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A lineage in Buddhism is a line of transmission of the Buddhist teaching that is "theoretically traced back to the Buddha himself." The acknowledgement of the transmission can be oral, or certified in documents. Several branches of Buddhism, including Zen and Tibetan Buddhism maintain records of their historical teachers. These records serve as a validation for the living exponents of the tradition.
The historical authenticity of Buddhist lineage is questionable. Stephen Batchelor has claimed, speaking about specifically Japanese Zen lineage, "the historicity of this “lineage” simply does not withstand critical scrutiny." Erik Storlie has noted that transmission "is simply false on historical grounds." Edward Conze said "much of the traditions about the early history of Ch’an are the inventions of a later age."
In the lineage of the vinaya, the requirements for ordination as a monk or a nun include the presence of at least five other monks, one of whom must be a fully ordained preceptor, and another an acharya (teacher). This lineage for ordaining nuns became extinct in many Buddhist countries. When Ani Tenzin Palmo wanted full ordination for example, she had to travel to Hong Kong to receive it.
Chán and Zen lineages
Construction of lineages
The idea of a patriarchal lineage in Chan dates back to the epitaph for Fărú (法如 638–689), a disciple of the 5th patriarch Hóngrĕn (弘忍 601–674). In the Two Entrances and Four Acts and the Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks, Daoyu and Huike are the only explicitly identified disciples of Bodhidharma. The epitaph gives a line of descent identifying Bodhidharma as the first patriarch.
In the 6th century biographies of famous monks were collected. From this genre the typical Ch'an-lineage was developed:
These famous biographies were non-sectarian. The Ch'an biographical works, however, aimed to establish Ch'an as a legitimate school of Buddhism traceable to its Indian origins, and at the same time championed a particular form of Ch'an. Historical accuracy was of little concern to the compilers; old legends were repeated, new stories were invented and reiterated until they too became legends.
D.T. Suzuki contends that Ch'an's growth in popularity during the 7th and 8th centuries attracted criticism that it had "no authorized records of its direct transmission from the founder of Buddhism" and that Ch'an historians made Bodhidharma the 28th patriarch of Buddhism in response to such attacks.
The principle teachers of the Chan and Zen traditions are commonly known in English translations as Patriarchs, however the more precise terminology would be "Ancestors" or "Founders" (祖, zu3) and "Ancestral Masters" or "Founding Masters" (祖師, zu3shi1) as the commonly used Chinese terms are gender neutral. Various records of different authors are known, which give a variation of transmission lines:
| The Continued Biographies
of Eminent Monks
Xù gāosēng zhuàn 續高僧傳
of Dàoxuān 道宣
| The Record of the Transmission
of the Dharma-Jewel
Chuán fǎbǎo jì 傳法寶記
of Dù Fěi 杜胐
| History of Masters and Disciples of the Laṅkāvatāra-Sūtra
Léngqié shīzī jì 楞伽師資紀記
of Jìngjué 淨覺
(ca. 683 - ca. 650)
| The Xiǎnzōngjì 显宗记|
of Shénhuì 神会
|2||Huìkě 慧可 (487? - 593)||Dàoyù 道育||Dàoyù 道育||Dàoyù 道育|
|Huìkě 慧可 (487? - 593)||Huìkě 慧可 (487? - 593)||Huìkě 慧可 (487? - 593)|
|3||Sēngcàn 僧璨 (d.606)||Sēngcàn 僧璨 (d.606)||Sēngcàn 僧璨 (d.606)||Sēngcàn 僧璨 (d.606)|
|4||Dàoxìn 道信 (580 - 651)||Dàoxìn 道信 (580 - 651)||Dàoxìn 道信 (580 - 651)||Dàoxìn 道信 (580 - 651)|
|5||Hóngrěn 弘忍 (601 - 674)||Hóngrěn 弘忍 (601 - 674)||Hóngrěn 弘忍 (601 - 674)||Hóngrěn 弘忍 (601 - 674)|
|6||-||Fǎrú 法如 (638-689)||Yuquan Shenxiu 神秀 (606? - 706)||Huìnéng 慧能 (638-713)|
|Yuquan Shenxiu 神秀 (606? - 706) 神秀||Xuánzé 玄賾|
|7||-||-||-||Xuánjué 玄覺 (665-713)|
Continuous lineage from Shakyamuni Buddha
Eventually these descriptions of the lineage evolved into a continuous lineage from Śākyamuni Buddha to Bodhidharma. The idea of a line of descent from Śākyamuni Buddha is the basis for the distinctive lineage tradition of the Chán school.
