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By Daniel Scharpenburg


And at the end of 2014, my teacher Shi Da Dao asked me if I wanted Dharma Transmission.

I did not expect this, but of course I accepted. Some people reading this might not know what Dharma Transmission is, so I will explain.

Dharma Transmission is a custom in which a person is established as a successor in an unbroken lineage of teachers and students—a spiritual bloodline that is theoretically traced back to the Buddha himself.

It’s sometimes called the Transmission of Light or the Transmission of the Lamp.

Dharma Transmission implies the acknowledgement of insight into the teachings of Buddhism, especially seeing into one’s true nature. But Dharma Transmission is also a means to establish a person into the Ch’an tradition of Mahayana Buddhism.

I have received transmission in the Caodong School of Ch’an Buddhism. This means that I am a Dharma heir in the lineage of Master Xu Yun. (Xu Yun actually held several different lineages, and the Caodong one is the only one that was passed to me). Explaining this could get really complicated, so I will save it for another time.

Transmission means the passing on of a body of learning. As a recipient of the transmission, I am expected to spread the teachings of Master Xu Yun. The lineage of Xu Yun is a gate through which I can share the direct experience of Awakening.

Bodhidharma, the teacher who brought these teachings from India to China, called it:

“A direct transmission outside of scriptures, apart from tradition
Without dependence upon words or letters.
A direct pointing to mind.
Seeing into one’s nature and awakening.”

When you hear the phrase ‘Zen Master’ they are referring to Dharma Transmission.

My lineage goes four generations back to Master Xu Yun, who is a famous Ch’an Master from China.

Different lineages have different methods and requirements for Dharma Transmission. In some lineages it’s very hard to get transmission but in others it’s very easy.

In some Buddhist lineages transmission is only given to monks. My lineage follows the example of the enlightened layperson, exemplified by individuals like Vimalakirti and P’ang. It should also be noted that Huineng the Sixth Patriarch didn’t become a monk until after he had received transmission, and my hero Ikkyu gave up his monastic vows so he would be able to spread the Dharma in places like brothels and bars (places monks would never go). Xu Yun taught that labels like lay and monastic were really empty of essential meaning anyway. They’re just labels we put on ourselves, like everything else.

The point is not renunciation. The point is cultivating virtue, wisdom and concentration.

I’m not sure I can put the label Enlightened on myself. It’s good to be recognized in this way, and I will take all of the responsibilities of this transmission seriously.

Shortly after receiving Dharma transmission, I was ordained as a Bodhisattva Monk. This is a form of Buddhist ordination that is available for householders (which I am because I have children).

black robes

The Bodhisattva Monk ideal functions on the premise of compassion. It is the heartfelt expression of compassion for all of humanity without exception.

This necessitates cultivation of spiritual and moral perfection through cultivating the six paramitas: generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration, and wisdom.

This is a formal and deep commitment to Buddhist practice.

Whereas traditional Monks in Buddhism (as in other religions) are expected to live lives of seclusion with few possessions and no family obligations, Bodhisattva Monks remain in the world, living as householders, and even dwelling in some places that traditional Monks might avoid.

Often to simplify things in this tradition, those with more traditional monastic vows are called Monks and those with Bodhisattva ordination are called Priests.

I was given a new Buddhist name which is Shi Zhao Dao.

It means Venerable Shining Path.


See Part 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10

Photo: fabforgottennobility/tumblr

Editor: Dana Gornall