Zen Awakening and the Transmission of Wisdom

The First Ancestor taught me that my newfound ability to read was not the ends but the means to gaining knowledge (Louie Wing was illiterate when he met The First Ancestor of Zen in the West). Similarly, the Zen practitioner’s newfound ability to realize immediate awareness and equality (activated with kensho) are the means to the ongoing fulfillment of wisdom and compassion…
…what is the use of activating this wisdom if you do not apply it?..
The next step is to apply this ability to the wisdom and teachings of the buddhas and Zen ancestors…

Contrary to the opinions of many, authentic transmission has nothing to do with lineage charts or certificates. Nor does it refer

to any kind of supernatural technique where a teacher transmits something from their mind to the mind of a student. Transmission is the communication of wisdom or prajna–the wisdom for living an authentic life, as well as the wisdom for helping others. Sometimes this wisdom is transmitted through direct personal association, sometimes through enlightened awareness in ordinary activity, sometimes through the records of the masters, sometimes by devices or doctrines like The Five Ranks and The Four Shouts, and written treatises of all kinds.

Dogen frequently uses phrases like, “Sometimes one is enlightened through a teacher, sometimes one is enlightened through scriptures.” The widely held notion that enlightenment is a sudden, one-time event has caused some misunderstandings in this area. If enlightenment was an event rather than a process you might read Dogen’s statements as meaning that some people become enlightened one way, and others become enlightened in other ways. Since enlightenment is not an event, but an ongoing process, you can understand the true meaning of his words; you are enlightened through a teacher, at some times, and through scriptures at other times.

Learned audience, having awakened to your inherent wisdom, you become open to the wisdom of those who have awakened before you. For ultimately, as the phrase “mind to mind” implies, transmission is wisdom communicated to wisdom from wisdom. In addition to this marvelous opportunity to learn wisdom from others, you are also free to explore realms not yet discovered. For now you will be walking in the same realm as the ancients, and even they have left some stones unturned. Moreover, the actualization of prajna does much more than simply hone your abilities to cope with life on life’s terms…

…when prajna is actualized and you experience it for yourselves you will discover how pale my words are, how pale are even the words of Buddha. This is something that should not be missed. When the observing prajna begins to function within you, you will not be able to miss it. The world will take on a whole new significance. Some things that seemed important before, like personal wealth or prestige

become meaningless, while the most unlikely, ordinary things, like rocks, the barking of dogs, a cup of tea, are suddenly experienced in almost supernatural splendor.

The flower, the oak tree, and the dry clump of dirt, as well as the call of the dove, the scent of newly mown grass, even a slice of bologna, are experienced in their reality as particular aspects of all time and space coming forth here and now. The vast and fathomless universe, the infinite void, referred to as emptiness, is manifested as each speck of dust.

From The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing

by Ted Biringer

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