What Is Dharma Transmission Anyway?

I’ve received transmission!  Now what?

By: Rev. Dr. Brian Chang-Jin Kenna

What happens after one receives Dharma lineage?  Is it like the end of a race and there’s cheering and confetti?  Or is it something more somber?  To receive Dharma transmission is to accept the challenges and advantages of the lineage one belongs too.  That does not mean however that one cannot learn and appreciate from schools outside of one’s own and perhaps absorb and use some of the finer points. As Chan Buddhists we can still learn from our Soto and Rinzai or Tibetan and Theravadan brothers and sisters.  This is how Buddhism becomes connected to a larger audience.  

What are the differences between Dharma heirs and other practitioners?  Simply the responsibility to continue their mission.  To uphold, and teach, pass down the Dharma teachings.  To utilize skillful means to do so independently.  Does that mean other practitioners cannot share Dharma? Of course not.  While they might not have been assigned this task to teach formally it is one which all practitioners should participate in.

In OEB we talk about our calling to serve as a vocation.  As a Dharma heir that vocation takes on added responsibility.  It now includes this mission that has been handed down from Siddhartha himself. In the Sutras he speaks about those who are able to apply the Dharma, pass down and practice the Dharma, propagate and promote the Dharma and take up the mission, can be Dharma heirs.  One needs to generate Bodhi-mind so that they will give of themselves to sentient beings.  In OEB there are many different positions and ranks and responsibilities, but there is no differentiation in status.  As a matter of fact even our Prior General is considered first among equals.  If one receives the Dharma but loses their sense of humility, generosity and tolerance then he or she is not living up to the transmission of their lineage.  

We should treat all others how we ourselves want to be treated.  With respect, compassion, friendliness and with right speech.  Too often we people in all walks of life get the power and the position, and enjoy the fruits that come with it only to forget where they came from.  When I first started in the Christian ministry I shared an office with 3 other interns.  It was a huge deal for me when I became Associate Pastor and had my own office.   But every time I would walk by my old cramped office it was a sober reminder of where my roots were.  One of the advantages of being a Buddhist Priest or Monk is that once we put on robes we are all essentially the same.  There is no designer name robes, or fancy jewelry one needs to wear.  If you really want to get your students excited and motivated, then get down in the trenches with them.  They will only learn to serve by the very example you set as a servant leader.  It is great to have vast knowledge and education, but without basic moral and ethics and a desire to better your fellow man, you really are nothing more than an encyclopedia with legs.  

In the Platform Sutra, Master Huineng is asked whom he was going to assign the “treasury of the true Dharma Eye.”  His response was “The one with the Path will attain; the one of no-mind will understand.”    How’s that for a response?  I’m sure the monk who asked the question was looking for a much similar answer.  But don’t we all?  We seek what is small and miss what is greater right in front of us, if we would only expand our field of vision.  If one treats others as themselves, and continues that practice then they too may obtain the treasury of the Dharma Eye as Huineng stated.  But how does one go deeper into the true essence of the Dharma?  The answers can be found in the Six Perfections. Generosity, Morality, Tolerance, Energy, meditation and Wisdom.

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