Dharma Relatives Explained

John, you ask me what Dharma Relatives are and I realize there may be others who do not know completely what that term means. In the context of this journey to Asia my ‘relatives’ are monks and nuns who share the same religious ancestors. For example, Seck Lee Seng, of Cheng Hoon Teng, where I am at the moment, is my Dharma Aunt by virtue of being the monastic disciple of Seck Kim Seng who also ordained Rev. Jiyu-Kennett into the priesthood back in 1962. They both have the same Master, Seck Kim Seng, who is referred to as my Grand Master and his Master as my Great Grand Master.

After ordination within the Chinese Tradition here in Melaka Rev. Master Jiyu then went on to Japan to be received into the Soto Zen Church to study with and eventually receive Dharma Transmission by Koho Zenji at Sojiji. I thus have two sets of Dharma relatives making my family a very very large one. An interesting part of having this duel Chinese/Japanese background are the different robes used within each tradition.

A note on robes: At present I am wearing the robes used in the Chinese tradition, they are cooler and also I pose fewer questions when I encounter people in temples or on the street. The small kesa for example is worn by Japanese monks but not here in Malaysia, or Taiwan. Explaining the kesa in English takes time and care so explaining it for translation takes even more care, and time. So I decided to wear what everybody else wears here to make life simple and make it easier for people to approach me, I may be a westerner but at least I look like a nun. (I was given Japanese monastic clothing not currently used by us in the Order while in Japan). Each time I receive a new item it is carefully explained to me how to wear it, fold it, put it on take it off etc. etc. and everybody wants me to get it right! What is more there is etiquette about what can be worn ‘outside’ and what is OK within the temple, under certain conditions. Lots to learn. There is even more to say on what I see lay devotees wearing here within the Chinese Tradition however that will have to come in a latter Blogger posting.

We talk about the teachings of Buddhism being ‘transmitted’ from Master to disciple, and the unbroken line of master/disciple connections as the ‘Ancestral Line’. In our tradition particularly, Soto Zen, we emphasis the importance of this line of ancestors. We regard it of paramount importance that what is passed on through the centuries is kept true to the source i.e. we point directly to what Shakyamuni pointed to and encourage others to know what Shakyamuni knew/knows. Well, that may have confused a few of you, hopefully not too much, and maybe also given you a glimpse into how the monastic Sangha is organized. I guess it is obvious that the seniority of monks is based on ordination date and that the basis of keeping harmony in the Sangha is mutual respect, mutual bowing.

So, coming full circle, this journey has been an opportunity to pay my respects to those who have gone before me and to those who travel the path of Buddhism in this Dharma Family now. It has included sites in Japan, Malaysia and China, and living relatives in a number of the countries I have been to. During temple visits as my poor brain staggers to catch up with me I realize, once again, that I am in the presence of yet more Dharma Relative.

Writing all of this makes what I was shown this afternoon in the Seck Kim Seng Memorial Library and Archive all the more interesting. After six hours out in the heat on tour in Melaka with Shih Fu I stumbled into the library on my way to take a short break. To cut a long afternoon of adventure short I believe I have just been shown certificates passed on from Master to Disciple at the time of ordination and transmission dating back to the time my Great Grand Master was authorized to teach by his Master way back in China at a temple called Fu Ching on Kui Shang (Turtle Mountain) in Hokkien Province. I know Iain will be noting down this information and diving for a map! I have come to appreciate maps too Iain!

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8 thoughts on “Dharma Relatives Explained”

  1. “On ancient rocks are ancient tracks
    below high cliffs there’s a clearing
    always bright when the bright moon shines
    no need to ask if it’s east or west”

    Cold Mountain

    You go! Mugo!

  2. So why you not mention who you are eh? By the way the title of this blogger came from a brief conversation we had at Pine Mountain when you and Mike were there…along with many more for the temple opening ceremony. You said something about ‘moving mountain’ as a possible name for my personal web site. As it happened I called it Jade Mountain Buddha Hall. Thanks for that, I remembered that moment when we had the conference call to the lay ministers retreat at Shasta Abbey the other day. That was fun.

  3. Dear Rev. Master Mugo,
    You’ve taken lots of beautiful pictures, more than you could put on the blog. You’ve had lots of marvelous adventures and wonderful insights, more than you’ve had time or space to write about. Now, you are going to do a book about your journey, aren’t you? One volunteer proofreader standing here ready to serve.
    In gassho,

  4. Connecting with my ‘dharma relatives’ was a very important part of the weeks that Rev. Mugo and I spent travelling together, maybe especially so for me because it mirrored recent experiences I’ve had within my ‘biological’ family. In Western culture we put the emphasis on institutions and ‘schools’ and how practices differ but in the East there has always been a strong focus on the handing of all kinds of teaching from person to person. Teachers are treated with warmth and respect because they have our well-being at heart and it is a word that is used more widely in Japanese – when I went to the dentist yesterday I called him ‘sensei’ (‘teacher’) becasue he looks after my teeth and gives me advice about taking care of them. So spiritual teachers are considered in a very practical way to be ‘spiritual parents’.

    When Rev. Mugo was in Japan we visited a number of temples where Rev. Master Jiyu’s teacher, Keido Chisan Koho Zenji, had been priest-in-charge. In some cases these were now being run by his disciple’s disciples – the same generation of monks as Rev. Mugo and so her dharma cousins. That sense of ‘family’ was really strong, of being within Koho Zenji’s wider family. Inevitably with the transposition of our practice into another language and institution and very different cultural environment we are no longer so aware of this wider ‘family’aspect but don’t under-estimate the value or significance of the warmth and sincerity there.

  5. I second that Iain. And in Malaysia, and now Singapore, the Dharma family connection keeps on coming to the surface. I do hope I have the where with all tonight to write about to-day, Sunday. First I had better eat some food and if Nat is reading this I just want to say thanks so very much for driving us, for your company and your fathers company, not to mention Jessie who kept me on my feet these past couple of days. Or is it three days now!

  6. Dear Venerable Mugo,

    I am browsing on the web, hope to confirm the Chinese name of Venerable Shek Kim Seng – and came across your blog:

    I am writing an article to introduce the Order of Buddhist Contemplative to our Hong Kong readers. And I have difficulties to find out the correct Chinese name. There are two possible persons I can identify from the web. One is ??? (? – 1993)and the other is ??? (1913- 1980).

    I’ve written to the Shasta Abbey, but seems that they are not active in the web. I hope I can bring a correct version to our readers. Hope you can help.

    looking forward to your answer.

    with Metta,
    Leung Po Shan Anthony, Hong Kong

  7. Could you contact me via my contact form on this blog and I can give you more details. The Sec Kim Seng who is our Dharma relative had a temple in Malacca called Cheng Hoon Teng.

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