Tuesday, October 9, 2012

more on lineage

Earlier today, I wrote about "lineage."

Someone "anonymyous" was good enough to reply:

"Dogen said it best: "The designation Zen lineage is a twisted, false expression. It derives from the pretensions of bald headed little beasts.""

Dontcha just hate it when someone nails the Jell-O to the wall while you were out looking for a hammer and nails?! 

I do purely love that quote, whoever said it.

The  bulls-eye within the bulls-eye.


  1. Well, I'd be careful of putting words into the mouth of Dogen via a lone, disembodied statement... Dogen was fond of presenting things from various angles in a sort of dialectic way, and most of his seemingly clear statements require some background context to illustrate what he was getting at... and sometimes he just contradicts himself outright!

    Dogen had immense respect and regard for traditional forms, transmission, and the 'buddha ancestors'. He seriously took exception to the whole notion of a 'Zen school' however (that was in some was different from the totality of buddhadharma) as he saw it as somewhat of a historical mistake concocted by people who didn't really get the gist of it.

    He's certainly not denying that there is a lineage, or that transmission from 'buddha to buddha' is not a real occurrence.

    John McRae, in his 'Seeing Through Zen', offers a very interesting view on the long-standing tendency in Zen to retrospectively construct the notion of 'lineage' from what are actually more disparate elements.

    He also points out that, if someone goes to the trouble to make something up, then it is quite important, or more important and the need indicates its own sort of truth (not 'historically accurate' truth as we would consider it now, but that is quite a new value/idea that simply did not have currency 'back in the day').

    I think you'd enjoy that book, Adam (if you haven't already read it). Very refreshing look at all such things IMO.




  2. Thanks Harry. I had a couple of emails that echoed your sentiments, i.e. what was the context in which Dogen spoke the words... if speak them he did?

    And here I have to get out of my finery and admit with full-frontal nudity ... I simply don't care what the context was; I don't care if Dogen was a lineage-loving bandersnatch; I don't care if he got up the next day and said precisely the opposite. When the bell rings, I don't ask if it's Tuesday.

    Which, from another's point of view, may mean only that I agree with the words, both as words and as meaning. And I fess up ... yes, I agree. And more than agree, am dancing.

    Write me off as another idjit.

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  4. Hi Adam,

    Well, good for you, I suppose (as long as that's a position you are not going to 'build a nest in' as the old zen boys put it). I personally wouldn't be inclined to celebrate misrepresenting any gifted commentator on any subject, and would think it somewhat of a shame to degrade their interesting perspectives for want of simple and graspable 'truths'.

    The fact that we only ever live, and can only ever act act, in the present does not negate the fact that there was a past and that we acted previously. This is pretty much what the wild fox koan is about... but if you're on iconoclastic mode you'll hardly want to hear about them apples...!

    I certainly won't be writing you off as another 'idjit' for the sole reason that it's a type of thinking I'm inclined to partake in, but don't find very satisfactory.



  5. OK ... I wouldn't want to 'misrepresent' anyone if I could help it.

    Let's just pretend the green grocer said it ... and I'm still dancing.

  6. "Dogen said it best: "The designation Zen lineage is a twisted, false expression. It derives from the pretensions of bald headed little beasts.""

    "...what was the context in which Dogen spoke the words... if speak them he did?"

    "I simply don't care..." [about context].

    "Write me off as another idjit."

    Sadly, willful stupidity seems common these days among many self described "religious people" across the spectrum of "religions." But then complex idea ares too much to handle sometimes. Also, feigned stupidity serves certain agendas.

    In the present case, I wonder how much of this is egoism and how much is laziness. With respect to "linage" there are many aspects to consider such as the practical, the psychological, the sociological, the scholarly and of course the historical.

    No matter the view, sloppy thinking serves no one well.

    Better to come to the limits of your thought rather than stopping far short.

    Buck up! Sit up straight! Take a deep breath and clear your head!!

    While there is certainly room for those who simply want to sit, we do expect more from both institutionally sanctioned leaders and self-appointed spokespersons.

  7. Here's the bit from Dogen's famous Q & A session in Shobogenzo Bendowa where he presents zazen as the complete path of Buddhism and jumps on the notion of a 'Zen sect/school'... with a few gods thrown in for good measure!

    Q: Samadhi dwells in the three trainings, and dhyanaparamita (means of meditation) in the six means of enlightenment. All Bodhisattvas study them from the beginning. They train without discriminating cleverness and stupidity. Even this zazen may be a part of them. Why do you say that the true law is gathered in zazen?

