the Wanderling


"Thus it has been said when Shakyamuni Buddha was in Grdhrakuta mountain, he twirled a flower in his finger and held it before his congregation. Everyone was silent. Only Maha Kashapa wholeheartedly smiled. Buddha said, 'I have the eye of the true teaching, the heart of Nirvana, the formless form, the mysterious gate of Dharma. Beyond the words and beyond all teachings to be transmitted, I now pass this on to Maha Kashapa.'"

CASE 6, The Mumonkan


"Direct Transmission" is typically associated as having its beginning with the Buddha holding up the flower at Vulture Peak, with the Venerable Maha Kashapa's Full Attainment occuring thereof through a sudden flash of insight and not a gradual process of reasoning.

After the death of the Buddha his idea or method of direct transmission, except for small pockets of steadfast adherents, slowly faded almost entirely into the mists of time. Century upon century later, one of those steadfast adherents, Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, came forward earning a special place in the history of Zen and Buddhism as a champion of a "mind to mind transmission" by continuing, or at the very least, re-establishing the Buddha-Maha Kashapa concept. Bodhidharma focused on the Enlightenment experience occurring in the master-disciple relationship, initiating an alternative to the text based teachings of the scholastic tradition. Albert Welter in T'ang Ch'an and the Myth of Bodhidharma writes that Bodhidharma's role in the transformation of Chinese Buddhism was widely acknowledged by the beginning of the Sung Dynasty. The early Sung Buddhist historian, Tsan-ning (919-1001) spoke positively of Bodhidharma's extreme critical interpretations of prevailing textual conventions within Chinese Buddhist scholasticism. He acknowledged Bodhidharma as the first to proclaim: "Directly point to the human mind; see one's nature and become a Buddha; do not establish words and letters."(source)

From that thesis, Zen master Huang Po (circa 770 - 850) taught what has come to be called Transmission of the Mind, that the nature of Mind cannot be transmitted by speech or by writing and is not a conceptual object which can be transmitted from person to person or from place to place --- but can only be transmitted by a sudden flash of intuitive insight if conceptual thinking is transcended. (see) It should be stated the transmission-event does not have to be triggered through the process of another person, only that the mind be ripe, a classical example being the bottom of the water pail breaking through with Chiyono, aka Mugai Nyodai.

The the ancient and long-established --- yet never universal --- art of Direct Transmission first began showing up in the United States in the mid to late 1920s. One of the first major Zen Buddhists in America and the formost purveyor of Direct Transmission in the U.S. was a man named Yeita Sasaki. In 1928 Yeita Sasaki became a full-fledged Zen master receiving Inka Shomei from his teacher Sokatsu Shaku, and in the process taking the name Sokei-an. Sokei-an, as the prime mover in the advocacy of Direct Transmission, is quoted as saying in his own words:

"I am of the Zen sect. My special profession is to train students of Buddhism by the Zen method. Nowadays, there are many types of Zen teachers. One type, for example, teaches Zen through philosophical discourse; another, through so-called meditation; and still another direct from soul to soul. My way of teaching is the direct transmission of Zen from soul to soul."

Although well regarded and seldom argued with in American Zen circles, Direct Transmission never had a large vocal following in the United States. The most well known supporters of Direct Transmission in the U.S. were Sokei-an's wife Ruth Fuller; Mary Farkas, an ordained Rinzai priest and longtime director of The First Zen Institute of America; the anonymous American Zen master Alfred Pulyan; Pulyan's follower --- and teacher in his own right --- Richard Rose; and Pulyan's Teacher, the mysterious and unnamed female teacher who, to my knowledge, never instructed anyone other than Pulyan.(see)

According to Vignana there are three ways of Transmission of Spiritual Power and they can be explained through example. Of the three, Vihangam Marg is the shortest (fastest) way to achieve the Final Reality:

Suppose there is a sweet and ripe fruit at the top of a tree. To enjoy the taste of the fruit,

  1. PIPILIKA MARG: An ant slowly comes to the trunk of a tree, slowly marches forward to the branch and enjoys the taste of the fruit. The way is known as Pipilika Marg (Ant-path).

  2. MARKAT MARG: Jumping from one tree to another a monkey comes from a distance to the branch of the tree and directly starts tasting the fruit. This way is known as Markat Marg (Monkey-Path).

  3. VIHANGAM MARG: A bird flying in the sky, directly pecks at the fruit with its beak and starts eating. This is known as Vihangam Marg (the Birdsí-Path, the Birds' Sky-way).

There is a fourth way for the Transmission of Spiritual Power NOT usually mentioned called APARKA MARG:

--4.- APARKA MARG (sannyasa-vidvat). Again, suppose there is a sweet and ripe fruit at the top of a tree:

To enjoy the taste of the fruit the ripe fruit falls to the ground just at the exact time as an unsuspecting hungry-being is there. Aparka Marg is the way Realization falls upon the Self. The Bhagavan Maharshi Sri Ramana would be a prime example as would the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Hui-neng who, as a young boy collecting firewood, experienced Awakening basically out of nowhere. Modern day examples would be Suzanne Segal as well as the instant transformation into the Absolute as found in:


The fast approach provides the quickest means to experience awareness beyond that normally associated with the ego. Its drawback, is the potential fragility of the ego to withstand such rapid and deep-reaching change--the very thing gradual paths strive to guard against. See DEATH OF THE EGO: The Buddhist View.

