Dharma transmission

Dharma transmission
Michel Genko Dubois (left) and Dennis Genpo Merzel performing "mind to mind" in Dubois's shiho ceremony.
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view · Sōtō and inka in Rinzai and Ōbaku) refers to "the manner in which the teaching, or Dharma, is passed from a Zen master to their disciple and heir. The procedure establishes the disciple as a transmitting teacher in their own right and successor in an unbroken lineage of teachers and disciples, a spiritual 'bloodline' (kechimyaku) theoretically traced back to the Buddha himself."[1] According to Zen schools, the first instance of Dharma transmission occurred as transcribed in the Flower Sermon, when the Buddha held up a golden lotus flower given to him by Brahma before an assembly of "gods and men." None who were in attendance showed any sign of understanding except his disciple Mahakasyapa, who offered only a smile. According to Ronald B. Epstein, the Buddha then said, "I have the right Dharma Eye Treasury, the wondrous mind of nirvana, the reality beyond appearance. The Dharma-door of mind to mind transmission has been entrusted to Kāśyapa."[2] Epstein comments, "Thus Mahākāśyapa received the transmission of Dharma and became the first Buddhist patriarch."[2] Speculation over what the Buddha transmitted to Mahakasyapa has taken place ever since, though "[e]ndless speculations will not reveal it—it is to be discovered each for him or herself, in the course of Zen training."[3] It should also be stated that, "... dharma transmission really entails no transmission at all in the sense of something being passed from one person to another, only the awakening of the disciple to the true nature of his or her own being and a mystical realization of identity with all the Buddhas and patriarchs."[4]



Dennis Genpo Merzel has just given Musai Sensei inka, making him a roshi

Dharma transmission is sometimes juxtaposed with the term inka, though such a combination of terms can be misleading and cause confusion when not applied to the proper tradition. In the Sōtō school a student receives Dharma transmission during a denbō ceremony, which is the last ceremony of their shiho ceremony. T. Griffith Foulk writes of the practice as it is in Japan, stating, "The usual practice...is for a Sōtō monk to be given Dharma transmission by the priest who ordained him (in most cases his own father), after he returns from his minimum period of monastery training. Because Dharma transmission is a prerequisite to becoming the head priest of a Sōtō branch temple, virtually all Sōtō priests meet this ritual requirement at a relatively early stage in their careers."[5] Inka most often denotes the completion of some sort of koan curriculum.

In the Rinzai school of Zen, inka is the official indicator of mastery and denotes an individual who has successfully completed koan study and received the title roshi.[6] According to Peter Matthiessen, "In the Rinzai tradition, inka is equivalent to dharma transmission and is bestowed upon completion of formal study."[7] Soko Morinaga agrees with Matthiessen, writing, "Inka is the seal of the authentic transmission of Dharma, which is the Law of the universe and the teaching of Shakyamuni." [5]

In the Kwan Um School of Zen, inka is granted to an individual who has completed their koan training and is granted the title Ji Do Poep Sa Nim. Dharma transmission in the Kwan Um School of Zen comes after inka, denoting the individual is now a Soen Sa Nim.[8] Seung Sahn himself is quoted saying, "Inka and transmission are different. Our 'Ji Do Poep Sa Nim' title is like the Japanese title 'sensei.' In Korea, we call it 'Chong Yong Sun'—your practice is okay, teaching other people is possible. This title has almost disappeared in Korea, although it still exists in China. In Korea we now have the title 'Ip Sung Sunim.'—'head monk.'"[9]

Similarly, in the Sanbo Kyodan and White Plum Asanga, Dharma transmission qualifies one as a sensei, while inka denotes a level of mastery.[6][10] Thich Nhat Hanh has created a ritual known as "Lamp Transmission", making a teacher a Dharmacharya—an individual with "limited teaching authority."[8] According to author James Ishmael Ford, "Regarding the issue of Dharma transmission, Thich Nhat Hanh has said no single student will succeed him. Instead his community of practice will itself be his successor. He is quoted as saying Maitreya, the Buddha of future birth, may be a community of practice rather than an individual. What this actually means will only become apparent over the next decades."[8]

See also


  1. ^ Haskel, 2
  2. ^ a b Epstein, 130
  3. ^ Fowler, 81
  4. ^ Buckley Ebrey, et al.; 154
  5. ^ a b Kraft, 20; 173
  6. ^ a b Seager, 107
  7. ^ Matthiessen, 277
  8. ^ a b c Ford, 93; 220
  9. ^ Seung Sahn
  10. ^ Aitken, 25-26


Further reading

  • Schlütter, Morten (2007). 'Transmission and Enlightenment in Chan Buddhism Seen Through the Platform Sūtra (Liuzu tanjing 六祖壇經).' Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal, no. 20, pp. 379–410 (2007). Taipei: Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies. Source: [1] (accessed: Saturday April 11, 2009)

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