I just saw this article / announcement on the Sweeping Zen website. My old friend Lew Richmond gave transmission to two of his students. What I noticed was how this event was described and how it was held. The Zen transmission story is clearly changing in the west - there is no longer one orthodox story about the transmission and the lineage.
I am including the full article below. But here are a few things that struck me.
First, their lineage has 127 "ancestors." Clearly, this is not the standard list of the myth of the direct "unbroken" line. It includes many other names of teachers not in any direct lineage, women -- did any of the major lineages have any women in them? I think not..... so Lew added all kinds of bodhisattvas, names of Buddhas and teachers from different Zen paths - so the list is really one of recognition and gratitude, not to be taken literally. Also, Kuznan, who is receiving transmission and writes the article, rightly points out that the lineage is both a treasure and a fiction. He also notes that Zen is full of contradictions.
I appreciate the openness and honesty of these insights and the lack of the demand for orthodoxy, for false certainly, for blind faith. Now I think we need to drop the word "transmission" and let it be more of a simple kind of recognition or certification - with a clarity that also does not include grandiosity or unnecessary amplification and enchantment. Keep it simple. Keep it honest. Keep it human. As Claude Dalenberg talked about transmission in something I posted some months back.
Dharma transmission of Kuzan Peter Schireson and Rinso Ed Sattizahn
By Kuzan Peter Schireson
I’ve just completed Dharma Transmission, along with my Dharma brother, Rinso Ed Sattizahn. The transmission process overflows with gratitude for the lineage of Zen ancestors and their devotion to practice and teaching. Every day, I’ve voiced their names, offered incense, and bowed to them. One hundred twenty-seven ancestors who represent the lineage from before Shakyamuni Buddha to me. I say “represent” knowing the lineage is both a treasure and something of a fiction. Until recently no women were included. That was a big mistake. Now they are. The list stands for the innumerable bodhisattvas – priests and lay, teachers and students, men and women – who’ve kept the Dharma flame burning so everyone can benefit.
The human-ness of it is striking. It has occurred to me more than once that all one hundred twenty-seven named ancestors could actually fit in Empty Nest Zendo. Sometimes, standing at the altar, I’ve conjured them up in my mind. I’ve imagined them sitting on our cushions and chairs. Imagining what each might look like as I say his or her name and bow. Raggedy robes with fleas. Beautiful robes with gold thread. Scraggly beards. Bad teeth. Cranky. Beatific. Irritable. Loving. In other words: people. It’s very encouraging.
Zen is full of contradictions, including the understanding that contradictions aren’t really as contradictory as we think. One contradiction is that we’re all completely responsible for ourselves and at the same time completely dependent – or more correctly “interdependent” – on everyone else. It’s the same with our teachers. No particular teacher is necessary or sufficient, but every one is essential. I’ve had a handful of teachers – both Japanese and American: Joshu Sasaki Roshi was the first (athough very briefly), followed by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Sojun Mel Weitsman Roshi, and Keido Fukushima Roshi. Importantly, my wife Myoan Grace Schireson has been a kind of big sister for me in the Dharma and auxiliary teacher. And Zoketsu Norman Fischer has been an inspiration as well.
Chikudo Lew Richmond ordained me as a priest and completed my transmission. I’ve worked closely with Lew for about five years now, so there’s lots to thank him for, but the one thing I must say is this: if it not for Lew, I really don’t know if I would have ordained as a priest and completed my training in the Suzuki Roshi lineage. His kindness, insights, and Vimalakirti style of embodying the Dharma encouraged me to deepen my practice in ways I hadn’t envisioned. He helped me understand that ordaining as a priest was not about robes, the outward formalities, or the archetypal aura that I associated with the role. That the essence of priest practice was the practice of love and compassion, from the inside out. I came to understand that I could ordain, practice, and teach as myself. For that I am deeply and especially grateful.