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LINEAGE: The Living Legacy of Subtle Energy
How the Leopard Gets--and Keeps--Its Spots

. . . .If we are not to lose our past and therefore the promise of future synthesis, we must not cheapen, bargain away, or forfeit through arrogance and indolence the deeper knowledge held in oral traditions. To honor the hope, we must understand the nature of lineage and the importance of preserving lineal ways. As new extensions to old lineages emerge we must work to see that old knowledge is reinforced rather than weakened in its encounter with the world we are creating. . . .

In the last fifty years, knowledge of ancient healing methods based on different Ancient book with Chinese characters on front.perceptions of human illness and wellness than those of western medicine has come to America from the Orient and the Asian Sub-continent in the hands of those displaced by war, oppression, and political upheaval. Out of these other ways of knowing, other ways of being, comes a whole new understanding the nature of the human body and the energies that give it life. From this anceint knowledge emerge new techniques for healing illness, injury, and stress that are simply not part of western thought.

Out of this new paradigm of health comes the newest buzz word on the airways: "energy," not the kind you burn in your car or buy from the utility company, not even the kind you eat or use when you exercise. The new kid on the block in mainstream consciousness and pop culture is subtle energy. Eastern mystics have known and taught it for thousands of years in virtually all eastern cultures, but we first began to hear about "chi," "prana," "chakras," "auras," and "vibrations" in the open forum of the 1960's as a few began to study eastern mysticism in ashrams and zendos with gurus of one ilk or another. Some made journeys to the East to learn first hand. Others, fueled by the works of Hermann Hesse, Alan Watts, and Fritzjof Capra began to wonder what it all meant and if the rumors of the "siddhis," the strange powers held by eastern mystics, were true. Others of a more martial spirit turned to the various martial arts for more immediately practical applications of training in chi exercises and meditation. And for the first time in history, authentic teachers from the Orient brought their knowledge to America, making it easier and easier to learn what for thousands of years had been available only tothose of priviledge within far flung cultures.

What began as a trickle of information on the esoteric knowledge of the East has crescendoed into a torrent of information from many cultures. Now everywhere people talk about healing energies, meditation, acupuncture, prayer, Reiki, Johrei, biomagnetics, bioenergetics, energy medicine, Therapeutic Touch, spiritual healing, yoga, and forms of chi healing like Qigong and Tai Chi. Intuitive skills such as John Edward's ability to communicate with the dead, instantly, in public, on television, and Carolyn Myss' ability to read the human aura and diagnose diseases intuitively--on Oprah--have gained public attention. Seemingly inexplicable things are happening to otherwise normal people. Hands are "turning on" with energy. People find they "know" things and don't know how they know; others, saying they feel driven to study energy healing, metaphysics, or ancient spiritual traditions, seek out the closest teachers and hope for the best.

But Americans know virtually nothing of the history of these healing disciplines from China, India, Tibet, or Japan, and are therefore markedly unprepared to evaluate the teachers they find or to sort fact from fiction. What makes the whole thing so difficult is that no one culture, no one oral tradition, Halls of learningcontains all the information on the phenomenon we are seeing in America. To further complicate the situation, very little was available in print from any tradition until very recently. If you wanted to know about ancient healing energies, you had to find a teacher to guide your spiritual and energetic journey because knowledge of subtle energies was handed forward orally from teacher to student in what is known in esoteric traditions as "lineages." There were some ancient books available, but they were either in their original languages or "encoded" with indirect language and obscure terminology so as to protect sacred knowledge from the unworthy and the unready. Only teachers working in their lineages held the keys to unlock the secrets of the books. Progress was controlled by the student's readiness and by the teacher's availability and willingness to open and impart information. Such learning was difficult and expensive to acquire as the teachers were invariably in countries far distant from us. Few westerners attempted it.

But the last forty years in America have created a fast paced revolution in energy knowledge that could lead either to a new renaissance, or to the ultimate destruction of the body of subtle energy science carefully preserved through thousands of years. If we are able to recognize and avoid the national urge to mass market mentality that demands everything be quick, easy, and cheap, we are poised for an unprecedented flowering of energy wisdom. The great American melting pot could be the ideal environment in which knowledge held in the old lineages of many cultures could merge in a new synthesis never before seen on our planet. As I write, teachers from the old traditions have trained Americans overseas or have come to America, either fleeing oppression or drawn here by our climate of change and openness. Even as the gates to old world knowledge have opened, Indigenous Elders in North and South America have also begun to share their ancient knowledge. In this new climate of sharing, books on every aspect of energy healing have appeared, some with once hidden exercises and techniques for increasing the body's natural bioenergies (chi), others outlining the spiritual practices by which advanced students of the ancient cultures gained their healing abilities.

