Monday, September 1, 2014

"Transmission of the Dharma," or, "Why the Buddha Smiles"

Dharma Transmission--the authentication of a student's insight into the Buddhadharma, in which the student and the teacher's mind are identical--is very important in Zen. It verifies that students have received the approval of their teachers, as well as guarantees that the Dharma the Buddha transmitted 2,500 years ago is the same as the one that the student understands.

In a metaphorical and symbolic sense, it's a passing the torch of sorts. The Mind Seal, as it is also known, recognizes that the Dharma has been fully and authentically transmitted to the student. That's formal Dharma Transmission, usually recognized by a public ceremony. 

But "Dharma Transmission" is redundant. Let me explain. 

In Zen, the Dharma is understood to be IT, the Absolute, and it is always available to us. It is the coffee mug by my side, my computer, the air I breathe. It is both the individual--you, me, the Buddha, Barbara Streisand--and the totality, Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos.

We are all IT. There is no escaping it; separation is an illusion.

But unlike the Absolute in other spiritual traditions, the Buddhist Absolute is not eternal; it is always changing, or rather, it is change itself.

It's not that there is some hidden being, entity, force, or spirit that is changing its shape as the manifest realm; rather, there is only process of change, with no substratum. Nothing is hidden. 

There is no bottom in Zen. Like Pee-Wee's big discovery at the Alamo, there is no spiritual basement.

The thing is, this Dharma is always being transmitted. That's what the Dharma is, what all of reality actually is, a transmission!

There is only transmission, not from one being to another, but TRANSMISSION. Period. Dharma is transmission. Reality is transmission. In fact, there is no way not to transmit the Dharma. That's what reality is, transmission. 

Here it is, complete, perfect, lacking nothing. Always available, in front of us, around us, as us. 

Emptiness means that there is no substratum, no basement; there is only perpetual change. That is the Dharma. 

Transmission. Impermanence. Emptiness. Bottomlessness. These are all synonyms. 

"Dharma Transmission" is redundant because the Absolute is always transmitting itself. The Absolute is Transmission.

I guess that's why the Buddha is always depicted with a subtle smile playing across his face. It's the cosmic, inside joke:

Teaching or transmitting the Dharma is redundant because that's what reality is always doing, revealing itself.
Have a wonderful Labor Day.

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