Tuesday, February 4, 2014

An Opinion on Lineage, Tradition, Authority, etc

My opinion on lineage, tradition, authority, etc

"Daniel J Scharpenburg:
Do you think there is really an authentic lineage that can trace itself back to the Buddha?

I made the argument that there isn't in this article:

Authentic Lineage?


What do you think?"

My reply:

I think any stories that tries to trace its lineage to Buddha is just making up stories to make the school/sect look legitimate. It is just a skillful means to instill faith and without the light of modern scholarship lots of faithful do believe in such claims and it does give some breath of credibility to the teachings of those traditions. We find such claims in all sorts of traditions whether in Theravada Mahayana or Vajrayana.

Buddha made it clear he did not want any sort of successor (or any sort of pope figure) and even the immediate de facto head of the sangha after Buddha, i.e. Mahakasyapa is not in fact a patriarch or successor of any kind being appointed by the Buddha, and also he is not the object of refuge in place of Buddha, etc.

IMO: always judge the person/teacher by the standards of Buddha's Dharma and by that person's realization/experience/practice/qualities/etc, not by the label of his/her sect/school/claimed legitimacy based on ancient lineage, tradition and so on (kalama sutta may be relevant). "Lineage" can be deceiving.


Let us consider two relevant quotes as follows.

Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge. (DN 16)

Here is the famous statement where the Buddha instructs us to rely on ourselves with the Dharma/Dhamma as our refuge. He does not instruct Ānanda to rely on lineage or authority. We also have the Buddha explicitly stating he will appoint no successor.

"“Is there, Master Ananda, any single bhikkhu who was appointed by Master Gotama thus: ‘He will be your refuge when I am gone,’ and whom you now have recourse to?”

“There is no single bhikkhu, brahmin, who was appointed by the Blessed One who knows and sees, accomplished and fully enlightened, thus: ‘He will be your refuge when I am gone,’ and whom we now have recourse to.”

“But is there, Master Ananda, any single bhikkhu who has been chosen by the Sangha and appointed by a number of elder bhikkhus thus: ‘He will be our refuge after the Blessed One has gone,’ and whom you now have recourse to?”

“There is no single bhikkhu, brahmin, who has been chosen by the Sangha and appointed by a number of elder bhikkhus thus: ‘He will be our refuge after the Blessed One has gone,’ and whom we now have recourse to.”

“But if you have no refuge, Master Ananda, what is the cause for your concord?”

“We are not without a refuge, brahmin. We have a refuge; we have the Dhamma as our refuge.”

(MN 108)"

My 2nd reply:

Just read your article... well written and sorry for repeating whatever you just said haha

I personally think lineage or sectarianism of any kind is problematic if it closes us from learning from a wider spectrum of teachings, and also as you said it can be used wrongly, like putting teachers (who are imperfect beings) on the pedestal. (e.g. I'm not fond of the idea of "crazy wisdom" and I think it is usually just an excuse to make their teacher into an idol of a "perfect being" whose actions are unquestionable rather than very human flaws that can be improved. This is very silly imo.) On the other hand it is useful to 'keep the purity of the teachings of the lineage' - however how 'pure' or how much in accord with Buddha's dharma is that so called lineage teachings to begin with? That is another question. Futhermore, even lineages within themselves are subject to evolution over time. And as we know, no lineages can be traced back to Buddha, so it is more accurate to call it "the lineage of X patriarch's interpretations of Buddha Dharma" rather than falsely claiming that it is Buddha's lineage. Some of these patriarches and the lineages that follow may indeed be very insightful and the tradition (backed by hundreds/thousands of years of experienced yogis with valuable practical advises/experience/literature etc) may itself be a very good and valuable resource of teachings, and may well deserve to be 'preserved' in a working tradition and it can be beneficial to a lot of people.

However other unhealthy sides to lineage and authority - i.e. putting teachers on pedestal etc, may not be such a good thing, the lineage thing may be misleading because it can give 'teachers' the image of being 'the authority of dharma' (when in actuality there is no real 'authority' of dharma that is being appointed by Buddha - instead we should really judge that person based on qualities/practice/insight/etc based on the Dharma, that I mentioned rather than 'lineage'), on the other hand it is also partly due to unhealthy projections of teachers by the teachers and students themselves (the idea that dharma teachers imply perfected beings or fully enlightened etc - also what does full enlightenment mean? do they mean ten fetter model of enlightenment or..?), and we should all strive towards having a better view of the role and our relationship with teachers. What are we trying to get out of the teachers? It is one thing to attain certain insight into the nature of reality and another thing to expect that the teacher have perfected their practices and are free from of all afflictions/fetters/immoral behaviors and so on, there is almost always room for improvement in one's practice.. It is highly unlikely that one will find a teacher that is a perfect role model of the Buddha's teachings in all aspects of shila/samadhi/prajna so one should be have a more realistic expectation of what one wants to learn from this particular teacher. One could also learn from a number of teachers on different areas of expertise. This is in fact Buddha's advise sometimes - for example he would advise those who have samadhi but no insight/lack insight to look for insight masters, those who mastered insight without/lacking samadhi to look for samadhi masters, those who lack both to look for those who mastered both, etc. In any case one should have a very clear understanding of 1) what the teacher is good at, what we can learn from him/her (may have nothing to do with whether the said teacher has 'lineage authority'), 2) what we really want/can/need or should achieve at this point of development, 3) have a realistic idea/relationship/expectation of the teacher and not put him/her on pedestals, etc. Having a clearer and more pragmatic relationship with a teacher is better than having a mythic-magic idea about teachers (like my mother who thinks her guru is sort of a perfect Buddha-like being). As for the teachers themselves, they should not let their 'lineage' and 'teacher' position blind them from further progress and learning, as ego is often involved/developed in that position (there are some rare exceptions that I have seen though such as an Australian zen teacher at a zen center I've been visiting from time to time and I am inspired by him). Teachers should also not fuel unhealthy ideas about themselves and provide clearer information about what their students can expect to learn from him/her.

This also brings me to another point regarding lineage/sect etc. There is an argument that it is unhealthy to look into too many schools and instead one should just choose a focus in one's practice. Although having a focus in one's practice at any given point in one's practice may be pragmatically useful and necessary (e.g. you can't possibly divide a 30 minute session of meditation into a mixture of ten different techniques, or rather it may not be very practical to do so), in my experience my focus of practice develops as my practice and insight develops, and I find that being overfly focused on one particular teaching/practice/tradition/etc is in fact usually highly limiting and prevents one's progress in various aspects/fronts practice, insight, etc. There also comes a time when I do feel that there are not much I can learn any further from many established lineages and teachings/teachers on certain fronts like insight (and I reflect upon this years ago with some sense of disappointment/sadness rather than pride, like, "if only Buddha were around"... later a dream of clarity arose where I saw that everything is in fact the face of my teacher - everyone and everything whether perfect/imperfect in life, is in fact my teacher! even in the dream I realized its meaning and this cleared away my misguided notion that a teacher has to be a perfect being in everything, there are things we can learn from everyone, and we can learn even from the flaws of others).

In any case, I don't really like to be caged in any particular tradition, I prefer to pick and choose the teachings that work out for me - Rather than setting up cages and boundaries out of lineages, I prefer to follow the example that some Tibetan teachers give - be like a bee collecting nectar from all the flowers. Rather than limiting oneself to a certain teacher/teaching/etc. This does not mean setting yourself up in a prideful position like, "I do not need any lineage/teachers at all" or "I'm above all these silly lineage stuff" but rather, from a humble perspective seeing everyone/everything/the universe as teacher, there is no need to be limited or confined in any way at all, including by identification to lineage. There is no need to give overdue significance to "lineage". We just learn what we can from what we find.

My reply to "Blue .:
If there are no lineages that date back to the buddha then how do we have current meditation techniques?"

People may make up their meditation techniques, either based on how things work out on their own part/experimentation, and also may teach meditation techniques based on what the Buddha said in the scriptures or other late commentaries, and sometimes/usually it is a mix of both.
Are Lineage Holders Just Spiritual Hipsters?
They might wear robes or other funny outfits, either during Buddhist events or all the time. They might go by a fake name. They might introduce themselves to you based on who their teacher is. They might claim to have a lineage of teaching that goes back to the Buddha himself (which historical accur...
Like · · Share · August 22, 2013 at 4:09pm near Brisbane · Edited

    Seng Yew Meng, Laya Jakubowicz, John Ahn and 5 others like this.
    John Ahn This is also my approach, but this only works if you have a solid foundation in the dharma or a teacher you have chosen to be the root of your studies. It's difficult to jump from teaching to teaching when they are propagating different methods and interpretations all the while saying they are the genuine dharma. There's also the question of diligence, as in, if you practiced for maybe 4-5 years under a teacher without any significant progress (or worse maybe good progress but nothing transformative so you decide to stick with it for another 10 years), is it the teacher's fault or is it your fault? There's also the ritual of taking refuge in teachers and/or practices, and if you break this samaya it's considered a terrible karma. So where do you draw the line between utility and devotion?
    August 23, 2013 at 1:00am · Like
    Soh IMO it really depends. For example if a person practicing piano under a teacher consistently fails to graduate even after 20 years, is it the teacher's fault? Could be: but only if the failure rate among students is actually truly high and success rate extremely low. There are bound to be those who are slower than others and one can't expect everyone to be very fast learners. Interest/diligence/practice/etc on the part of the student is also extremely important and the blame cannot be put on the teacher if the student is not truly putting in necessary effort, etc. On the other hand, there could really be a problem with the teacher's inability to teach or the teaching itself must be examined.

    As for Samaya, I don't wish to comment too much other than what Malcolm have said - samaya is like a contract between student and teacher. IMO: sign the contract only when you fully agree to it and can fulfill it.
    August 23, 2013 at 1:30am · Like
    John Ahn Lol, yeah it's a contract but you have no idea what's on it.
    August 23, 2013 at 1:34am · Edited · Like
    Soh I think you have to check out the samayas before committing to the teaching. It's like blindly signing a paper without looking into the contents - the fault is with the signer. That is one of the reasons why I am rather reluctant to receive too many teachings these days especially those that require commitments, etc.
    August 23, 2013 at 1:34am · Like
    John Ahn But if you have to take samayas in order to receive the teachings or you don't really know what the teachings or practices will lead to or how useful they are, how can you decide to take them or not?
    August 23, 2013 at 1:37am · Like
    Soh I see.. generally, imo, it's better to discuss this issue with the teacher/practitioners of the community and have a better understanding of what you're getting into before making commitments.
    August 23, 2013 at 1:39am · Edited · Like
    Soh i.e. I specifically wrote an email to a sangha and asked about any required commitments before receiving certain teachings
    August 23, 2013 at 1:40am · Like
    Soh As for "you don't really know what the teachings or practices will lead to or how useful they are" I guess you just have to read whatever's available about the teaching, ask around - the teacher, the more experienced practitioners etc
    August 23, 2013 at 1:42am · Edited · Like
    John Ahn Mm yeah that's a good idea. Also it's very difficult to ask students of a teacher how much their progress has been to gauge the success/failure rate or whatever. They take such inquiries so personally and usually shun from such discussions.
    August 23, 2013 at 1:42am · Like
    John Ahn Although people who have taken samayas do often talk about practices to people who haven't, I don't think they are permitted to under the vows.
    August 23, 2013 at 1:45am · Like
    John Ahn Anyway, it's not so strict anymore.
    August 23, 2013 at 1:47am · Like
    John Ahn I personally think all the lengthy rituals and empowerments aren't that effective unless the student and teacher are both are at certain levels of ability and receptivity. Much of the actual mysticism within the ideals of transmissions and initiations I think have been lost in formalities.
    August 23, 2013 at 1:57am · Like · 2
    Jeremiah Aviles there are reasons for those "formalities", but how relevant they are to you, depends on you. that is mysticism. teachings exist within traditions, within systems (at least in the tibetan buddhist schools, I don't know much about the others in this sense). If a teaching is of such a tantric system, for example, you can understand that there are such and such requirements of behaviour, the relationship with the deity is characterized as such and such, etc.
    also, I don't think establishing a lineage to the buddha creates successors to buddha shakyamuni. from what I've read about Mahayana buddhism, buddha seems to be a figure that goes beyond time and space, ergo beyond history, so establishing a lineage in this context is something other than petty-ness.
    I agree that you can't take anything anyone says at face value. but inversely, be weary of judging those things you may not understand as false, and using (limited) knowledge as a weapon of discrimination.
    last idea, about your mother. I'm not so sure you're relationship with your guru is any better or worse than her relationship with hers. faith is as important, if not moreso,than intellectual understanding or meditative prowess in some buddhist schools and traditions. who is to say which is better? who is to say that "buddhism" has evolved according to what buddha "wanted" or not? it is what it is. and that is something you can take to the bank, while everything else is conjecture.
    August 23, 2013 at 1:31pm · Like
    Soh Hi Jeremiah, first of all I have no problems at all if people trace their lineage to visionary experience of Sambhogakaya or Dharmakaya Buddha. It is however not accurate to trace the teachings (whether the lineage, sutras, tantras of vajrayana and mahayana and in the theravada case some meditation lineages claim to trace back to buddha's 'original methods' etc or is prophecised by buddha etc) in a historical context to that "nirmanakaya appearance" of historical shakyamuni buddha that appeared in india.

