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© Nanabozho (Gichi Wabush)
This page updated October 5, 2003


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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 Master Nishijima).

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 "zen" circles.

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.


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