Monday, October 18, 2021

Transmission and Tradition A Note about Rajanaka Values

Before the Gita Session yesterday I got on a bit of jag about how the claims to perfection and accomplishment (siddha/siddhi) and “realization” are a positive detriment to learning.  Let us leave aside for the moment that the yoga traditions (Hindu, Buddhist, etc.) assertion that certain individuals are more than merely empowered, gifted, skilled examples of a shared humanity----that this is dehumanizing, that it sets apart these persons and not only deprives them of their humanity but in effect tells the rest of us how we are inferior (or not yet them).  


The refutation of the ersatz-divination of human beings, which is actually at the heart of all bondage/liberation traditions, makes Rajanaka an outlier, heresy, perhaps even beyond the pale.  Appa was adamant that we should honor even revere accomplishments hard won but that all this comes at great cost---personal, emotional costs---that casts real shadows.  The more brightly we burn the more shadow we cast.

Attainments or capabilities however worthy are anything but perfection: we’re going to need the unwanted, complex shadows and flaws that come with them in order to learn; we’re going to need grief to love; we're going to need to admit our unfinished, incomplete, even unwholesome selves if we are ever pry more deeply into the pursuit of betterment.  And anyways there’s no getting around it: we’re just human.  And that’s enough.  


You’ve heard that before around here, I’m sure.


The further point I want to be clear is that we when we substitute veneration and charisma for accomplishment and the difficult tasks of learning we conflate and confuse important issues.  The once-serious Shankara tradition rooted in the discourse of argument and gnostic awareness is now little more than an emblem of that past and a devotional movement.  Don’t mistake me if participating in a community of loving souls does your heart good, who would object?  But projecting on a guru supernormal abilities much less moral superiority is a prescription for self-delusion, bypass, and an invitation to corruption; it effectively discourages our own hard work, the trial and error, the worthy experiments that may fail.


The notion that any such superiority is a birthright (cf., Abhinavagupta’s claims about being conceived in a Tantric ritual) or a transmission of  lineage inheritance is the stuff of religion or, as we in the reality-based world might say, nonsense.  But in fact it’s worse.  It’s an invitation to diminish one’s worth, abdicate the responsibilities of a shared humanity, and resign from the demanding ardor that might actually contribute to a wiser, more compassionate human experience. 

We cannot replicate another’s experience and there is no state or ideal, no Buddha, no Siddha, no savior or supernormal beingwh o we can copy.  Transmission is copying, it’s getting what they got, or so we're told.  We’re not faithful reproductions of the past. Rather, we’re each a furtherance of what has come before with no guarantees of better or success but by self-application and luck.


Ardor (tapas) mustn’t be for the sake of transcending or extricating us from our limited, conditional reality but because hard work might just allow us  to live a little better with ourselves and each other. As for "attainment," well, there's always more and our failures are as important as our successes.



We all wish there was a way out, something more that relieves us of our human sorrows and the existential truths of ordinary limitations.   But alas Rajanaka offers something that I think is far better than a transmission that falsely claims power and authority beyond the human condition.  Rajanaka is, in fact, not a transmission at all.   It is a tradition.  And,  yes, it comes not only from our own hard work but from an inheritance of learning that has been taught and passed from teachers to students.


To finish this last point we can get some help from the late Japanese potter Kaneshige Michiaki (1934-1995), a master of the Bizen-ware style:


Tradition is sometimes confused with transmission. Copying Momoyama pieces is transmission. Producing contemporary pieces incorporating Momoyama period techniques is tradition. Tradition consists of retaining transmitted forms and techniques in one's mind when producing a contemporary piece. Tradition is always changing. A mere copy of an old piece has not changed; it is nearly the same as its prototype of four hundred years ago. Tradition consists of creating something new with what one has inherited.  


This means that Rajanaka is yours as are all the traditions you inherit.  We are not seeking to replicate, to reproduce an enlightenment, or to receive a transmission so that we can somehow have what “the great ones” achieved.  Instead we are invited to the more challenging task of creating something new from our inheritances, something that might make our teachers proud.   “To surpass the teacher is to repay the debt.”  We may believe that we never quite arrive at such greatness but that, of course, is not the point.  Make tradition.  Make the living promise to do the worthy ardor.