What is authority in Zen? I think most people would hope that the authority is spiritual rather than authority granted by the state or a government sanctioned religious institution. As far as the discourses of the Buddha are concerned there is no authority that has been transmitted in the form of a ‘lineage’ other than the realization of pure Mind, itself, which is our true nature.
In several blogs, The Zennist has concluded, the whole Zen lineage is undermined by the Avatamsaka Sutra. The Zen lineage which begins with the Buddha supposedly transmitting to Mahakashyapa never happened. Shariputra, Mahakashyapa and others, according to the Avatamsaka Sutra,
“did not see the transfiguration of the Buddha in the Jeta grove, the adornments of the Buddha, the majesty of the Buddha, the freedom of the Buddha, the magic of the Buddha, the mastery of the Buddha, the miracle performed by the Buddha, the light of the Buddha, the power of the Buddha, or the Buddha's purification of the land...” (Thomas Cleary, The Flower Ornament Scripture,1146).
Because of this lack, "they were not capable of perpetuating the lineage of buddhas" (ibid.)! (Emphasis is mine.)
Authority in Zen by way of lineage is a fiction—a well constructed fiction that Chinese culture invented—that, regrettably, pulled the wool over the eyes of many generations of Zennists.
This is not to suggest that Zen lacks authority. It doesn’t. But its authority is completely spiritual. It depends upon the first-person realization of pure Mind. Zen literature is rife with allusions to pure Mind. As I have mentioned before, Zen’s koan literature is based entirely upon the realization of pure Mind. Many of the old Zen sermons, and even Hui-neng's Platform Sutra, points to pure Mind. How could this not be a proper authority?