    Faith has its place and importance but it does not require us to blindly believe in all the stories, claimed history, etc in a literal fashion.

    As Loppon Namdrol/malcolm Smith made clear:

    "By come from, Paljor, we mean in pure visions, etc. But we do not need to confuse pure visions with empirical history.", "Yes, that is correct, that is why we do not need to indulge in historical literalism to account for the origin of Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings." - http://sgforums.com/forums/1728/topics/378306

    And Jnana (geoff) states: "I'm not "mocking" the Mahāyāna or the Vajrayāna. My Mahāyāna faith isn't contingent upon believing that the Mahāyāna teachings were taught by the śramaṇa Gautama." - http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=66&t=2964&hilit=mahayana+fa+hsien&start=40
    Are Mahayana Sutras Taught by Buddha? - SgForums.com
    Some things for your consideration. I found the clarifications by Loppon Namdrol...See More
    August 23, 2013 at 1:54pm · Edited · Like · 1 · Remove Preview
    Jeremiah Aviles I'm not sure the historical contexts are the same for those tracing lineages back to the buddha, as those studying history in a university. there is a word for that... heuristic, something like that, I don't remember. the value, the emphasis may be totally different.
    also, we don't have the total historical context of the buddha. not only that, we choose to believe certain stories, based on the historical context we choose.
    for example, the Bon lineage says it had a Buddha, 16000 years ago. and in the Bon teachings its said that Shakyamuni is a reincarnation of Tonpa Shenrab. why not believe them? because they are missing books, maps, archaeological remains, etc.
    maybe the maya had buddhas?
    August 23, 2013 at 2:04pm · Like
    John Ahn Mysticism is not formalities. Formalities are just cultural designations to make communication easier. Like it's a formality to write a certain way, a formality to eat a certain way etc. The more organized and systemized a teaching becomes, it becomes buried in formalities and rituals and an array of symbols that have resemblance to the essence but often cloud it.
    August 23, 2013 at 11:43pm · Like
    Jeremiah Aviles If you consider yourself qualified to judge the cultural designations as useful or useless, that is your deal. I'm suggesting that formalities, in the context of samaya, empowerments etc. have particular significations, that are of an esoteric nature, and that this esoteric nature can be studied, as each teaching belongs to a system, where symbols, relationships, are given their respective meanings, in relation to the path undertaken to enlightenment.
    August 24, 2013 at 1:08am · Like · 1
    John Ahn I didn't say they were useless. I said it wasn't the essence. Esoteric nature can't really be studied, it's experienced and practiced. How many experience profound mystical transformations and signs during initiations? How many have the ability to give and receive transmissions at non physical levels of their being? Not many. Usually they are just formalities based on textual directions. It's: first do this mantra, then do these hand postures, then do this and this. Again, I'm not saying these instructions are useless but unless there is a direct perception of how they work, it's just imitation. For instance if there is an initiation of calling deities or protectors, the one who is giving initiation better have direct interaction with them and at advanced levels, the one's receiving them should also.
    August 24, 2013 at 1:23am · Edited · Like
    Jeremiah Aviles I appreciate a point you make, by juxtaposing imitation with understanding. But maybe this dichotomy is not the dimension of what is happening during an initiation?
    Of course, the esoteric nature of something cannot be understood intellectually, but that doesn't mean it cannot be studied. By study I don't mean to fool oneself. It means, to go to the essence. This is done with the help of a master. If the master is not a master, there will be no help, probably detriment. But this has nothing to do with whether there are formalities in use or not. The formalities, in these rituals, all base themselves in what we can call essential knowledge... maybe the dichotomy of imitation-understanding is not the dimension of what is happening during an initiation
