Oral Transmission & Lineage – East and West

Last night I was blessed and privileged to receive the oral transmission of a particular Vajrayana practice from my tantric master. He himself received the same practice from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, so it was all very wonderful 🙂

Oral transmission is a key component of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Outwardly it may be little more than a lama reciting a text or a mantra and the students repeating it after him or her, or even simply hearing it. However inwardly far more is occurring. The lama inwardly connects with the living stream of blessing the outer text represents through his or her own reception from their guru. By this they connect with the stream back to the author or originator of the text or practice, who is almost always an enlightened being or Shakyamuni Buddha himself. In this way the student receiving the transmission is linked to its origin. From then on the practice draws directly from this origin and the enlightened being who first gave the teaching. This empowers the student to start using the practice and ensures the practice is overseen and connected to the pure source.

From a Tibetan Buddhist perspective engaging with a practice by simply reading a text is problematic. With some texts and practices it is simply not done. With others it is seen as still beneficial but not as much as receiving the text orally. There is also more likelihood of error and distortion creeping in because the student has to make her own connection to the pure source rather than being given the means to make that connection.

We may contrast this idea with those of some modern Protestant denominations. Drawing on the Reformation principle of Sola Sciptura (“by scripture alone”) this view sees the Bible as the ultimate and final guide to our spirituality and lives. Once we are saved by Christ the text itself is the answer, requiring no empowerment or teaching to reveal its mysteries and guide us. Neat and nifty and when first espoused a big ‘up yours’ to the established priesthood. From these principles comes the modern proliferation of numerous Protestant sects and denominations as by these lights anyone guided by God can, and often does, start their own Church or Fellowship. They do not need any external or temporal authority other than God Himself.

Catholic and Orthodox Christianity is different again seeing the Bible as one of three sources of divine authority, the other two being Church tradition and the Episcopacy, the unbroken Apostolic Succession of Bishops descending through time from the Apostles themselves. In this sense then traditional forms of Christianity have more resonance with the Tibetan Buddhist view. It is also why figures and myths in Catholicism, such as several Stations of the Cross and Veronica wiping the face of Christ, are not recorded in the Gopsels. Similarlily, there is much in Tibetan Buddhism not contained with the original Pali Buddhist texts.

These tensions and themes of succession, transmission, authority, innovation and tradition are also very much a part of the modern esoteric communities. And they seem to generate as much heat and acrimony as they do within the established religions. While we have not yet started killing each other or torturing members of the ‘wrong’ Order into recanting their mistaken ways it sometimes seems this is only because we can’t.

While there is much debate over the need for magical lineage etc one thing is absolutely clear which may be fully understood by looking at examples from Tibetan Buddhism. One of the ways a person is recognized as accomplished in the Tibetan community is the manner of their death. There is a phenomenon called the Rainbow Body which manifests after physical death and which amongst other things significantly delays decomposition of the corpse. So there’s nothing very subjective in the judgement of the individual – either the corpse stinks and there is no light, or it doesn’t and there is light. It is not too unusual for lay practitioners to die like this. These are women and men who may never have received initiations, teachings or practices and who mostly performed mantra and simple prayers all their lives. Yet they transformed themselves deeply. So too in the Western traditions. We may never get the opportunity to be initiated into the real Golden Dawn or the authentic Rosicrucians or the ancient Priesthood of Mukk, but by our deep altruism and simple practices we can transform and we can serve the One.

Without entering into any debate here, I’d like to share something from the Magical Church Society. I was told that the Society made more of Christ’s statement from Matthew than lineage:

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Their Grade ritual initiations (other than Neophyte) were always preceded or proceeded within a week or so by a night of prayer. During the evening the temple or room was prepared and the initiate gathered with his sponsor and maybe one or two others. Favourite inspiring passages from the Bible were read and the initiate meditated on the particular Wound of Christ he was to receive (or had just recieved) through the initiation. Then there was just silent prayer and opening to the presence of Christ. That was all. Yet this simple evening was seen as the spiritual initiation of the wound to complement the mundane initiation in the temple where the initiate moved into the grade among his fellows. I have always liked this approach for its beauty and simplicity, but also for its understanding that it is the interior presence of Christ that imparts the lineage and Wounds. The mundane Society did not therefore hold the lineage, Christ did and He bestows it upon those who gather in His name to be open to it. Perhaps if the Golden Dawn community adopted such an approach it would help a little with the battle between the ‘need for lineage’ folk and the innovators? Just a suggestion.



