Rituals can never make us enlightened; they can easily turn into empty gestures. But they can also be opportunities for reinforcing intentions and deepening commitments; they can be rites of passage that demarcate important turning points in our lives and share those turning points with others, strengthening the bonds that tie communities together.
I received the Buddhist precepts yesterday in a jukai ceremony, along with my Dharma brother, Russ Michel. The ceremony emphasized the continuity of Dharma practice across generations:
“These sixteen precepts… have been transmitted through eighty-three generations of Buddhas and ancestors…”
Our preceptor, Daiken Nelson, received his priestly ordination from Sensei Francisco “Paco” Genkoji Lugovina, who also attended the ceremony, along with Robert Jinsen Kennedy Roshi, who just turned eighty, and Roshi’s newest and youngest Dharma heir, Sensei Carl Viggiani; a gathering of teachers that exemplified continuity of practice across generations.
Daiken chose the Dharma name Zuihō for me; Daiken was introduced to Zen a quarter century ago by another Zuihō, this one from Iowa, who’d received his Dharma name from Katagiri Roshi, who was, in turn, referring back to Menzan Zuihō (1683-1769). The historical Zuihō was a Tokugawa era Zen master, scholar, author, and reformer who elevated Dōgen’s writings to their current place of centrality within the Sōtō Zen tradition. Among Menzan’s 109 publications was his Teaching of the Correctly Transmitted Great Precepts of the Buddhas and Ancestors, so my Dharma name has an historical connection to the precepts themselves; more continuity across generations of practitioners.
It was wonderful that my wife and daughter could be there to mark the occasion with me, and that the opening of the ceremony included bows to them, in addition to the more traditional bows to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It was wonderful that the ceremony’s wording drew upon both ancient Sōtō Zen tradition as well as the Zen Peacemaker Order’s reinterpretation of that tradition. It was wonderful that the ceremony contributed to the growth of our sangha, strengthening the bonds that unite us. Our members now come together, not just to sit, but to explore the precepts, engage in koan study, and pursue ordination. We’ve grown from being just a simple sitting group to something more; if not quite a full-fledged Zen center, something pointing in that direction. I’m on my Zen journey, and White Plains Zen is on one too.
Jukai isn’t a culmination, but an initiation at journey’s start, an invitation to weave the precepts into every interstice of daily life. It’s a catalyst for a never-ending process of transformation. We become what we intend. Sitting can give us glimpses of non-duality, but sitting alone can’t integrate those glimpses into our every-day interactions with others. That’s where the precepts come in: they are manifestations of enlightened activity on the relative plane of existence.
I love the chant that I now recite whenever I don or remove my rakusu:
A vast robe of liberation
A formless field of benefaction
I wear the Tathagata’s teaching
Saving all sentient beings
Liberation, formlessness, benefaction, saving all beings: the Dharma in a nutshell.
A great reminder of why we sit.