    August 24, 2013 at 1:42am · Like
    John Ahn I just want the one giving initiation to have direct contact with whatever he/she is giving. If one is giving a tantric initiation relating to padmasambhava or a protector, or a dakini, I want the teacher to actually have direct means of communication with them.
    August 24, 2013 at 1:44am · Like · 1
    John Ahn And not via dreams. I'm tired of teachers saying they communicate via dreams. If you are around thangkas and images of esoteric beings all your life, and reading mainly instructions from these images, of course you'll have dreams about them also. Dreams are overrated.
    August 24, 2013 at 1:53am · Edited · Like · 1
    Robert Dominik And not via dreams. I'm tired of teachers saying they communicate via dreams. If you are around thangkas and images of esoteric beings all your life, and reading mainly instructions from these images, of course you'll have dreams about them also. Dreams are overrated. <- Maybe that's the essence of the problem. We are just talking about big Placebo here that has its positive uses (for liberation) but when out of control... then it's Samsara Basically it's like... let's say with learning biology and becoming a scientist (maybe in the field of genetics - in doesn't matter because it's just an example) - you have labs, microscopes, tissues from organisms, books all around you and then after some time the illusion of that becomes so strong that actuallly after some time you have the so called experience. First you start thinking about biology, about learning, being interested in all that. Then dependently you start hanging out with people who you consider as individuals having some knowledge about biology, you gather books and neccessary equipment and all that. At the end you are considered to be a specialist in the field of biology.
    August 24, 2013 at 7:21am · Edited · Like
    Robert Dominik It actually coresponds to what some Rinpoches say. Mantras and esoteric practices don't work if you don't have faith in them working. So maybe in reality you can induce their esoteric effect without all the formalities but since you are a limited, conditioned dude in Samsara... you need to pretend a little bit, have contact with some people more skilled at this placebo thing and so on. // Other name for the phenomenon that might be involved here is self-fullfilling prophecy. Actually there are lot of things indicating at this in samsara. For example you can play shitty music but if you have money you can force in onto people via media (like radio stations, television etc.) to the point that people start to consider it good ("since everybody's listening to it... it hast to be good"). Or other example - right suggestion can cause not only belief but also psychosomatic reaction in the body. For example women that aren't fertile but think a lot about pregnancy, having kids et cetera can produce symptons simillar to real pregnancy but it is a false pregnancy. Of course this is not causing real pregnancy but then again people get really cured out of diseases thanks to placebo. Basicallly we humans do it all the time - all the history of science is just strongly believing in various theories and explanations about the world to the point that thanks(?) to them we have computers, internet, planes, cars etc.
    August 24, 2013 at 7:30am · Like
    Robert Dominik But I mean who knows. I don't know. But I generally see that there are many people who are so attached to the idea that their live is shit that they actually have a lot of bad luck. And I've experientally seen that since when I'm more free of my insecurity and being shy and afraid of doing things ("no sorry I suck at playing instruments", "no I don't know how to do that")... I'm getting better at many things and get positive feedback from people. Coincidence? Dependence? Ignorance? Oh boy!
    August 24, 2013 at 7:34am · Like
    Albert Hong I once sat with a teacher face to face alone in a room.

    We met each other. Heart to heart.

    He said to focus on the heart. And then he gently felt my heart with energy. And that was my mahamudra transmission.

