Douglas Phillips Receives Denkai Transmission in the Zen Tradition

On January 5th this year at a private ceremony at Mugendoji, I gave lay denkai transmission to Dr Douglas Phllips.

Doug is a fascinating guy. He’s been knocking around the Dharma world for decades. He has made his living as a psychologist for most all of his adult life while exploring both martial arts and Buddhist meditation. He was a student of the remarkable Maurine Stewart and George Bowman. He also spent many years studying in the Western Vipassana community and received authorization to teach from Larry Rosenberg. We’ve worked together for more than a decade, mostly using the Harada Yasutani koan curriculum as the thread of our mutual investigation of the great way.

I’ve noticed pretty much everyone who studies Zen with me has come with other spiritual interests or serious investigations. Certainly this has been true of those who have advanced into teaching positions. In Doug’s case he has a life long interest in the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti and of Krishnamurti’s student, Vimala Thakar, traveling to India a number of times to study directly with her.

He is a fiery personality, and like with all the most interesting people, has a history. Among other things he is ordained as an Episcopal priest.

As a Zen teacher I expect him to offer the distillation of his insight, of his wounds, of his whole person.

Now, as people who’ve read my ruminations know, I don’t see Dharma transmission as magic. I am a very long time practitioner, who has had my understanding confirmed by two Zen teachers, who themselves have had their understandings confirmed. Confirmed. In some ways this is just a ritual acknowledgment, Dharma transmission, a best guess on the part of people who’ve given some significant part of their life to the project, who feel they see something, they recognize something.

I see that something in Doug. And I’ve publicly acknowledged it.

Like many Western Zen teachers I give a two stage transmission, for me following the two parts of the Japanese Soto inheritance. The first part is precepts transmission. If Doug were ordaining as a Zen priest this would be acknowledgment of the culmination of that training. However, Doug has chosen to remain a lay teacher. And, so what denkai means here is that I have publicly declared my confidence in his insight and my belief he can skillfully guide others. So, he is authorized to take on personal students. In addition he may pass on the precepts of the Zen Buddhist way to those seeking the deeper way. People with denkai do not yet have authorization to pass on that confirmation of trust to others. What this means is that Doug is fully a teacher, but at this time is not authorized to make another teacher. With us that will come, I’m confident, with the second ceremony at some point in the future after he has seasoned some and hasn’t burned up or taken off for a cave somewhere, with what we call denbo, or Dharma Transmission. In the meantime his teaching title is Dharma Holder…


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