  1. incompleteinfinity · April 16, 2009

    Another informative and very interesting post Peregrin!

    As regarding the decay of the body after death….. Paramahansa Yogananda experienced this (well his body did… he was somewhere else I guess) 🙂

    To quote the back cover of his autobiographical work… “Autobiography of a Yogi”, “No physical disintergration was visible in his body even twenty days after his death…. No indication of mold was visible on his skin, and no visible desiccation (drying up) took place in the bodily tissues. This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know mortuary annals, an unparalleled…..

  2. David Griffin · April 17, 2009

    Care Frater Peregrin,

    Congratulations on yet another excellent article!

    There remains much confusion here in the West regarding the true nature of spiritual lineage. People either think that lineage means mere apostolic succession, as in the case of the claims of certain Christian churches, or that it is based on mere mutual recognition as in the case of Freemasonry. The spiritual transmissions that occur with initiation in the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism are one of the best examples to help Westerners understand the true nature and value of spiritual lineages.

    I am aware that this has been, and still remains, rather controversial, but if all of us in the Golden Dawn community could just get our egos and defensiveness out of the way, the Hermetic and Rosicrucian traditions themselves have major spiritual lineages to transmit to us right here in the West. Like their counterparts in the East, these have also been faithfully passed down in an unbroken chain of initiates, from Hermetic Alchemical Master to Hermetic or Rosicrucian Disciple, for two entire decades of Centuries.

    What the Golden Dawn community has not yet understood, is that this is not a question of shoring up one Golden Dawn order to pose as more “legitimate” than another. It is about something that can transcend faction and unite us all, while totally preserving our complete independence and autonomy.

    The manifestation in recent years of these uniquely Western spiritual lineages is an event of great potential spiritual importance. We are talking about nothing less than our own Occidental spiritual heritage in spiritual lineages as rich as those of Tibetan Buddhism!

    These Hermetic and Rosicrucian spiritual lineages need to be transmitted and practiced among initiates. Although there are certainly other Golden Dawn leaders who will disagree with me about this, I personally have no doubt whatsoever that the original Golden Dawn was created as an intended vehicle specifically for this purpose.

    The Golden Dawn still has a major possibility of becoming a driving spiritual force in the 21st Century because new, independent Golden Dawn temples are today spontaneously appearing, much in the way that Freemasonic lodges spontaneously formed in the 18th Century. In my opinion, this should be encouraged and fostered.

    In this way, the Golden Dawn can potentially present a major vehicle for the preservation, transmission, and practice of the quite substantial Hermetic and Rosicrucian lineages and spiritual disciplines. It need not frighten nor surprise anyone that these are still secretly very much alive and well today.

    In my opinion, if the Golden Dawn is to have any major spiritual value in the new Millennium, however, it can only be as a vehicle for the transmission and practice among initiates of these Hermetic and Roscrucian spiritual lineages.

    I am therefore greatly concerned by the attempt today in a section of the Golden Dawn community to establish some sort of “official canon” or “Golden Dawn orthodoxy” based exclusively upon the published writings of Israel Regardie or Golden Dawn historical documents.

    The establishment of such an orthodoxy could utterly destroy the possibility for the Golden Dawn to serve as a true vehicle for the transmission and practice of the Occidental spiritual lineages in the 21st Century.

    In fact, the establishment of such an orthodoxy presents the risk of the Golden Dawn becoming little more than an object of historical curiosity. People need to finally understand that the Golden Dawn is just one manifestation of the Hermetic and Rosicrucian traditions, and that these uniquely Western spiritual traditions and their substantial spiritual liineages are far greater and richer than just the Golden Dawn.