An analogous situation holds for the Exoteric and Esoteric schools. Exoteric traditions are more solid and balanced since they mostly work with the perceptions and energies of the physical plane. So, even though it is not uncommon to experience supernormal perceptual states known in Sanskrit as Siddhis, advancing through various Jhana stages, levels of Zen, or Vipassana Meditation, the emphasis of such schools is to continue grounding back to this earth --- to the sights, sounds, tastes and thoughts that comprise ordinary experience. The drawback is that the primal energies that underpin the physical world are only indirectly addressed.

Esoteric traditions, on the other hand, determine to apply themselves directly to the forces that underlie ordinary existence. They reach for the essential nature of the experience of living which manifests as subtle energy and consciousness. The drawback is that similar to reaching too far, too fast, into the psyche as for the fast traditions, esoteric work can reach too far, too fast into subtler fields of energy. This can manifest variously as, for instance, energetic imbalances of the body and mind, and uncontrolled effects on the environment and other beings.

NOTE: Traditionally, the approach to spirituality can be either Exoteric or Esoteric.

Exoteric refers to outer, more tangible aspects--things that we can see, touch, hear, smell, taste, and do. Examples would be praying, engaging in charitable and volunteer work, singing devotional songs, and attending lessons by a spiritual teacher.

Some forms of meditation such as Vipassana and Zen are said to be exoteric as well. For instance, Vipassana aims to keep the mind from wandering about by grounding it in actual experience. The mind is anchored more in the process than the content of direct sensory experience. So one would be just as aware of the sense of hearing as to what one is hearing. Likewise, Zen emphasizes experience in the current moment and takes ordinary everyday activity for its meditational object. However, in the end, Esoteric/Exoteric connotations are dualistic and traditionally not within the realm or scope of Zen.

My Mentor, the first American I truly began study-practice under, had himself reached the finality of the Absolute under the grace and light of the venerated Indian holy man the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Either before or after his stay at the ashrama of the Maharshi, and I believe it was before --- even though it is not mentioned by William Somerset Maugham in his book that chronicles my mentor's spiritual quest --- he traveled to Bijapur to meet with another Indian holy man, Siddharameshwar Maharaj. The Maharaj taught that the only way one can reach Final Reality, that is, Enlightenment, is through what he called Vihangam Marg, the bird's way. For me, at the time of my initial study-practice, of course, I knew nothing of such things. I only know who the holy man is now because I was able to put together bits and pieces of information such as time and place with such clues as "the bird's way." The holy man had related to my mentor that only by hearing and practicing from the teachings of the Master and thinking over it, just like the bird flies from one tree to another, can one attain Awakening very fast. This is the shortest way to achieve the Final Reality. In that initially I had made little or no progress toward Enlightenment my mentor told me of Siddharameshwer's method.


The following quote is from Abbot John Daido Loori, M.R.O., given during the Soto School's Tokubetsu sesshin, Spring 1995 and explains transmission rather quickly:

"Moreover, the really wonderful thing about the transmission is that it has nothing to do with something going from A to B. We use the word "transmission" but it is a little misleading. The first words out of the Buddha's mouth when he realized himself were: "All sentient beings possess the Tathagatha's wisdom virtue." Each and every one of us. The light that is transmitted is precisely the Buddha wisdom we are born with. Transmission doesn't give us something that is different from or outside of us. It is more a process of discovery, of realizing the inherent perfection that is the life of each one of us. Transmission doesn't happen at any one point in time. The formality of it may. One day your Dharma brother or sister is walking around with a black kesa, and suddenly the next day they're wearing a brown one - but the process is endless, the practice is endless. Each time we take the bodhi seat we verify and actualize the enlightenment of the Buddha, of all Buddhas past, present and future."(source)

Even so, the above notwithstanding, similar but one quarter the words, the following is from a question answer session with Sri Ramana:

Questioner: Swami Vivekananda says that a spiritual Guru can transfer spirituality substantially to the disciple.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Is there a substance to be transferred? Transfer means eradication of the sense of being the disciple. The master does it. Not that the man was something at one time and metamorphosed later into another.(source)



ALL IS ILLUSION? A Chinese-Indian Dichotomy In Advaita and Zen



Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.


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Vignana is the difference between the knowledge we get from just reading or listening to Sutras and Sastras and the knowledge that we get from actual experience. It corresponds to the six senses: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, taste-consciousness, touch-consciousness, bodily consciousness, and mental consciousness. In the process, Vignana incorporates within the totality of itself both the Western idea of that which is "conscious' and "unconscious." For that reason it is difficult to translate by any single term.

Suppose we collect water from the ocean and bring it home. The ocean water will have a salt taste to it. When the same ocean water is converted by the sun's rays into vapor and then comes down as rain from the clouds, there is an amount of "sweetness" which is associated with the same water. The knowledge which we get by reading or listening to Sutras and Sastras compares with the water collected directly from the ocean. Vignana is comparable to the ocean water when it is converted into rain from the clouds -- that is, sweeter than the ocean water it originally came from.

FROM: the Discourse of Sathya Sai Baba during the Summer Course in Spirituality and Indian Culture
held for College Students at Brindavan, Whitefield, Bangalore District in May/June 1974
Published by Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust