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Q293. Is it possible to transmit enlightenment to other people?

A. ‘Transmit enlightenment’ and ‘Transmit dharma’ are very common sayings in Zen. These, however, are very incorrect expressions that can bring about misunderstanding. Enlightenment is neither a physical matter nor a type of knowledge that we can give and take in the way that we can do with gold, or the four rules of arithmetic.


Suppose that there is a person who, not knowing that he is already part of the Earth, wishes to go to the Earth. As a result of your efforts to help him, one day he realises the truth that he is part of the Earth that he has been so anxious to reach. You can say to him, “At last you have now realised the truth that you are part of the Earth.” Likewise, saying ‘You’ve now realised dharma,’ usually while giving a symbolic thing like a piece of writing or a robe, is said to be the transmission of dharma. The bowl and robe given to his student by Bodhidharma is a good example of this. Therefore, ‘Transmit dharma’ doesn’t mean to transfer dharma but rather to approve a student’s realisation of dharma.




Student: “How can I receive enlightenment?”

Master: “You should have no hands.”


©Boo Ahm


All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway