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The Myth of Lineage

By Dhammaccariya Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)
147th day of summer solo wilderness retreat
Inyo National Forest
September 24, 2005

(copyright 2005 all rights reserved)

These days lineage seems rather important to many traditions of Buddhism, however, some of those so-called "lineage holders," are drunken or drug addicted and/or philanders.  In such a case one cannot claim lineage, because an addicted person cannot represent any lineage of enlightenment, only that of a tradition of dysfunctional personalities.

Recently the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) teacher, Eric Kolvig, criticized my self-ordination by saying, "Simply put, here are the reasons why I did not support you to teach.  You had not received transmission from any established teacher.  That's the only quality control we have in the dharma world," I had of course asked him for empowerment, but he never gave it.  The problem of course is if "transmission" is forever withheld, then one never receives "empowerment."  And, if drunks or drug addicts and/or philanderers are the norm among dharma teachers, then there is no "quality control" in the "dharma world,"

This contemplative has maintained a daily meditation practice for over 30 years; has read a wide range of contemplative literature, as well as having made a study of 3 of the 5 volumes of the Discourses of the Buddha; has sat well over 50 meditation retreats; has completed the second of two 6-month summer-long solo wilderness retreats; was actively involved in several southwestern contemplative communities and was even a board member for one (TCMC), has translated the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali; edited 20 Buddhist suttas; has written well over 300 essays on various dhamma topics; has taken graduate level classes in Native American Spirituality, Sufism, Kabbalah and Buddhism, for which he has received a degree in Anthropology; hosts 17 Yahoo Groups that are dedicated to Buddhism and the contemplative life; built the largest website of the Buddha's discourses on the World Wide Web; does not manifest any obsessive compulsive behavior disorders or addictions; has extensive attainment from his dedicated contemplative life, and has documented those attainments in meditative absorption (jhana). Unfortunately with a resume that one would think would ensure enthusiastic support from the lay and monastic teachers of Buddhism, on the contrary, recognition and "transmission" are consistently withheld from this contemplative, and instead he has received nothing but dismissal, marginalization and even demonization in the western "dharma world."

It should be pointed out that meditative absorption states (jhana) were the Buddha's definition of successful accomplishment in meditation, and his very definition of the 8th fold of the Noble Eightfold Path (DN 22). However, how many meditation teachers teach that or even understand what meditative absorption is?  Considering that this contemplative sat over 50 meditation retreats in 30 years and never heard the term "jhana" or an adequate description of the meditative absorption states discussed by any of those "highly respected" meditation teachers until 4 years ago when I was asked to leave a Goenka retreat because of the jhana I was experiencing; we can only conclude these so called "lineages" are nothing more than "traditions" of appropriation, subversion and obfuscation of the Buddha dhamma.

Maha-satipatthana Sutta (DN 22.21)

"And what is skilful meditation (sama-samadhi)? There is the case where an aspirant -- quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities -- enters & remains in the first meditative absorption (jhana)"... (through fourth jhana).

There is, revealed in this story, a dual standard evident in western Buddhism. Chögyam Trungpa, Rajnish and Joshu Sasaki Roshi have proven that any drug addicted and philandering Asians can come to the West and become a religious hero, whereas a western contemplative who lives according to the ethics of Buddhism, and diligently studies the philosophy of Buddhism, and rigorously engages in Buddhist contemplative practices is utterly and completely ignored.

Exposed also is the fact that those who threaten the status quo by teaching something controversial, such as jhana, will never receive empowerment, ordination or any other form of certification to teach.  Since this contemplative teaches a dialog that is sensitive to meditative absorption (jhana) he has only been consistently dismissed, marginalized and even demonized within the various contemplative communities that he has been a member.

Four years ago I had asked Eric Kolvig and Shinzen Young to help me build a program for the empowerment of myself, as well as my fellow students, at a 20-year-old Southwestern dhamma center (TCMC).  After 2 years of foot dragging I got tired of waiting for Eric and Shinzen to even begin the program, so I just announced myself as a dhamma teacher, since I had more years of daily practice than either of them had, and I had actually made a study of the Discourses of the Buddha, which they most probably have not (since their discourses certainly did not reflect a depth of understanding of the Buddha's Discourses). And, my contemplative practice has born the fruit of meditative absorption (jhana), whereas their practices most assuredly have not. 

Eric Kolvig's so-called "lineage" goes to Insight Meditation Society (IMS), where Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzburg and Jack Cornfield simply invented their "lineage" and have made a career out of selling dry insight as if it was something the Buddha taught, which he did not.  Shinzen Young's "lineage holder," Joshu Sasaki Roshi, is a 96-year old Zen "monk" in LA, who is notorious for seducing 20-year old women, even to this day. Thus, I did not feel it necessary to forever bow to their authority and questionable "lineage."

