Sunday, March 6, 2011

Shobogenzo Ch16 Shisho (II) - More on the Certificate of Succession

Quoting Dogen's Master:
There are few who have even seen and heard of the causes and conditions of the certificate of succession and the succession of the Dharma. Among a hundred thousand people there is not even one!

So what is the "concrete situation of the certificate of succession"? Dogen writes:

...some succeed to the Dharma on clarifying the sun, the moon, and the stars, and some succeed to the Dharma on being made to get the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow..

...some receive a kaṣāya; some receive a staff; some receive a sprig of pine; some receive a whisk; some receive an uḍumbara flower; and some receive a robe of golden brocade. There have been successions with straw sandals and successions with a bamboo stick.

This suggests that the causes and conditions giving rise to succession vary (and also suggests we should not view succession as something we're entitled to after completion of a program of study). Not surprisingly, the forms of certificates recognizing succession also vary:

When such successions of the Dharma are received, some write a certificate of succession with blood from a finger, some write a certificate of succession with blood from a tongue, and some perform the succession of Dharma by writing [a certificate] with oil and milk; these are all certificates of succession.

Dogen was able to view several certificates of succession during his travels. The specifics of these certificates varied tremendously. However, that he did not regard all certificates as valid should not come as too much of a surprise. He comments:

They receive the Dharma from fellows of fame and repute of the present generation, or from old veterans who are intimate with kings and ministers, and when they do so they have no interest in getting the Dharma but are only greedy for fame and reputation.

they have become uselessly entangled in the net of theory, and so they do not know the method of liberation and they do not hope for the opportunity to spring free.

While reading I found it difficult to judge which of the certificates of succession Dogen described was valid, if any. I wonder if that ambiguity was intentional since Dogen harbored doubts of his own, although it seems that he gained some insight during these encounters.

Dogen quotes his master as saying: ..wherever [people] are sincerely pursuing the truth they are able to see and to hear that the certificate of succession exists. “To have seen and heard” may be “learning the state of truth” itself.

In the end, Dogen admits that it was not until he understood, through the teaching of his Master which resonated deeply, that succession of the Dharma between master and disciple arises co-dependently that he "accepted, for the first time, the existence of Buddhist patriarchs’ succession of the Dharma, but also got rid of an old nest."


Sprig of pine, a whisk,
Or udumbara flower ―
Signed with blood or milk.

Simple and so real ―
Co-dependent arising ―
Succession of truth.

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