Inspiration, innovation, institution—Reginald A. Ray looks at the different manifestations of lineage and how they maintain their awakened quality.
All religions concern themselves with questions of authenticity and legitimacy. How can we tell whether a particular teacher or teaching is a genuine and true reflection of a certain tradition? In Tibetan Buddhism, the question of legitimacy comes down to the question of lineage: Which teachers embody and transmit the authentic lineage? Which teachings and practices are legitimate reflections of genuine lineage? For that matter, what do we even mean by lineage?
In Western religious history, it has been common for institutions to determine what is religiously “legitimate” and “authentic,” and people often look to institutional leaders or hierarchies to evaluate the lawfulness of individual teachers, teachings, and practices. This kind of approach might seem particularly appropriate to the theistic religions, where truth is understood to be external to the individual, and the individual is thought to lack the capacity to judge truth or reality.