Sep 152022

So much talk about “transmission”, and often it refers to some certificate, some kind of ceremony maybe. At night by candlelight, in privacy with your master. In daytime with hundreds of eminent participants. By un-witnessed last words on the master’s death-bed or posthumously disclosed private notes. By somebody who never was your teacher or by someone who appeared in your dreams. Why not, it is not a driving license, not a medical doctor’s certificate. Call it what you want, who cares?

A young Kuwahara Kokugyo with Omori Sogen (1981).
Kuwahara Kokugyo with a younger me (2006).

The strength of a rope is determined by the length its individual threads do overlap. The longer the overlap, the stronger the rope. Learning takes time, ten to fifteen years at least, no matter which art you study. If the individual threads don’t overlap for a sufficient length, the rope will rupture.

I firmly believe “transmission” is an ongoing process, not a one time event, nothing to “have”. It is lasting over years and decades and possibly never ending during one’s lifetime. The question to ask is not “do you have transmission?”, but “are you in a process of receiving/passing on transmission?”

A young student with me (2022, photography curtsey of G.A. Stinner).

For generations we contribute in braiding our rope by turning our lifelong work into one overlapping thread. The rope began long before us, and if we work on transmission with determination, hopefully it will continue long after we are gone.

“Ridiculous!”, you might say, “you cannot simply deny a tradition of transmission going back to the Buddha himself !”. Well, have you been there? Did you meet anyone who was? Something happened back then, over 2500 years ago. Something still continues.

Have a look at Hakuin Ekaku (白隠 慧鶴, 1686–1769), who during his lifetime inherited nothing more than the low rank of Daiichi-Za, yet becoming “one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism (…) regarded as the reviver of the Rinzai school.” (1)

If your goal in life is collecting papers and titles, go for it. Who cares? It is your life. If you wonder “What is The Way, how to receive and pass on transmission?”, find a good teacher, watch closely, then do!