Yoga and Lineage: Reflections after Agniyogana
Firstly, some background...
Late last year I felt inspired to bring the the Agniyogana film to Nelson. Although I wasn't aware of it at the time, it turned out one of the key lineages that featured was the Drikung Kagyu, which happens to be my main lineage (funny how these things work!).
If you have seen the film, you may recall Dordzin Dondrop Palden Rinpoche (pictured above) and Nubpa Konchok Tenzin Rinpoche were representing Drikung Kagyu. Also featured in the film were Ani Chonyi Zangmo and Dr Sherab Tenzin, representing Nyingma lineage.
These two lineages are very closely connected - both Tibetan Buddhist Yogic traditions. The Drikung Dzogchen transmission (aka Yangzab), which is the main teaching Lama Mark Webber will be passing on in the upcoming Wangapeka retreat, is essentially a Nyingma lineage, within the Drikung Kagyu.
Why is lineage important in Yoga & Dharma?
Lineage is the means by which the authenticity of teachings is preserved, across generations, centuries, and even millennia. It is the unbroken line of direct heart-to-heart transmission, from master to student, of the essential purpose of a teaching, aka parampara (skt.). In the case of Yoga and Dharma, lineage carries the potency of spiritual realisation of the founding Yogi, as well as subsequent lineage masters. In the case of Drikung Kagyu, the founder was a Buddhist Master called Jigten Sumgön who lived around the 13th century AD in Tibet. Although the transmission didn't exactly originate with him - it traces back through Gampopa all the way to Tilopa.
Without genuine, unbroken lineage, the real depth of yogic practices can become easily diluted. This happens through a process of cultural assimilation. The outer form of a practice may spread far and wide, but this will tend to be for the purpose of satisfying mainstream cultural ideals. The potency of inner aspects - in particular their ability to unlock transcendent wisdom - will tend to dissipate in a cloud of conceptual confusion and may eventually be lost entirely to blind dogma.
Practitioners and teachers may still give lip service to the spiritual origins of their traditions, but without genuine lineage, the practices will begin to feel hollow - at some point we may discover that they have lost their power to truly liberate. They will tend to bind us to, rather than free us from, our culturally-sanctified world-view.
We live in a time when the fabric - the validity - of our western / 'global' culture is being challenged on so many levels. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - our culture is young and naive. It still has a lot of room for growth - a long way to go before it will be capable of truly and unconditionally nurturing human beings, our planet, all of life, in a sustainable and compassionate way.
At times like these, the potency of genuine spiritual lineage becomes an essential guiding force. How else are we to maintain a sense of clarity and perspective, when all our reference points for a happy life are being turned on their head? How else are we to know the true potential of the Human Spirit in the face of upheavel? How else can we cut through the dualistic veils of Hope and Fear and discover the surety that, no matter what, everything is truly, deeply, OK?
OK indeed... so lineage is important - but how do we know if we are in contact with genuine lineage? This is all about a feeling in the heart. Lineage is a very personal thing:
Lineage shows up in your life as a walking, talking, human being. Someone who has the ability to ignite a flame at the very core of your being - with their voice, their actions, and their presence - all three aligned.
Lineage is not the same as Tradition. Tradition is like the torch bearer, lineage is the flame. The torch bearer can either keep the flame alive, or snuff it out. It depends a lot on their purity of intention, and their respect for the power, and delicacy, of the flame.
My personal connection to Drikung Kagyu, and more specifically the Drikung Dzogchen (Yangzab) lineage comes through my main teachers Lama Mark Webber and Lho Ontul Rinpoche. Or perhaps it was already there as a seed, and these teachers have helped to nourish it. When I look back, I see that other teachers have also helped me to discover this connection - John Scott, S.N Goenka, Bruce Frantzis, HH the Dalai Lama, to name a few - even if that was not their conscious intention.
This goes to show that despite the outer mechanism, the inner workings of lineage may not be as easily definable or 'linear' as the word implies. It is not about this vs that tradition, it is not something we can own or lay claim to, necessarily. 'Individual' lineages weave through each other like the braids of a stream. They mix freely, though still maintaining their uniqueness, in the hearts and minds of realised beings, according to their capacities.
When we are open and ready, such a being may emerge in our life, like a bubbling spring, capable of quenching our deepest thirst. Some springs will taste better to us than others, and as we evolve, our taste will become more refined. One spring may serve us for our entire life, or at some point we may feel the need to go in search of a higher degree of purity and potency.
However, it can be helpful to reflect that all genuine spiritual lineages (from both the east and west) ultimately derive from the same Source, and that source, ultimately, is not separate from our own innermost nature. In this way, lineage becomes more like a still lake - a pristine mirror, allowing us to recognise our True Face. It is also important to consider that even highly realised masters still depend on Lineage to hold up the mirror. It can be a mistake to believe we are ever entirely self-sufficient in this regard.
As a practitioner of yoga and meditation, it is important to ask - "What is my lineage?"
If we do not feel compelled to ask this question, we may be missing the point of the practice. We may be splashing about in the stream like a child chasing after personal satisfaction. Muddying the waters, rather than discovering how to soak in the pristine wisdom that is our True Nature.
At times like these, it is essential we deepen our inquiry. Our world is crying out. If our practice is not helping us develop the ears to hear her suffering, and the heart to do something about it, then our focus is too narrow. There is no longer a choice to be made between being worldly and being spiritual. We are all, both. Lineage is the mechanism for resolving this duality within ourselves and developing the resilience to meet the challenges we are now facing. Lineage is the mechanism for Humankind to fully integrate the wisdom we have unlocked over past millennia.