    Fraternally and sincerely,
    David Griffin
    Imperator Ordinis
    Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn,
    outer order of the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega

  3. incompleteinfinity · April 17, 2009

    Hi David Griffin!

    I liked what you said … but why sign off with,
    “Imperator Ordinis Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn,
    outer order of the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega”? Why not just sign off with … ummmm… David Griffin?

  4. David Griffin · April 19, 2009

    I sign off privately in posts that I make in a private capacity. Posts made in an official capacity I sign off on officially!

    – David Griffin

  5. Jean de Cabalis · April 20, 2009

    A fine article and I agree (mostly) with what you said.

    Of course there are exceptions! However generally the transmission of energies (and teachings) from teacher to disciple is one cornerstone of magical practice.


  6. Peregrin · April 20, 2009

    Thanks to all who have commented 🙂 Apologies for any delay in approving comments: I have been in the arms of nature this weekend and only occasionally interacted with electronics.

    Signing off: David clarified the issue very nicely.

    David, thank you for your thoughts. I have to admit to slight trepidation in saying I agree with you on many points. I am sure some parties out there will think I am supporting your ‘camp’, when in fact I see no camps at all. And I remain cynical about large scale public GD Orders.

    That said, I agree lineages of spiritual transmission have been handed down in the West for centuries and the RR et AC is home to some of these. This has always been part and parcel of the Hermetic tradition since its inception (read Peter Kingsley) and was revived in a major way by the Rosicrucian tradition. They are as potent and as beautiful as any oriental path.

    I too support the establishment of independent Golden Dawn orders. Once established, though having no charter or Mother Lodge these Orders can later be connected to the various lineages by the lineage holders. These lineage holders do not need to be part of the new Order. I have personally seen this done twice to great spiritual effect and beauty.

    The GD currents are there for anyone to access if they desire to serve the One through our tradition. If an Order is formed to earnestly and correctly practice the GD then I have no doubt the required lineages and transmissions will be made available at some point, outwardly and inwardly.

    I used to share your concern about a ‘Canonical Golden Dawn’. But it has been evident for many years now to any who looks that Israel Regardie reproduced very little of the Inner material and edited versions of the Outer. Moreover it has been explicitly elaborated many times in the source material that the RR et AC often provides a formula not a fully elaborated concoction. It is up to the individual adept, working circle or College to elaborate and create from that formula. Thus, anyone looking for a Canon of authentic rituals etc will be sorely disappointed.

    Thanks again 🙂

  7. David Griffin · April 23, 2009

    Peregrin wrote:
    > David, thank you for your thoughts. I have to
    > admit to slight trepidation in saying I agree with
    > you on many points. I am sure some parties out
    > there will think I am supporting your ‘camp’, when
    > in fact I see no camps at all. And I remain cynical
    > about large scale public GD Orders.

    I can certainly understand this, considering the massive polarization that has plagued the Golden Dawn community for the last 15 years. I agree with you that it is better for everyone to stop thinking in terms of “camps.” There are things that many of us agree about, and things we disagree about. Anyone who accuses you of being in the A.O. camp has simply not read your blog. You have criticized me here on this blog a couple of times already. On those occasions you happen to have been right as well. I sometimes make mistakes like everyone else

    Right now, the Golden Dawn community is suffering as a whole because of all of the massive defamation going on. I think that many independent thinkers, no matter which order they belong to, agree that this has to stop. This does not mean that there is any sort of camp, however. There are a growing number of us who want to see the defamation end once and for all, no matter which order or leader is getting trashed.

    I therefore disapprove equally of the so-called “Golden Dawn Observer” and “Golden Dawn Insider” blogs. To me, they both look like anonymous trolls that are harming the entire Golden Dawn tradition even though one of them is attacking me and the other one is attacking Robert Zink

    In the present environment, it is important that the public be able to more readily distinguish the “honest” Golden Dawn blogs from the troll blogs. This is why HOGD/AO has added links to your blog, to Dean Wilson’s, to Morgan Drake Eckstein’s to Sincerus Renatus’, and to Hermetic Student’s blogs.

