Monday, April 18, 2011


On Saturday I went with my Zen teacher to a tokudo, a Zen priest ordination ceremony. I went partly to be supportive of the guy (though I'd never met him), partly to hang out with my teacher a bit, but mostly because I've never actually seen one. That's relevant because I'm in the process of sewing the various articles for my own tokudo, sometime in the future.

(It's perfectly reasonable to ask how far in the future. It's measured in years. More on that in a minute.)

The ceremony was...uncentered, ironically. The daily rehearsals ultimately produced a feeling of everything being unrehearsed, and nobody quite knew what to do or in what order. The ceremony was missing a couple important things:
  1. Some chanting normally done by the audience.
  2. The Ten Precepts, which are sort of the fundamental ethics the guy was committing to.
Anyway, it was weird. The guy is really nice and upright, though.

So, when's mine? I have some work to do, first. In our lineage we sew the articles of a monk, by hand. It gives us a lot of time to consider if this is the right path for us, and the final products hold the years of care and concentration that went into them. They are:
  • A rakusu, a miniature of the full monk's robe, that hangs around the neck. (For my lay ordination, this alone took me about 18 months.)
  • An okesa, the large robe that goes over the left shoulder. It's about 4-5 feet square.
  • A zagu, a cloth spread on the ground for bowing on.
  • One other small piece whose name I forget.
When the Buddha was teaching, to become a monk was a less formal but more complete thing, called "going forth into the homeless life," as opposed to grinding it out with a wife and kids and a farm. Zen Mountain Monastery decided to re-apply that model for their monks, really more like Benedictines than anything else, but as the scholar Stephen Batchelor points out, the original intent of the "homeless life" was to be, well, homeless, kind of on the edge, with your day-to-day living reminding you of how precarious life really is. Monasteries are actually a place of security, of all things, where you're guaranteed food and shelter. And nowadays, if one tries to be a "lay" Buddhist teacher for a living, that living is probably quite precarious indeed. The Japanese model offers a couple of options: some monks who stayed celibate and homeless, others who stayed as temple priests, usually marrying and passing the temple down to a son.

None of these are necessarily better or worse (though you've seen my rants on the Theravada monastic rules). It's just by way of saying that I get to keep the wife and kid while being a Zen priest, and I'll probably end up referring to myself as a "monk" even though I'm not exactly living like one, except both "monk" and "priest" have changed meaning to accomodate our modern reality.

Anyway, I'm guessing all the sewing will take at least 3 years.

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