According to the Song of Enlightenment (證道歌 Zhèngdào gē) by Yǒngjiā Xuánjué (665-713), one of the chief disciples of Huìnéng, Bodhidharma was the 28th Patriarch of Buddhism in a line of descent from Śākyamuni Buddha via his disciple Mahākāśyapa:
Mahakashyapa was the first, leading the line of transmission;
Twenty-eight Fathers followed him in the West;
The Lamp was then brought over the sea to this country;
And Bodhidharma became the First Father here
His mantle, as we all know, passed over six Fathers,
And by them many minds came to see the Light.
The Transmission of the Light gives 28 patriarchs in this transmission, and 53 overall:
|1||Mahākāśyapa||摩訶迦葉 / Móhējiāyè||Ma-Ha-Ca-Diếp||Makakashō||마하가섭 / Mahagasŏp|
|2||Ānanda||阿難陀 (阿難) / Ānántuó (Ānán)||A-Nan-Đà (A-Nan)||Ananda (Anan)||아난다 (아난) / Ananda (Anan)|
|3||Śānavāsa||商那和修 / Shāngnàhéxiū||Thương-Na-Hòa-Tu||Shōnawashu||상나화수 / Sangnahwasu|
|4||Upagupta||優婆掬多 / Yōupójúduō||Ưu-Ba-Cúc-Đa||Ubakikuta||우바국다 / Upakukta|
|5||Dhrtaka||提多迦 / Dīduōjiā||Đề-Đa-Ca||Daitaka||제다가 / Chedaga|
|6||Miccaka||彌遮迦 / Mízhējiā||Di-Dá-Ca||Mishaka||미차가 / Michaga|
|7||Vasumitra||婆須密 (婆須密多) / Póxūmì (Póxūmìduō)||Bà-Tu-Mật (Bà-Tu-Mật-Đa)||Bashumitsu (Bashumitta)||바수밀다 / Pasumilta|
|8||Buddhanandi||浮陀難提 / Fútuónándī||Phật-Đà-Nan-Đề||Buddanandai||불타난제 / Pŭltananje|
|9||Buddhamitra||浮陀密多 / Fútuómìduō||Phục-Đà-Mật-Đa||Buddamitta||복태밀다 / Puktaemilda|
|10||Pārśva||波栗濕縛 / 婆栗濕婆 (脅尊者) / Bōlìshīfú / Pólìshīpó (Xiézūnzhě)||Ba-Lật-Thấp-Phược / Bà-Lật-Thấp-Bà (Hiếp-Tôn-Giả)||Barishiba (Kyōsonja)||파률습박 (협존자) / P'ayulsŭppak (Hyŏpjonje)|
|11||Punyayaśas||富那夜奢 / Fùnàyèshē||Phú-Na-Dạ-Xa||Funayasha||부나야사 / Punayasa|
|12||Ānabodhi / Aśvaghoṣa||阿那菩提 (馬鳴) / Ānàpútí (Mǎmíng)||A-Na-Bồ-Đề (Mã-Minh)||Anabotei (Memyō)||아슈바고샤 (마명) / Asyupakosya (Mamyŏng)|
|13||Kapimala||迦毘摩羅 / Jiāpímóluó||Ca-Tỳ-Ma-La||Kabimora (Kabimara)||가비마라 / Kabimara|
|14||Nāgārjuna||那伽閼剌樹那 (龍樹) / Nàqiéèlàshùnà (Lóngshù)||Na-Già-Át-Lạt-Thụ-Na (Long-Thọ)||Nagaarajuna (Ryūju)||나가알랄수나 (용수) / Nakaallalsuna (Yongsu)|
|15||Āryadeva / Kānadeva||迦那提婆 / Jiānàtípó||Ca-Na-Đề-Bà||Kanadaiba||가나제바 / Kanajeba|
|16||Rāhulata||羅睺羅多 / Luóhóuluóduō||La-Hầu-La-Đa||Ragorata||라후라다 / Rahurada|
|17||Sanghānandi||僧伽難提 / Sēngqiénántí||Tăng-Già-Nan-Đề||Sōgyanandai||승가난제 / Sŭngsananje|
|18||Sanghayaśas||僧伽舍多 / Sēngqiéshèduō||Tăng-Già-Da-Xá||Sōgyayasha||가야사다 / Kayasada|
|19||Kumārata||鳩摩羅多 / Jiūmóluóduō||Cưu-Ma-La-Đa||Kumorata (Kumarata)||구마라다 / Kumarada|
|20||Śayata / Jayata||闍夜多 / Shéyèduō||Xà-Dạ-Đa||Shayata||사야다 / Sayada|
|21||Vasubandhu||婆修盤頭 (世親) / Póxiūpántóu (Shìqīn)||Bà-Tu-Bàn-Đầu (Thế-Thân)||Bashubanzu (Sejin)||바수반두 (세친) / Pasubandu (Sechin)|
|22||Manorhita||摩拏羅 / Mónáluó||Ma-Noa-La||Manura||마나라 / Manara|
|23||Haklenayaśas||鶴勒那 (鶴勒那夜奢) / Hèlènà (Hèlènàyèzhě)||Hạc-Lặc-Na||Kakurokuna (Kakurokunayasha)||학륵나 / Haklŭkna|
|24||Simhabodhi||師子菩提 / Shīzǐpútí||Sư-Tử-Bồ-Đề / Sư-Tử-Trí||Shishibodai||사자 / Saja|
|25||Vasiasita||婆舍斯多 / Póshèsīduō||Bà-Xá-Tư-Đa||Bashashita||바사사다 / Pasasada|
|26||Punyamitra||不如密多 / Bùrúmìduō||Bất-Như-Mật-Đa||Funyomitta||불여밀다 / Punyŏmilta|
|27||Prajñātāra||般若多羅 / Bānruòduōluó||Bát-Nhã-Đa-La||Hannyatara||반야다라 / Panyadara|
|28||Dharma / Bodhidharma||Ta Mo / 菩提達磨 / Pútídámó||Đạt-Ma / Bồ-Đề-Đạt-Ma||Daruma / Bodaidaruma||Tal Ma / 보리달마 / Poridalma|
Transmission to Japan
