This week Tesshin Roshi started to discuss with us what is involved with taking Jukai or Buddhist vows. “Ju” literally means “taking” and “kai” translates as precepts. As such, in its most basic form, Jukai is taking the Bodhisattva precepts into our lives. It is important to remember that we should not consider the precepts as rules or commandments – rather the precepts are guideposts to help us to act for all beings.
Tesshin Roshi next mentioned that in many Zen traditions, taking Jukai meant formalizing the relationship between the student and teacher. The student pledges to support the teacher and follow their guidance. The teacher pledges to do whatever it takes to help the student reach realization. While this is true, Tesshin Roshi reminded us that the real commitment being made is to Zen and the Path. We are declaring our intention to practice with our total mind and body. We stop looking at practice as a hobby and more as central driver of our life. Stated differently, Jukai forces us to “Take a Stand” and declare our intention to stop wasting time and take up the “Great Matter.”
Roshi next emphasized that taking Jukai is not mandatory to practice in the sangha or build mediation skills. For instance, if one is still exploring different paths, it probably does not make sense to take Jukai. It is more skillful to keep exploring and determine the best path for you. However, if one has determined that Zen is the way forward, then Jukai serves as a focus point for dedication and recommitment to practice.
If a student pursues Jukai, it should be seen as a spiritual transformation of upmost seriousness. It is not simply saying some words and performing some actions. In one sense, a person enters into Jukai as a “wanderer” and emerges as a student on the path. This is marked by very specific symbols. Fist, the student is given a new name (i.e. Zen name) which they will carry and use for the rest of their journey on the path. Next, the student sews and wears a physical symbol of their commitment – namely the Rakusu. Lastly, the student is formally embedded into the Zen lineage which starts with their immediate teacher and reaches all the back to the historical Buddha 2500 years in the past.
Over the next few months, we will meet with Tesshin Roshi after our meditation program to study the precepts and prepare for the Jukai ceremony in the spring. During this time, we will mindfully hand sew the Rakusu which will be presented to us along with the lineage chart at the ceremony. Roshi was clear, that the only requirement to enter Jukai is commitment. There is no minimum Zen or meditation skill required. All that is required is the desire to take up the path with one’s full being. (Easy to say, hard to do!)
Roshi wrapped up by teaching us some terms. For instance, the term Roshi means “Old Teacher” and is what we can use when referring to Zen teachers. When we refer to our teacher, we can say Tesshin Roshi, or “Goroshi” for short.