The Transmission Q & A
Q: What does this statement mean? “A special transmission outside the scriptures…”
A: Right off the bat, let me say that “scriptures” is the wrong word. It should read “outside religion”.
Q: But that is the way most all Zen masters today translate this stanza. Is it wrong?
A: Misleading. Zen is not antinomian. We are not here to burn or ignore the scriptures. Those Zennists who are into that sort of interpretation are off the track. That, to my mind, is “wild fox Zen”. Getting back to your question, which I believe has to do with the so-called “transmission”, let me say that in Zen there occurs a spiritual transmission outside of the religious institution itself, by which we intuitively see our true nature. It is an inconceivable transmission. You can’t actually transmit it to another.
Q: As I understand it–and I am probably wrong– but isn’t what is transmitted actually the secret that everything is Buddha-nature?
A: [Laughing] I guess you have been reading pop Zen pocketbooks. No, that is incorrect in this neck of the woods. More specifically, what is transmitted is the fundamental nature of all things which is beyond the range of thought and figurative thinking. When you fully see this nature for yourself, you become a Buddha–you are transmitted. By the way, it is really not a transmission at all, since you have always had this nature. It is rather like finding something you lost long ago.
Q: This brings up an interesting question. Isn’t it necessary to have this transmission confirmed by an authorized Zen master?
A: Yes, and he is sitting on top of your head right now!
Q: I don’t get it.
A: I mean that verification is within you at this moment. A real transmission must be independent of external verification–this includes ecclesiastical institutions with their so-called certifications. If you have to run to a teacher to verify your enlightenment to become transmitted, what kind of transmission is that? It doesn’t seem very sound to me. Further, what kind of certitude is that which depends on another to be certain?
Q: But what about the problem with self-delusion?
A: There are many kinds of self-delusion. One kind is believing that having a certificate in your possession amounts to enlightenment. Surely you don’t believe that every person who says they are transmitted has actually received the authentic transmission? Today, there are some teachers who claim to be transmitted, but who have no idea of what Buddha-nature is. They think Buddhanature is sensory consciousness or just being aware of some finite matter, like pulling a weed. If that is the case, then we are all transmitted–even wild animals! If the truth be known, according to Zen master Huang Po, nothing was transmitted to anybody that could be recognized by the senses.
Q: Are you saying that it’s all a hoax?
A: Far from it. Our ignorance is real enough. Equally, the correction of ignorance is real enough, too. What master Huang Po is saying is that when we see our true nature as it really is, that is the transmission–we attain Buddhahood. But nothing substantial is actually transmitted which can be viewed with the six senses–or by another. In addition, this transmission is also effortless. It doesn’t even require that you practice being aware of pulling a weed or chopping an onion [laughing].
Q: But all teachers get some kind of transmission document, don’t they?
A: Yes. But it means nothing. Deluded teachers get transmission documents, too, and so do Kami (spirits). Former high school bullies get such documents, then go on to become Zen masters who treat their students like beasts of burden. Receiving a transmission document is part of conventional Buddhism–it is not part of ultimate Buddhism. People who are attached to such forms need these kinds of things, while real students don’t. When a superior student, going beyond conventional Buddhism, sees his true nature, that is verification–it is the transmission! When I was young student, attached to conventional Buddhism, I expected my teacher to wear a robe and have transmission documents. In fact, the first thing he did was show me his certification. Was I impressed! Now, I could care less. I am too old, I guess. It is all like a dream in which ghosts go around declaring their ghost enlightenment to other ghosts.
Q: I think you need proper certification if you are going to teach. Do you agree? You can’t practice medicine without a license, for example.
A: Buddha-nature certification is not the same as getting a license to run a sewerage treatment plant, for instance. A person who has seen Buddha-nature can help you to distinguish between mental images of it and that nature directly. But a certified Zen master who has no idea of what Buddha-nature is can only point out a false path of mental images, based on what he has put into his memory.
Q: In some Zen centers, they offer psychological counseling. Doesn’t that require a license?
A: Of course it does. But then, that has nothing to do with the transmission of Zen. In Zen’s early history no one bothered with psychological matters. Students were interested in seeing their true nature and overcoming samsara. Zen, they understood, transmitted Buddha Mind–not psychological mind.
Text by Zenmar, the Dark Zen mystic
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