A lineage in Buddhism is a line of inheritance (usually referred to as a transmission line) of the Buddhist teachings that is said to have originated by the Buddha himself. The idea being that a person who is deemed to be a successor of a particular lineage connects to an unbroken line of teachers back to the Buddha and his deepest realizations. Many branches of Buddhism, including Chan, maintain records of their historical teachers. These records are used to confirm the legitimacy of living Dharma teachers.
The Chan lineage starts with Buddha Shakyamuni around 500 BC and ends today with all contemporary masters. The first 28 successors of Buddha were born in India, including Bodhidharma (around 500 BCE) who is one of the teachers that brought Buddhism to China. He is regarded as the first Chinese patriarch and founder of the Chan lineage.
Five more patriarchs followed, ending with Huineng (638-713), the sixth and last ancestral founder. He is the ancestor of all Chan Schools. Following Huineng, the transmission divided into five branches, of which Linji and Caodong survived. The Linji School, founded by Linji Yixuan (died 866), was also transmitted to Japan where it became the Rinzai School of Zen. The Caodong School, founded by Dongshan Liangjie (807-869), became the Soto School in Japan.
Master Sheng Yen (1931-2009) received transmission from both schools, Linji and Caodong. He was a 57th-generation Dharma heir of Linji Yixuan and a 52nd-generation Dharma heir of Dongshan Liangjie. His Linji Dharma master was Ling Yuan (1902-1988); student of the Chan patriarch of our time, Xuyun (Empty Cloud, 1840-1959). His Caodong Dharma master was Dongchu (1908-1977).
In 2006, Master Sheng Yen established Dharma Drum Mountain. He combined the teachings of the two schools he received transmission from, Caodong and Linji, and included teachings from Indian Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism.
Master Sheng Yen gave Dharma transmission to twelve monks and nuns, and to the following five Western lay students: John Crook (1930-2011), Simon Child (1956-), Max Kälin (1943-), Žarko Andričević (1955-) and Gilbert Gutierrez.
Born in China: Nantong
Republic of China Army (10 years)
Master Ling Yuan (student of Xuyun): Yinke / Seeing Buddha-nature
Taiwan: Solitary retreat (6 years)
Rissho University Tokyo
Doctor in Buddhist Literature (PhD): Rissho University, Tokyo
New York, Queens: Chan Meditation Center
Master Dongchu (Caodong): Dharma transmission
Taiwan: Abbot of Nung Chan
Master Ling Yuan (Linji): Dharma transmission
Dharma Drum (integrating Linji and Caodong)
New York State, Pine Bush: Dharma Drum Retreat Center
Died at the age 79 years in Taiwan: Taipei
Born in Switzerland: Olten
Doctor of Science (Dr.sc.nat.): ETH Zürich
Doctor of Medicine (Dr.med.): University of Zürich
Medical Doctor (MD): Baylor College of Medicine, Houston
Geshe Gendün Sangpo: Teaching
Thich Nhat Hanh: Teaching and interview
Master Sheng Yen: Refuge
Dalai Lama: Teaching
Ajahn Sumedho: Teaching
Master Sheng Yen: Yinke / Seeing Buddha-nature
Master Sheng Yen: Dharma transmission (Chuan-zong Jing-chan)