Quaker Universalist Conversations

“Lineage Is About More Than Preservation”

On reading Justin Von Bujdoss in Buddhadharma

Do modern Quakers across the spectrum have lineages that they seek to preserve at all costs, as if those lineages themselves were things of power?

This morning I read “Lineage Is About More Than Preservation,” the opening commentary by Justin Von Bujdoss1 in the Summer 2018 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioners Quarterly.

"Wooden Wagon Wheel," by Andrew Rollinger https://www.flickr.com/photos/arollinger/
A lineage in Buddhism is a line of transmission of the Buddhist teaching that is “theoretically traced back to the Buddha himself.” These lineages arise as different schools of practice which carry forward the insights, teachings, and practical methods of various traditions within Buddhism.

Von Bujdoss writes of his concern over his “lineage’s slowness to get with the times.”

Debates around whether it dilutes the Buddha’s teaching to address the real-life needs of those I love and serve through dharma seem hopelessly closed-minded, as does the hesitancy to openly explore how whiteness, colonialism, and patriarchy helped form the structures through which lineage has taken root here in the West. The radical creativity that allowed the buddhadharma2 to survive myriad challenges and undergo cultural translation as it spread from India around the world seems lacking.

I often struggle with similar doubts about how we actually do Quakerism in the various branches of our faith, “liberal,” “evangelical,” and “conservative” and so on.

Quakers used to name their lineages after their (sometimes reluctant) founders: Hicksite, Gurneyite, Wilburite, Beanite, etc. Now we use what sometimes feel to me more like labels for political ideologies.

Regardless of which branch we “belong to,” we tend—even if only subliminally—to look askance at Friends in other branches, as well as at others in our own branches who seem “politically incorrect.”

Granted, in this we reflect the divisive age we in which we live. Yet, as Von Bujdoss writes,

When we become attached to preexisting ideas of what lineage is and how it ought to appear, we display our ignorance of how it came to be. We forget that the way we know the lineage to be is a result of organic growth over hundreds of years. It was the successes and failures of individuals over time that created what we know as lineage.

Here is the crux of Von Bujdoss’ commentary:

The most vital aspect of the work ahead of us is coming to a recognition that the lineage flows in our veins, in our image…. We mustn’t forget our agency. Our cultural backgrounds, identities, good and bad experiences, our rough edges, and our strengths not only inform the lineage, they become the lineage. The very notion that there is something to guard or preserve is an illusion.

Von Bujdoss speaks about “co-creating a container for authentic dharma to arise.” This recalls to me the Quaker truth about finding and following the “sense of the meeting.”

Dharma Wheel
When we act authentically out of “that of God,” either individually or as a group, either in worship or out in the world, we are not acting out of a static tradition. We are incarnating God’s dharma in the world—and it is the same dharma, regardless of the traditions we learn from.

The ground upon which each of us exists is pure. Our voices, our bodies, our minds, and the ways we express ourselves are the dynamic life force of lineage. We have the ability to act from a place of authenticity, to express our innate agency and our buddhanature. We have the power to change the way we think about lineage. Only then will we truly manifest it.

For “lineage,” read “tradition” or “religion” or “social and political values,” and you may see how Von Bujdoss’ insights are useful for all of us who want to live as authentic agents in the world.

Notes & Image Sources

Image: “Wooden wagon wheel” (2007), by Andrew Rollinger on flickr [Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic ].

1 See “Meditating with Officers on Rikers Island, New York City’s Notorious Jail Complex,” by Wendy Joan Biddlecombe in tricycle (11/27/2017).

Von Bujdoss, 42, is a Tibetan Buddhist teacher and the first chaplain assigned specifically to correction officers (COs) working at Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex that sits on more than 400 acres in the East River. The chaplain, who previously served as resident lama and executive director of the New York Tsurphu Goshir Dharma Center, celebrated his first year on the job in September. He is also the department’s first Buddhist chaplain.

See also “What It’s like to Be the First Buddhist Chaplain at America’s Most Notorious Jail” on Lion’s Roar (1/24/2018).

2 See “What Does Buddha Dharma Mean? – Dharma: A Word With Infinite Meaning,” by Barbara O’Brien on ThoughtCo. | Lifelong Learning (3/28/2018).

Dharma (Sanskrit) or dhamma (Pali) is a word Buddhists use often…. The word often is defined as “the teachings of the Buddha,” but dharma is really more than just a label for Buddhist doctrines….

The word dharma comes from the ancient religions of India and is found in Hindu and Jain teachings, as well as Buddhist. Its original meaning is something like “natural law.” Its root word, dham, means “to uphold” or “to support.” In this broad sense common to many religious traditions, Dharma is that which upholds the natural order of the universe. This meaning is part of the Buddhist understanding, also.

Dharma also supports the practice of those who are in harmony with it. On this level, dharma refers to ethical conduct and righteousness. In some Hindu traditions, dharma is used to mean “sacred duty.”

Image: “Dharma Wheel” from the library of Triratna_Photos on flickr [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic ].


Let’s Make History! Let’s worry more about the RS of F’s posterity and less about what George Fox said (at least we know because he wrote it down). Or what Jesus of Nazarene said (I don’t even know if he could write). Or what John Woolman said or even (thanks to Facebook and Twitter) what several billion others have said. Or even what I said 20 years ago or 10 years ago or 1 year ago. I like the idea that we focus on the effect our actions (and even words) have on the NEXT Seven Generations! Free Polazzo Douglasville, GA Member of Atlanta Friends Meeting;
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