    It was a pretty crazy experience. The whole field of vision just flowed and became luminous and I opened to infinity.
    August 24, 2013 at 7:45am · Like · 5
    Robert Dominik And not via dreams. I'm tired of teachers saying they communicate via dreams. If you are around thangkas and images of esoteric beings all your life, and reading mainly instructions from these images, of course you'll have dreams about them also. Dreams are overrated. <- And one last thing. That is a little bit of a projection on your part. How are dreams different from waking state? Is there any dualism between them? Also even if they were communicating not via dreams but in waking states... you could have easily said that it's just hallucinations - like people tripping on Acid. Because you know body is dependendently arising with such phenomena. So I'm quite sure that a person communicating with deities and bodhisattvas and so on has peculiar levels of serotonin and other neurohormones and can be accused of just having his/her brain functioning in an abnormal way hehehe And... are some things like less illusory than others? For example are visions of deities less illusory than vision of the table or the computer screen? In the seen only the seen // PS: John I cannot like escape this feeling that you have some particular teachers in mind. Maybe names? Point fingers, be brave I immediately thought about Norbu Rinpoche when reading your post. You know what's best? He's claiming that he receives pratcices in dreams... for example in his book about dream yoga. In the same book he recommends practitioners who are aware that they are dreaming (during a dream) to imagine/project that they are getting teachings, meeting teachers, pratcising practices (among various other things).
    August 24, 2013 at 8:26am · Edited · Like
    Robert Dominik Nice one Albert Hong. Once a friend of mine helped a person that was experiecing very disturbing visions and bad things (bad trip... kids - psychedelics are dangerous - don't use them! hehe xD). He just put his hand on her chest (close to the heart) and advised her to focus on the heart. Then the negative experience was quickly dealt with and everything got better and was transformed into something relatively positive. Maybe... just maybe... these things are easier than our mind would like to project. Or just maybe I'm projecting here... Ha, ha, ha Om A Hum. In any case - when I was younger I was a proponent of scientism and logic. I don't jump onto every projection that I hear because that would be some New Age idiocy instead of Buddhadharma. But it is good to stay open minded
    August 24, 2013 at 7:55am · Like · 2
    John Ahn I don't believe mantras are placebos. Some definitely are and certain teachers say any sound can be utilized to enhance mindfulness or in case of Soh s experience to enhance insight. But I'm talking more about how specific sounds affect specific points in the body and in that sense mantras are very specific methods to transform the inner energies.
    August 24, 2013 at 8:02am · Like · 1
    John Ahn Effective mantras should work regardless of ones belief. If skepticism gets in the way of how precise ones practice is due to a constantly wondering mind, that's a different problem.
    August 24, 2013 at 8:04am · Like
    Robert Dominik Maybe everything is a placebo? Or maybe not. I don't insist that placebo exists in an inherent way. Same thing with energies, deities, subtle body and every other concept you can think of. But the most important thing about placebo is intention. You cannot separate intention from actions.
    August 24, 2013 at 8:12am · Edited · Like
    Albert Hong mantras definitely effect the subtle body.
    August 24, 2013 at 8:11am · Like · 1
    Albert Hong yeah but the robert it wouldn't be a placebo.
    August 24, 2013 at 8:11am · Like
    Albert Hong lol
    August 24, 2013 at 8:11am · Like
    Robert Dominik So maybe the other way around. Maybe people in hospitals and the participants of scientific researches who experience the so called placebo have something going on with their energies and the subtle body (without consciously knowing of it)
    August 24, 2013 at 8:13am · Edited · Like
    John Ahn As for hallucinations...Well we should somewhat distinguish the mechanism of a dream and the mechanism of waking state. The nature of both can be the same, but I think it's far fetched to say they both work the same way. Usually dreams are products of ones personal fantasies and conditioning while the world is shared by multiple beings and group conditioning. It doesn't mean people can't communicate via dreams, its just difficult to distinguish. It's also not a hallucination if the visions are consistent and have an apparent connection to the workings of the world and have noticeable effects. For instance certain masters can see negative spirits causing someone all sort of health problems and daoist sects teach spirit fighting techniques to counter these beings. Other masters have direct contact with deceased teachers and consistently communicate with them when needed. Or someone like buddha can go to different realms to teach nagas or gods etc.
    August 24, 2013 at 8:14am · Like
    Robert Dominik Yep. You are right John Ahn. Certainly relatively speaking it is not that easy. I know it is more complicated than this - I just oversimplified it for the purpose of this conversation. Anyway it was fun. Thank you guys for the convo. I am quite tired so the quality of my posts might be getting poor Good night and I wish you all dreams of clarity.
    August 24, 2013 at 8:17am · Like
    John Ahn Haha happy dreaming!
    August 24, 2013 at 8:18am · Like

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