Qi QuongSome of the books are no better than rumor and futile attempts to tease out and print the substance of hidden teachings with absolutely no access to the knowledge. When the subject is "subtle energy," i.e., those energies and abilities that can be altered with the breath of thought, that carry power and knowing and healing, there is an ancient injunction to preserve quality of information and to protect against those who would misuse. Those injunctions and precautions continue to be observed by teachers trained in the old ways. Still, the best in print, particularly as pertains to Taoist and Qigong techniques, are by masters trained in ancient oral lineages who have chosen to stop the erosion of knowledge by placing core information in clear, written format. But even there, as in cookbooks done by great chefs, the secret ingredients that make for success are never in the recipe. Some knowledge always remains esoteric, i.e., hidden, to be imparted only from teacher to student when the time is appropriate.

The message here is old, unwavering. In the end, there are no shortcuts. If you are truly interested in finding the most complete training in one of the old modalities or in energies, if you wish to become one who guards energetic abilities important to the world, then you must finally go to the well, to those who have accepted responsibility for preserving the integrity of the knowledge they carry. Such training will demand deep commitment and a willingness to go beyond the obvious and the simplistic. It will cost you money and time, and it will not be easy. It will also require some good old fashioned research to discover who is in what lineage and where the most complete knowledge is held, not always an easy task given the presence of teachers and pseudo-teachers among us. And you will have to discern which lineages are intact, i.e., in which are the bonds of integrity between master and student unbroken, in which has the core knowledge not been changed, lost, or contaminated.

So what are you looking for? How will you know when you find it?

Some modern modalities have no oral lineage or ancient traditions, and some are clearly derivative. Although I have trained in several traditions of energy work, I am most familiar with the nature of lineage as it applies to Reiki, a discipline both ancient and new within the last hundred years. In the transmission of Reiki, allegiance to lineage training becomes very important because any change of intent or transmission method on the part of the teacher changes the energies passed forward in that branch of the lineage forever--a challenging responsibility for each teaching master. But beyond the specific rigors of traditional Reiki, there are aspects of lineage that apply to most esoteric traditions, a fact which in itself speaks to the universality of the ways in which humans learned to preserve and honor their most important knowledge in all times and places.

Honoring the PastIn most esoteric traditions, the concept of lineage embodies a deep honor for tradition that requires the student commit to and abide by rules and ways of doing that come down from elders presumed to have been wiser and more knowing than the student--or even the student's immediate master. That respect for the wisdom of the ancestors, for the traditional ways, is preserved and conveyed forward in time through tenuous bonds of commitment that are in themselves part of the energetic transmission of knowledge. For the newbie looking for a teacher, "where does the knowledge come from, who trained the teacher, how, and for how long?" become critical questions. The answers are the best indication of how reliable that teacher's information and skills will be. Where there are bonds of lineage, they show, and teachers should be more than willing to talk about the road they took to be who and what they are. So ask about these things before you commit yourself to a path of instruction.

Check the road behind in order to know about the road ahead.

The important point about lineage for westerners to understand is that the obligation a student of esoteric knowledge owes to his or her teacher is not grounded in personal rights or individual ego, but in a strong sense of integrity. The manner in which a person honors his or her training and understands the training as a commitment to a long-established, hereditary promise is the hallmark of lineages in which the knowledge and abilities are intact. The obligations in such hereditary promises must be observed without dissension and without asking for logical explanations at every jointure, not an easy mentality for Americans to adopt. Submission of the individual will and ego to the demands of honor, integrity, and tradition are quite distasteful to our sense of freedom and individuality. We are willing to tolerate such restraints only during military service, where the common good can be served no other way.

To complicate the subject further, a lineage is also a living, growing, evolving body of knowledge in which individuals in each generation who have fully assimilated the form and heart of the old teachings add their own experiences, insights, and techniques to enrich what they were given. Such incremental additions must be done with great care and delicacy in order to avoid the dangers of contamination and dilution. Such evolution without contamination can only be accomplished where sufficient time and effort have already been spent in learning thoroughly and accurately the full body of original knowledge which must be the foundation of all new additions. It is work done in concert by the many rather than by the one, and always with an eye to preserving as well as advancing and illucidating. It is a delicate dance.

Voluntary discipline within lineages is the only way esoteric knowledge can be preserved in oral traditions while the balance between old knowledge and new applications is simultaneously sought and communicated. And so Masters from unbroken lineages, working to facilitate the new synthesis, are using books and the internet to share as much as possible while protecting the core information that must remain in oral transmission. If we are not to lose our past and therefore the promise of future synthesis, we must not cheapen, bargain away, or forfeit through arrogance and indolence the deeper knowledge held in oral traditions. To honor the hope, we must understand the nature of lineage and the importance of preserving lineal ways. As new extensions to old lineages form we must work to see that old knowledge is reinforced rather than weakened in its encounter with the world we are creating.

Copyright © 2001 Suzanne E. Parnell, Ph.D., RM