February, 2004 NUMBER 13

Jukai at Zenshuji: Unity and Diversity
Rev. Toshu Neatrour

From October 15 to 19, 2003 Zenshuji of Los Angeles held a memorial for the 80th anniversary of Soto Zen Buddhist teaching activities in North America and the founding of Zenshuji Soto Mission. I’d like to make some general remarks on jukai as a practice form before discussing this event in particular.

Perhaps many who practice Zen in Zen centers are unaware that there are three different types of ceremony that practice precepts: shukke tokudo (priest ordination),zaike tokudo (lay ordination), and jukai (taking precepts). There is a tendency to confuse lay ordination and jukai but the two are quite distinct. Shukke and zaike tokudo are ordinations and so represents a change in the relationship of the ordainee to the sangha as a whole. Jukai on the other hand is practiced by ordained and lay people alike and does not represent a change in status. Another difference is that the lay and priest ordinations are brief, taking only a few hours, compared to jukai which traditionally lasts a week but is sometimes shortened.

Although I had seen several priest and many lay ordinations before, I had only seen one jukai (in Japan) prior to the event hosted by Zenshuji. Certainly part of the reason for this is that Jukai takes place over a number of days, requires much planning and needs the coordination of the efforts of many people. So jukai is a relatively rare event. Naturally I was glad to have the opportunity to come.

Praising Buddha Ceremony at Zenshuji

Part of the reason that I dwell on the distinctions between these practice forms is that from meeting with American practitioners I hear that there is a real need for a practice form like Jukai. On several different occasions various practitioners have expressed the desire for a means of more deeply practicing and living with the precepts that did not involve priest or lay ordination. There folks who have expressed a real need to connect or re-avow connection with the Buddha’s precepts without the taking on the additional obligations of lay or priest ordination. Jukai provides a response to this need.

Also a number of the people with whom I practice have discovered that there is a problem in becoming too proud of one’s practice. They have discovered that even folks who have sat zazen for a long time sometimes become very proud of that fact. All too commonly one hears “we’re sitters, not worshipers” as a point of pride in sitting and as a disparagement of other practices. Jukai involves a considerable practice of bowing and other devotional Praising Buddha Ceremony at Zenshuji practices such as reciting one’s devotion to the Three Treasures and so provides an excellent means of reminding oneself that there is no need for pride. Pride is extra and an often not very beneficial extra. There is nothing so effective at extinguishing the possibility of doing better as pride in doing well enough.

The central practice of jukai involves repentance and vow. One repents or confesses one’s faults and makes vows of devotion to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha; to cease from wrong, to do good, and to do good to benefit others; and to uphold the ten prohibitory precepts. This is not at all opposed to zazen as some may think but expresses the very essence of a life based in zazen. Rev. Kosho Uchiyama Roshi explained zazen times as involving repentance and vow: in sitting we sit awake and aware only to drift from time to time into sleepiness or distraction. Each time we find ourselves doing that we repent and renew our vow to sit with full awareness of body breath and mind. Thus zazen itself can be seen as a continuing cycle of vow, repentance and renewal of vow.

In our contemporary culture which emphasizes so strongly personal, individual effort and profit it is perhaps natural that we should make the mistake of taking pride in our practice of zazen. If we are truly practicing zazen we can of course recognize pride as a kind of distraction. Then it would be best to follow Uchiyama Roshi’s advice, repent of it and vow to sit wholeheartedly. Often though we do not. Our one sided devotion to individualism blinds us to pride as a distraction from practice and we follow the rut of personal narrow benefit. In pride, especially pride of sitting zazen, we forget the beginner’s mind of which Dogen Zenji speaks in Bendowa and which Suzuki Roshi reminded us. Devotional practices, of which I count jukai as one, provide a means to jog us out of this rut of pride by putting us face to face with the Buddha and his teachings, by requiring that we bow in acts of devotion, and by providing us with many opportunities to discover our faults and wholehearted repent, vowing to do better. There is nothing as effective against pride as putting one’s forehead to the floor wholeheartedly.

That jukai is a powerful and effective practice could be seen quite well in the practice at Zenshuji. Many of the priests come from various backgrounds with differences in experience, training and custom. Some few came from places and backgrounds where jukai is practiced regularly.More came from places where jukai is not practiced at all or only very rarely. As the jukai progressed, these many different backgrounds formed a wonderful basis for the single present practice of jukai at Zenshuji.

Naturally at the start there were rough edges and difficulties in adjustments that needed to be made. Nevertheless through the kind and patient help of those who were more experienced we were able to function with a high degree of harmony. This was good to see: the ability to act in oneness while retaining our diversities and differences. People who had practiced jukai elsewhere also adapted to the form that was adopted at Zenshuji. It was interesting to compare notes with those who had other experience of jukai and get a sense of how the form of jukai is adapted to particular circumstances. The talks on jukai and the precepts were extremely helpful and beneficial in promoting this sense on harmony and cohesiveness.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank the organizers of the jukai and the many teachers who participated, the precept masters and the kind and thoughtful priests of Zenshuji, the Soto Zen Buddhism North America Office, and the International Center who made this jukai and memorial service a successful event and also an event of deep personal significance. The tireless and cheerful efforts of those behind the scenes arranging lodging, meals, and logistics are deeply appreciated and a true inspiration. Lastly I would like to thank all those who participated in the jukai for their engagement in learning and practicing the Buddha’s teaching.


Copyright © 1996-2004 by Sotoshu Shumucho.All rights reserved. No reproduction or republication without written permission.