What is Transmitted (1) Enlightenment?

Zen teachers are said to have received “transmission.” Does this mean that teachers are enlightened beings?

Most who enter Zen practice have done some reading, and heard about enlightenment, awakening, realization, and opening experiences, or perhaps heard their Japanese terms, kensho and satori. Bodhidharma, the first Chan ancestor in China, is said to have written:

A special transmission outside the scriptures,
Not founded upon words and letters.
By pointing directly to one’s mind,
It lets one see into one’s own true nature and thus attain Buddhahood.

So a good first guess at what “transmission” means is that “transmitted teachers” have “seen into their true nature” and received “enlightenment.” And, one may then conclude, that if one is a good enough student your teacher may someday “transmit” enlightenment to you. Many Zen stories about interactions between teachers and their Dharma heirs (and especially those in Keizan Jokin’s The Record of Transmitting the Light) end, after all, with “On hearing this, the [Dharma successor] was greatly awakened.”

Continue reading “What is Transmitted (1) Enlightenment?”