Twenty-four different Zen-lineages are recorded to be transmitted to Japan. Only three survived until today. Sōtō was transmitted to Japan by Dogen, who travelled to China for Chan training in the 13th century CE. After receiving Dharma transmission in the Caodong line he returned to Japan and established the Sōtō line. The Linji line was also transmitted to Japan several times, where it became known as the Rinzai line.
The 14th Dalai Lama, in the foreword to Karmapa: The Sacred Prophecy states:
Within the context of Tibetan Buddhism, the importance of lineage extends far beyond the ordinary sense of a particular line of inheritance or descent. Lineage is a sacred trust through which the integrity of Buddha's teachings is preserved intact as it is transmitted from one generation to the next. The vital link through which the spiritual tradition is nourished and maintained is the profound connection between an enlightened master and perfectly devoted disciple. The master-disciple relationship is considered extremely sacred by all the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Possession of lineage
The crucial, primary qualification of a spiritual mentor is stated by Naropa, "The qualification of a spiritual mentor is that [t]he[y][(s/he)] possesses the lineage."
The Single Meaning of the Vajra Speech [Wylie: rDo rje'i gsungs dgongs pa gcig pa] states, "There is great profundity in the connection within the lineage of the holy Dharma." The real lineage of the realization of this Dharma, which transfer blessings, is the unbroken rosary of Buddhas...".
Preservation of lineages
Gyatrul (b. 1924), in a purport to Chagmé (Wylie: karma-chags-med, fl. 17th century), conveys Khyentse's 'samaya' (Sanskrit), diligence and humility in receiving 'wang' (Tibetan), lineal transmission and 'rlung' (Wylie) as rendered into English by Wallace (Chagmé et al., 1998: p. 21):
With respect to oral transmission, even if the lineage is impure, it is not a problem. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche often sought out and received any oral transmission he thought was on the verge of disappearing. It made no difference who was giving it. He would receive it and, in turn, pass it on to make sure that the lineage remained unbroken.
There are several hagiographic accounts of how chöd came to Tibet. One namthar, or spiritual biography, asserts that shortly after Kamalashila won his famous debate with Moheyan as to whether Tibet should adopt the "sudden" route to enlightenment or his own "gradual" route, Kamalashila enacted phowa, transferring his mindstream to animate a corpse polluted with contagion in order to safely move the hazard it presented. As the mindstream of Kamalashila was otherwise engaged, a Mahasiddha by the name of Padampa Sangye came across the vacant kuten or "physical basis" of Kamalashila. Padampa Sangye was not karmically blessed with an aesthetic corporeal form, and upon finding the very handsome and healthy empty body of Kamalashila, which he assumed to be a newly dead fresh corpse, used phowa to transfer his own mindstream into Kamalashila's body. Padampa Sangye's mindstream in Kamalashila's body continued the ascent to the Himalaya and thereby transmitted the Pacification of Suffering teachings and the Indian form of Chöd which contributed to the Mahamudra Chöd of Machig Labdrön. The mindstream of Kamalashila was unable to return to his own kuten and so was forced to enter the vacant body of Padampa Sangye.
