Dharma transmission

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Dharma transmission ( Chinese  傳 衣 , Pinyin chuányī , W.-G. ch'uan-i  - "passing on the garment"; Hgl. 전의, jeonui ; Japanese 傳 衣 , denne ) is a term of Chan or Zen , which describes the process of empowering a Zen master to succeed a disciple.


According to the self-understanding of Zen Buddhism , true knowledge cannot be taught in the usual sense, it can only be experienced beyond words and traditional teachings, since the essence of Zen cannot be understood intellectually. The role of a teacher is to be a role model and an incentive for the student, he can show him techniques and ways to enlightenment , but ultimately the student can only achieve these through his own effort.

With the Dharma transmission, a Zen master recognizes a disciple of the Dharma as a follower. He confirms a certain degree of maturity of his own experience and that he is able to continue the teacher's Dharma independently and to be his Dharma successor (Japanese Hassu). Linked to this is the student's permission (and obligation) to teach himself and later to determine his own Dharma followers. This affirmation bears some resemblance to lineage holder empowerment in the schools of Vajrayana Buddhism .

Since the Dharma cannot actually be taught and enlightenment is nothing more than ordinary consciousness, i.e. nothing is gained, Zen masters emphasize again and again that Dharma transmission is only a makeshift, the master does not pass on anything and the student receives nothing .

As a symbol of confirmation as a Dharma successor, previous teachers in the Zen tradition presented the successor with their begging bowl and monk's robe. In the case of Huineng , the Sixth Patriarch after Bodhidharma , this happened secretly at night. Hongren , the Fifth Patriarch, wanted to protect Huineng from the envy of the other monks in his monastery.

The first Dharma transmission took place according to the self-understanding of Zen and the legend according to the historical Buddha . Instead of making a speech, he just held up a flower and twisted it between his fingers. Only Mahakashyapa , one of the Buddha's disciples, smiled. Later the Buddha said: "The great Mahakashyapa understood my teaching" (see here ). The Dharma transmission continues to this day according to the ideal model of this model.

However, nowadays Dharma transmissions in the various directions of Zen, especially the great Soto and Rinzai traditions, are celebrated according to established, traditional rules.

Dharma doctrines

Each Zen teacher sees himself as the successor of a long line of masters, each of whom received the Dharma transmission from his teacher and passed it on accordingly to one or more of his students. One speaks of lines of tradition , doctrinal lines , Dharma doctrines , Dharma transmission lines , etc. This tradition ultimately has its origin in Buddha Shakyamuni (see above). Up to Huineng , all Zen traditions rely on the same patriarch.

Bodhidharma was the 28th and last patriarch of the Indian doctrine and also the first patriarch of Zen in China. According to the (historically doubted) tradition of Zen, five Chinese masters received a personal Dharma transmission after Bodhidharma, Huineng was consequently the sixth of them.

Huineng did not confer patriarchy individually. Instead, shortly before his death, he called all of his close monk disciples together and obliged them to ensure that the Dharma was spread and to name their own successors:

"All of you, receive this teaching and later pass it on one by one. You must definitely have a successor to whom you can pass the teaching on. And, as promised, do not let the essence of the teaching be lost."
Huineng, The Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch

The golden age of Zen began in China with Huineng and his students. All of the great lineages of Zen in China go back to two of his most capable students, Nan-yüeh Huai-jang (Japanese: Nangaku Ejo) and Ch'ing-yüan Hsing-ssu (Japanese: Seigen Gyoshi).

The tradition currently has around 90 patriarchs, from Huineng the teachers differ, so names and number of people after Huineng differ between the contemporary teaching lines. The sequence of the predecessors of a teaching line is known by name and is solemnly recited in rituals (usually in a shortened form).


The Denkō-roku ("Monk Keizan's Record of the Transmission of Light") contains a collection of events depicting the Dharma transmission in the lineage of the 52nd Patriarch of the Soto School from Mahakashyapa to Dōgen Zenji . The Denkō-roku was recorded by the Japanese master Keizan Jōkin , who is considered to be the most important Zen master of the Soto school after Dōgen Zenji, and is considered to be one of the most important Soto Zen writings.

See also


  • Keizan Zenji: Denkô-roku. The transmission of the light. Complete edition . Angkor Verlag, Frankfurt 2008, ISBN 978-3-936018-08-0
  • Ingrid Fischer-Schreiber et al .: Lexicon of Eastern Wisdom Teachings . Otto Wilhelm Barth Verlag, Bern / Munich / Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-502-67403-5
  • Huineng: The Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch: The Life and Zen Teaching of the Chinese Master Hui-neng . Otto Wilhelm Barth Verlag, Bern / Munich / Vienna 1989, ISBN 3-502-64298-2