was a "perfectly realized master", an assertion
which a minimum of critical mind would have belied. Experience has
shown, be it in the US (see Stuart Lachs' paper) or here the power abuses that such
an attitude may generate.
Now, here are two things. One is that the
first objection looks like it's coming from slaves who are afraid that
their lords might abandon them to some freedom which they wouldn't know
what to do with. And that the second looks like it comes from lords who
fear that the bond which ties their slaves to them might be
annihilated. Sorry, but Buddhism isn't supposed to be a school of
servitude. The master (stricto senso, the Latin word only meant
'teacher') only ought to be a kalyanamitra, a "Dharma friend", whose goal is to bring
the pupil to understand by him (or her) self the deepest meaning of the
teachings. Naturally, this implies at least that the teacher know what
he's talking about. At least a bit more that the student. But it'll
always remain preferable that it be understood that the pupil ought to
test the master, in order to avoid being fooled by a spiritual crook.
May I remind you that these are exceedingly numerous, and that the true
characteristic of a crook, is precisely that people put their trust in
him (need I remind you that a crook who would inspire no trust to
anyone could not swindle anyone...). If you start with the principle
that the teacher is infailible, how can you test him? Only Buddhas
along with Buddhas may know other Buddhas. It is therefore impossible a
priori to a beginner in the Dharma to know if his teacher is a good
master or not. Unless you check from day to day if what he teaches, in
his applying it to everyday life, is worthwhile or not.
This is anyway the teachings
of Gautama Buddha
himself. If the fact that honest people who are irreproachable in their
everyday life (here, I specifically have in mind Master Nishijima)
decide to give their Dharma Transmission to honest people who try
somehow or other to be themselves irreproachable, if this brings some
people into disrepute, people against whom there are things that could
be held, of which the least would not be that of not being sincerely
devoted to the liberation fo beings, well, let's go for it then!.
Ever since the oldest times, Dharma
Transmission has stood for many quite contradictory things. Mythically,
it stood for a recongnition of the pupil's realization. But let us be
sincere. In truth, this must have been the exception, and not the rule.
Most of the time, Dharma Transmission has been used to secure patrons,
to get the favours of mundane big shots, to widen alliance and personal
relations bonds. Please not that this does in no way exclude that it
might have been a true recognition of the realization of the pupil. But
if we do admit of all those other aspects as being natural, we avoid
sweeping it all under the carpet, and to give credence to a
mythological version according to which someone who has got Dharma
Transmission must need be respected and obeyed for that very matter.
Dharma Transmission is a responsibility. If we strip it of some of it's
pernicious aura, it shall no longer be liable to serve as a caution for
the authoritarian deliria of skinheads disguised as monks.