Lineage is really a weak ploy anyway, because after all we seekers of enlightenment want enlightened guidance not a philosophy and practice strategy that has been appropriated, subverted and obfuscation by an entrenched orthodoxy, That is what Christianity had and that was why I left it. Unfortunately as I have encounter a boycott against my work by the orthodoxy of Theravadan Buddhism, Insight Meditation Society, Vipassana Support Institute and the Tucson Community Meditation Center (TCMC) I can only say there is plenty of proof that an equally entrenched orthodoxy exists in Buddhism today, which is equally intent upon appropriating, subverting and obfuscating the Buddha's teachings.  Those who are intent upon enlightenment in this very lifetime also do not want a lineage of addicted personalities, which is what Chögyam Trungpa who died at the age of 35 from a combination of alcoholism, drug addiction and AIDS, and Shinzen's teacher, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, represent.

There is no lineage that goes back to the Buddha anyway, because the Buddha refused to leave a dhamma heir, no doubt because he used to say, decay is inevitable in all constituent things, including the Buddha sangha.  Instead on his last day on Earth he said, "be a lamp unto yourselves. Be a refuge to yourselves. Seek no external refuge, let the dhamma be your refuge" (DN 16).

32. 'What, then, ånanda? Does the order expect that of me? I have preached the truth without making any distinction between exoteric and esoteric doctrine: for in respect of the truths, ånanda, the Tath‰gata has no such thing as the closed fist of a teacher, who keeps some things back[2]. Surely, ånanda, should there be any one who harbours the thought, "It is I who will lead the brotherhood," or, "The order is dependent upon me," it is he who should lay down instructions in any matter concerning the order. Now the Tath‰gata, ånanda, thinks not that it is he who should lead the brotherhood, or that the order is dependent upon him. Why then should he leave instructions in any matter concerning the order? I too, O ånanda, am now grown old, and full of years, my journey is drawing to its close, I have reached my sum of days, I am turning eighty years of age; and just as a worn-out cart, ånanda, can only with much additional care be made to move along, so, methinks, the body of the Tath‰gata can only be kept going with much additional care[1]. It is only, ånanda, when the Tath‰gata, ceasing to attend to any outward thing, or to experience any sensation, becomes plunged in that devout meditation of heart which is concerned with no material object--it is only then that the body of the Tath‰gata is at ease.
33. 'Therefore, O ånanda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge to yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Hold fast as a refuge to the truth. Look not for refuge to any one besides yourselves. And how, ånanda, is a brother to be a lamp unto himself, a refuge to himself, betaking himself to no external refuge, holding fast to the truth as a lamp, holding fast as a refuge to the truth, looking not for refuge to any one besides himself?
34. 'Herein, O ånanda, let a brother, as he dwells in the body, so regard the body that he, being strenuous, thoughtful, and mindful, may, whilst in the world, overcome the grief which arises from bodily craving--while subject to sensations let him continue so to regard the sensations that he, being strenuous, thoughtful, and mindful, may, whilst in the world, overcome the grief which arises from the sensations--and so, also, as he thinks, or reasons, or feels, let him overcome the grief which arises from the craving due to ideas, or to reasoning, or to feeling.
35. 'And whosoever, ånanda, either now or after I am dead, shall be a lamp unto themselves, and a refuge unto themselves, shall betake themselves to no external refuge, but holding fast to the truth as their lamp, and holding fast as their refuge to the truth, shall look not for refuge to any one besides themselves--it is they, ånanda, among my bhikkhus, who shall reach the very topmost Height!-but they must be anxious to learn[1].'
Now the Blessed One addressed the venerable ånanda, and said: 'It may be, ånanda, that in some of you the thought may arise, "The word of the Master is ended, we have no teacher more!" But it is not thus, ånanda, that you should regard it. The truths and the rules of the order which I have set forth and laid down for you all, let them, after I am gone, be the Teacher to you.'

The claim of "lineage" within Buddhism is a rather spurious one to make, considering its history.  Many of these so-called "lineages" claim their lineage goes all of the way back to the Buddha.  Such a claim has to be false, because the Buddha never left a dhamma heir (DN 16).  He instead left behind a peer-level community of monks and lay teachers who were supposed to work together.  The Buddha called that community 'sangha,' which was by his time an old Vedic term that means "company of truth."  What kind of truth is there in a "lineage" of alcoholics and sex addicts?

What is often ignored in these so-called "lineage" claims is Buddhism went through a series of collapses over its two and half millennium.  Thus there is no lineage of Buddhism that can claim any more than a few centuries of continuity at best.  And, most of the so-called lineages are nothing more than family titles and temples passed down from father to son, such as in Zen Buddhism.

A Brief History of Buddhism
By the time that King Asoka (274-236 BCE) converted to Buddhism, Buddhism was in decline.  Under Asoka's patronage Buddhism made a comeback from small local groups to a state religion, but after the death of Asoka, in 236 BCE, a period of persecution of Buddhism under Pusyamitra Sunga took place, in which any lineage claim to the original Buddha would have collapsed.
All of the Mahayanist claims go back to Bodhidharma, who in 480 (CE) traveled by sea as a Buddhist missionary to China and is considered the forefather of Ch'an and Zen.  While his history is not well understood it appears he had no teacher in India.  He was most probably self taught and self ordained and traveled to China to teach because most likely he could not find a single community in India interested in his work because he was not a graduate of Nilanda nor any other recognized Buddhist university.
During the 6th Century invasion of Huns in Kashmir there was persecution of monks. After their departure, Buddhism's restoration there was slow.
In 7th Century Cambodia there was repression of Buddhism, followed by a later strong revival. In the same century in 650 Persian Buddhism collapses due to the Islamic invasion from Arabia.
In Japan, in 710 the capital moved to Nara, where the 6 Nara-schools of Buddhism developed. These schools were highly political, leaving them open to corruption.
In 845 China, the persecution of Buddhism started by Taoist emperor Wu-Tsung. The schools of T'ien T'ai and Huy Neng did not survive. Ch'an and Ching t'u survived and slowly recuperated. About the same time In 9th Century Tibet there was a decline of Buddhism, brought on by persecution by King Langdharma. 
There was a strong Buddhist revival in Tibet in the 10th Century. But, at about the same time in the 10th and 11th Centuries in Sri Lanka, there was a disruption of the Sri Lankan sangha by Tamil Nadu invaders. At that time the lineage of nun's ordination died out and has not yet been reestablished.
11-13th Centuries Indian Buddhism declined due to Mongolian (Mugol) invasion, which brought Islam, iconoclasm, and a decline of (mainly Mahayana) Buddhism in Northern India Sacking of Nalanda University in 1197, and Vikramasila University in 1203 by Muslims. At about the same time in 12th Century Sri Lanka, King Parrakama Bahu abolished Buddhist schools other than Mahavira.
Sources: GWV A Buddhist Timeline

Even though lineage is a myth, requiring it makes it rather difficult for the contemplative with many years of solo practice, and considerable attainment, but no living teacher to begin teaching. Thus this contemplative, like many western contemplatives, is left with having to establish his or her authority and empowerment to teach within a power vacuum. 

Sidharta Gotama is an example of someone without a lineage, who simply came forth after his enlightenment and began to teach. He, however, lived in a culture and a time when contemplatives were honored and respected.  This culture generally does not honor or respect contemplatives, or they lionize drunken and philandering Asians before they will respect a contemplative of their own language and culture

In conclusion we can see the history of Buddhism reveals that it rose and collapsed in every nation within which it emerged. Thus all claims of tracing one's intellectual or spiritual "lineage" directly back to the Buddha can only be false. Requiring lineage makes it difficult for the contemplative with many years of solo practice, and considerable attainment, but no living teacher, to find a platform from which to teach.

There is no "quality control" in the dharma world, because many of the lineages are nothing more than titles passed down from father to son, or from drug addict and philanderer to the next.  Lineage is thus an absurd requirement, because no one can claim lineage back to the Buddha.  And, anyone claiming "lineage" through an addict can only be claiming "lineage" in a tradition of dysfunctional personalities.  Thus, at its best, lineage is nothing more than the bastion of mediocrity, where pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth find a comfortable home; and at its worst it is the refuge of pedophiles, drug addicts, alcoholics and sex addicts.

Underneath all of this is the fact that hypocrisy has existed in every age and in every major religion; and no doubt rose up while the body of the progenitor was still warm.  This means that the people have been financing hypocrisy all along.  If people want enlightened teachers in their lives and leading their religious institutions, then they have to stop financing hypocrisy and begin financing dedicated contemplative who lead ethical lives.

May you be enlightened in this very lifetime,

Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)


Maha-satipatthana Sutta (DN 22.21)

Edited by Jeffrey S. Brooks


Buddhist Suttas Translated from Pali by T. W. Rhys Davids, Oxford, the Clarendon Press, [1881] Vol. XI of The Sacred Books of the East

GWV A Buddhist Timeline

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