    OK, so Sincerus Renatus is a member of our order. So what? He still is not afraid to speak his mind even when he disagrees with our order’s leadership and everyone knows he is honest. He has criticized me privately on numerous occasions. And the rest of you, there is no doubt in the minds of anyone who read your blogs that you are independent. Morgan has criticized my book severely, for example. This was not done as a personal attack, however. He wrote what he believed and I appreciate that kind of integrity.

    My agenda in this is not a hidden one. What I want is to see the defamation stop for the good of the entire Golden Dawn tradition. Anyone else who wants to see it stop has my full support on this issue – no matter what order they belong to and whatever else we may disagree on.

    Perhaps I am naive, but I still believe we can raise the dialogue between Golden Dawn temples and orders from the level of the school-room food fight to the level of healthy, respectful, philosophical, mutually enriching debate.

    Even though there are great differences between the all of you, and even though most of you have criticized me at times, I still recognize that this elevated level of discourse is already happenning on these for aforementioned blogs.

    This is why on the HOGD/AO blog they have all now been listed as: “Honest & Influential Golden Dawn Blogs.” The Golden Dawn tradition needs a lot more of this today and a lot less encamped food fighting.

    – David Griffin

  8. Peregrin · April 23, 2009

    Dear David,

    thanks for the reply. I think the most important point you raise is the recent trend for GD blogs that claim to be impartial observers. When read it is obvious to anyone with half brain that the aim of the blog is really an underhanded attack on one or another Order. It is very sad and I hope these things disappear very soon. Once more I publicly back your call to have a multilateral removal of all abusive and offending GD sites, blogs and posts. This will be a good start. I have not heard much about this suggestion on the blogs but do not participate in the various forums where i imagine it is being discussed. I do hope people are taking it seriously. I am sick of having to give the caveat “don’t look on the internet” when trying to describe our tradition to people 😦

  9. David Griffin · April 23, 2009

    I am sorry to say that this proposal is not being discussed at all. It was simply ignored by the other orders involved in this. Instead, our unilateral cessation of posts critical of other Golden Dawn leaders on the HOGD/AO forum was merely taken as an opportunity for open season on the members of HOGD/AO. Vast amounts personal and ad hominum attacks on the members of HOGD/AO have greatly intensified on certain fora since our peace initiative last Equinox. These attacks have then been repeated on the anon blogs with far more virulent falsehoods attached to them. These, I have no doubt that you have seen.

    There is a positive side to all of this, however. Despite the rhetoric of certain individuals, it is rapidly becoming readily apparent who precisely remains invested in using personal attack and defamation of Golden Dawn orders as a marketing tool. I do not believe that rank and file members of these orders will tolerate this sort of behavior from their leaders forever.

    There are more and more people in the Golden Dawn community who are observing what is happening and are demanding that the personal attacks and defamation end on all sides. If the leaders of Golden Dawn orders will not put an end to this, it is only a question of time before their members themselves will, even if this means voting with their feet.

    At the end of the day, a Golden Dawn order is not about the personal interests of any one individual who happens to be entrenched leadership of any particular order, but rather about the spiritual aspirations of its members.

    The Alpha et Omega made a powerful statement in this regard by passing the leadership of our order to G.H. Frater Lux Aurora (Jean-Pascal Ruggiu) as of the Equinox. This presents an opportunity to prevent personal grudges from interfering with the development of better relationships between orders.

    Our offer to remove materials deemed offensive by other orders on a mutual basis remains on the table. Unfortunately, it appears that so far only the Alpha et Omega understands the importance of such a clean-up and has shown any willingness to put the interests of the entire Golden Dawn tradition ahead of its own marketing efforts.

    I still remain hopeful, however. As time passes, pressure will grow more and more on those remaining invested in using personal attack and defamation as marketing tools to end these blind practices that are harming the reputation of any one person or order, but of the entire Golden Dawn tradition.

  10. Peregrin · April 24, 2009

    Dear David,

    thanks for the update. As I mentioned on Morgan’s blog, I think the single most healthy thing that the larger Orders can do is reflect some of the traditional lodge structures such as rotational leadership. So I welcome and applaud the AO transition of leadership. I hope it sets an example other Orders follow. Thank you.

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