...in the end, these Buddhist traditions are, and must be, Living Traditions, maintained by Humans (and other sentient beings?) who have some capacity to judge. Huseng, even in a meritocracy, someone must judge a potential candidate on their merits, yes?
Yes, they must be living traditions, but authority assigned via some mythological transmission is unnecessary. Ideally in a democratic model the membership would vote on their leadership and carry on like that. A master-disciple relationship need not be connected with institutional authority.
I've got no problem with that model you propose, but I don't believe it precludes the "reality" of a "transmission." I think we may have different ideas of what the "transmission" is, however--and I confess to much ignorance regarding "Zen transmission." In my perfect world, the master should have an experiential understanding of Sunyata, Sugatagarbha, Satori, whatever you want to call it --and this what is "transmitted" via the variety of methods which have become accretized as "myth." That should be the only "authority" we recognize, ultimately, though it's a tricky slope, as who can really say? Sara claims it's "verifiable." In Tibetan lineages, I also think that claim can be made....but of course it is up to one's teacher to determine that. Thus, there is "authority" and "bestowal of authority." I don't know if this "authority" is that which should govern the institutional, societal structures and platforms that represent Buddhism, however. I think there are different "skill sets," in terms of being a "Dharma Teacher," and running a Buddhist institution, and that these skill sets can be complementary, but are not necessarily so.
These techniques, as well as Zen's "Transmission Outside the Scriptures," I'd guess, are more relevant, to me, than any scriptural study or "learning," or any practice based entirely on such written words.
This is a prejudice a lot of westerners have, but then you see it with Tibetan folks from Karma Kagyu and Nyingma as well. There is widespread anti-intellectualism amongst said communities. Just the other day a Kagyu monk told me what he thinks of Gelug-pa monks who are all into study, but "don't practice". I've heard similar sentiments around India.
I, too, have heard this from others, Huseng. I think it's an improper, or to be charitable, "partial" understanding at best. Certainly, Kagyupas ( and, I suppose, Nyingmapas) stress the importance of practice above "learning." But knowledge and study are vital and essential as well. The stress is on experiential, "lived" knowledge, however, and not intellect or "learning." To ground this distinction in the topic of "transmission," for instance--if one reads enough Mahamudra books, one can certainly parrot the language to the point that one could describe, fairly accurately, the State of Mahamudra. The question of whether this is merely an exceedingly erudite conceptual mastery of the subject, or a description borne primarily from one's personal experience, would be best answered by those with the authority to do so. (Of course, the conceptual knowledge is also part of one's experience, but I think you understand the distinction I'm trying to make here.)
Is it because cultivation of practice is so difficult to gauge, whereas with learning it is quite clear who understands the canon and material and who doesn't? A practitioner who has read their canon is clearly discernible from one who has not and is just relying on word of mouth and intuition.
I don't understand this deep prejudice against written words. Scriptures were penned down so people could read them. Reading is not unlike listening in that you receive and comprehend the ideas of another. Arguably written words are better in some contexts because you can always reread and clarify the meaning of words you don't understand.
My personal prejudice is not against written words; it is against those who rely only on the written words, without interaction with, or support of, a genuine teacher. When one relies on books alone, Buddhist Dharma will be dead, dessicated, though perhaps Buddhist culture and "religion" will carry on. I've read a lot of books, though I don't profess to have read the canon--not even a small part of it, really. My practice has benefited greatly from books, and will continue to do so. I hope and plan to read and study until the end of my days. But when a given text is presented by a genuine teacher, and elucidated from the point of view of that teacher, the benefit and value of that text becomes so much richer and more powerful than any mere reading.
As for this subsequent discussion:
Just stop thinking about it, and it will come to you.
If this was how to achieve realization, a beer bottle over the back of the head would be sufficient to awaken somebody.
However, we know this is not the case.
As noted above, a swipe of the sandal upside the head has been documented as "sufficient to awaken somebody." Perhaps that's a "myth?" In which sense of that word, however, is up to us to decide.
I cannot wholly endorse Sara's statement "Just Stop Thinking, etc." but there's a kernel of good advice there, at least for those who are mired in conceptual proliferation.
I'm pretty certain that neither you, nor Sara, truly represent the positions you appear to represent here. Huseng, I know that you value meditation as well as study, if not more so. And I feel Sara values the lineage and traditions of her particular Zen practice, which includes the corpus of knowledge, theory, and "tradition" which is conceptual and historical. Understanding the crux of "Myth"--in what ways is it "true?" In what ways does it represent an instructive "fiction? And in what ways might it be misused?" -- seems to me to require balance and open mindedness, as well as clarity and focus.