- Dharma transmission
- Religious order
- Wang (Tibetan Buddhism)
- Zen lineage charts
- Sheng-yen's lineage chart
- "In the Buddhist context, the term blessing should not be understood in terms of grace as in the case of theistic religions. Rather, it relates to the sense of inspiration received...which transforms or awakens the potentials inherent within an individual's mental continuum. Thus, the Tibetan word byin-rlabs is interpreted to mean: 'to be transformed through inspiring magnificence'."
- Haskel 2001, p. 2.
- Batchelor, Stephen (Winter 2000). "The Lessons of History". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Retrieved April 25, 2015.
- Storlie, Erik (February 8, 2011). "Lineage Delusions: Eido Shimano Roshi, Dharma Transmission, and American Zen". Sweeping Zen. Retrieved April 25, 2015.
- Conze, Edward (2003). Buddhism: Its Essence and Development. Courier Corporation. p. 201. ISBN 9780486430959.
- Dumoulin 1993, p. 37.
- Cole 2009, p. 73–114.
- Yampolski 2003, p. 5-6.
- Suzuki 1949, p. 168.
- Chang 1967.
- Suzuki 1948, p. 50.
- Cook 2003.
- Diener 1991, p. 266.
- Karmapa: The Sacred Prophecy. New York: Kagyu Thubten Choling Publications Committee. 1999.
- Chagmé et al., 1998: p. 22
- Padmasambhava (composed); Terton Karma Lingpa (revealed); Gyurme Dorje (translated); Graham Coleman (editor); Thupten Jinpa (editor) with H.H.Tenzin Gyatso (introduction) (2005, 2006). The Tibetan Book of the Dead. First Complete Translation. Strand, London, UK: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-045529-8, p.448
- Chagmé, Karma (author, compiler); Gyatrul Rinpoche (commentary) & Wallace, B. Alan (translator) (1998). A Spacious Path to Freedom: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and Atiyoga. Ithaca, New York, USA: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 978-1-55939-071-2; ISBN 1-55939-071-9, p.22
- Source: (accessed: Wednesday March 25, 2009)
- Chagmé, Karma (author, compiler); Gyatrul Rinpoche (commentary) & Wallace, B. Alan (translator) (1998). A Spacious Path to Freedom: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and Atiyoga. Ithaca, New York, USA: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 978-1-55939-071-2; ISBN 1-55939-071-9, p.21
- Rinpoche, Yangthang (1991). "Chod - Cutting Through the Ego". Retrieved 2009-06-04.
- Edou, Jérôme (1996). Machig Labdrön and the Foundations of Chöd. Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 978-1-55939-039-2.
- Thrangu, Khenchen & Klonk, Christoph (translator) & Hollmann, Gaby (editor and annotator)(2006). Chod – The Introduction & A Few Practices. Source: (accessed: November 2, 2007)
- Tantric Glossary
- Chang, Chung-Yuan (1967), "Ch'an Buddhism: Logical and Illogical", Philosophy East and West, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 17, No. 1/4, 17 (1/4): 37–49, doi:10.2307/1397043, JSTOR 1397043
- Cole, Alan (2009), Fathering Your Father: The Zen of Fabrication in Tang Buddhism, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-25485-5
- Cook, Francis Dojun (2003), Transmitting the Light: Zen Master's Keizan's Denkoroku, Boston: Wisdom Publications
- Diener, Michael S.; and friends (1991), The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Boston: Shambhala
- Dumoulin, Heinrich (1993), "Early Chinese Zen Reexamined: A Supplement to Zen Buddhism: A History" (PDF), Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 20 (1): 31–53, ISSN 0304-1042
- Haskel, Peter (2001). Letting Go: The Story of Zen Master Tōsui. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-2440-7.
- Suzuki, D.T. (1949), Essays in Zen Buddhism, New York: Grove Press, ISBN 0-8021-5118-3
- Yampolski, Philip (2003), Chan. A Historical Sketch. In: Buddhist Spirituality. Later China, Korea, Japan and the Modern World; edited by Takeuchi Yoshinori, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass
- The Lineages and History of Buddhism
- Chö/Chöd/Lineages associated with Machig Labdrön
- Schools of Zen Buddhism at the Zen Buddhism WWW Virtual Library
- Zen Ancestors in China - The Five Houses
- Caodong and Linji lineage chart of present-day Chan Master Sheng-yen
- Buddhist masters