    A: This question comes from giving the name "Zen sect" to the treasury of the essence of the true law, and to the unexcelled doctrine-the most important teachings of the Buddha. You must understand that the name "Zen sect" emerged from China and the East; it was not heard in India. When Bodhidharma stayed at Shao-Lin in Sung-shan, gazing at the wall for nine years, the priests and laymen did not understand the true law of the Buddha; they called him a Brahmana who emphasized sitting cross-legged. Afterward every patriarch devoted himself to sitting cross-legged. Unenlightened laymen who saw them carelessly referred to them as the zazen sect without understanding the truth. Today the "Za" has been dropped, and the followers of this practice are known as members of the Zen sect. This is clear in the manuscripts of the patriarchs. You must not equate zazen with the meditation in the six means and the three training. The spirit of transmission in Buddhism is clear in the career of the Buddha. To Mahakasyapa alone on Grdhrakuta Mountain the Buddha transmitted the eye and treasury of the true law, the superior mind of enlightenment and supreme doctrine, and some gods in heaven saw it. Don't doubt this. The gods of heaven protect Buddhism eternally. This is still a living fact. You must understand that zazen is the full way of Buddhism. It is incomparable.

    From: http://www.zenki.com/index.php?lang=en&page=bendo01

  8. "sloppy thinking serves no one well."

    Bishafu -- I agree. But to the extent that my 'thinking' is sloppy, it seems to have been neat enough to inspire your thoughtful response.

    And then, perhaps, it might be asked to what extent "the practical, the psychological, the sociological, the scholarly and of course the historical" might represent an altogether too sloppy approach.

    Not arguing. Just wondering.

  9. Thanks Harry. Bless the gods we have chosen to bless us. Never doubt them for a minute, but never imagine they could somehow survive without us.

    Bless the gods we have chosen ... but let's make a sincere effort not to spill the spaghetti sauce of 'wisdom' on our spotless dress shirts.

  10. Adam, sincere effort is not spotless, but it has it's criteria. Insincere effort is certainly not spotless, but it is clearly distinguishable from sincere effort... the fact that we often don't make the distinction in our own conduct is the tricky part it seems.

    An old favourite:

    “Man is certainly stark mad; he cannot make a worm, and yet he will be making gods by dozens.” — Michel de Montaige



  11. Harry -- If "sincere effort is not spotless," will you show me the blemish in your sneeze?

  12. Adam,

    Mind your own business. ;-)

  13. "You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose."

  14. Harry -- Thanks for the reminders. Always a pleasure.

    More seriously, I wonder:

    Lineage is good for credulity.
    Lineage is good for putting spaghetti on the tables within the temple walls.
    But once the stomach is full and the need for belief is in remission...
    What happens to lineage?

    Not trying to pick your nose. Just noodling.

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  16. Adam, it seems to me (even though this need is currently not particularly strong in me personally) that humans need a sense of where they are coming from... this seems even more true for institutions, generally speaking: They need to validate their efforts, define their identities, define the nature of what they do, remind themselves of their values... and some of this seems valid from a practice-realisation point of view, and some of it seems like arrant bullshit!

    I think that is just a sociocultural fact of human existence/experience and, like other aspects of human existence, it has its down sides.

    It also seems to me that the gist of the practice has been transmitted to us from the past and that it is valid to think of it (as one of its many aspects) in terms of a linear historic transmission if we are to be concerned with transmitting it into the future. However, the cart of 'tradition/lineage/institution' can sometimes be put before (and outweigh!) the horse of practice-realisation in this regard, and that's not good.

    I can't say I'm enthused by, or impressed by, those groups/institutions who claim to have the 'authentic lineage' market exclusively cornered; but that's a side street, a red herring: Anyone who practices sincerely knows the real nature of lineage and transmission and will not concern themselves too much with hollow costume parties.



  17. Agreed, Harry. The human need ... perhaps for meaning, perhaps for logic, perhaps for a well-timbered home.

    But, as you say, an "authentic lineage that reaches all the way back to Shakyamuni" is, aside from being historical fabrication, a description that can come to feel like a cornerstone or an integer in some perfect "Buddhist" equation. As I learned it, the Triple Treasure was "Buddha, Dharma, Sangha" not "Buddha, Dharma, Lineage."

    As you say, though, everyone figures this out at whatever time is convenient.

  18. Just because it is a Zen sponsored illusion, the Lineage meme doesn't make it any different from the other myths that are the causes of our suffering.