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THE JUKAI CEREMONY AND THE WAY OF THE BODHISATTAVA
This text addresses some of the most fundamental and delicate religious
issues. Therefore, it should be read, quoted and analysed in a mindful
All copyrights to this document belong to John Tarrant, California
Diamond Sangha, Santa Rosa, Cal., USA
Enquiries: The Editor, "Mind Moon Circle", Sydney Zen Centre,
251 Young St., Annandale, Sydney, NSW 2038, Australia.
Tel: + 61 2 660 2993
John Tarrant Roshi
Zazenkai, November 15, 1992
California Diamond Sangha, Santa Rosa
"THE JUKAI CEREMONY AND THE WAY OF THE BODHISATTAVA"
Today I shall talk on the ceremony of Jukai and the Way of the
Bodhisattva. Please sit comfortably.
Every year around the beginning of winter we do the ceremony of Jukai in
the sangha. It is the primary initiation ceremony of zen. The great
inner initiation of zen is enlightenment, but meanwhile we do outer
initiation ceremonies like Jukai, which have a deep meaning. In Jukai
you receive the rakasu, which represents the robe of the Buddha, and
your connection to all the ancient lineage of people who have walked the
Way and suffered for wisdom and also gained wisdom. You share in their
light and their effort. You take on a Buddhist name, identifying
yourself in the tradition in that way.
You engage with the precepts of the Bodhisattva. There are sixteen of
them. Pretty much they are common sense undertakings. "I take up the
way of not killing," "not stealing," "not lying," "not undertaking
sexual misconduct," "not misusing drugs." Things like that, simple
things. "Not indulging in anger," "not praising myself while abusing
others." And as well as that there is taking refuge as part of the
precepts. "I take refuge in the Buddha." "I take refuge in the
dharma." "I take refuge in the sangha." Which is the primary act, I
suppose, really. To say that I trust that there is a Way and I commit
myself to it.
A ceremony is like a wedding, I think of Jukai as being something like a
wedding, in a way, in that you do something--you acknowledge something
that was already going forward inside you. You make it public among your
friends and in your community. So it has that value. And it's kind of
like a wedding in that there are some times when you shouldn't do it,
and there's a time when you should even if you're hesitating. So, you
need to judge that--whether you shouldn't do it or whether you should--
and be faithful to that choice. But if you've really decided that this
path is for you and you're walking it, then there will come a time when
you will do it, I think, because it is to acknowledge to yourself the
importance of wisdom in your life, the importance of the inner work.
One of the things I think we assume when we start to engage with
precepts is that some kind of containment in life is helpful, some way
of ordering our lives, that some decisions are better than others to
make. If we codify these some, we have containers, we have around the
temple so that we can be safe. We keep the lid on the rice so it can
cook. That's one of the values of the precepts, that they stop us
chasing around after 20,000 things so that our energy can go in its true
direction and the true cooking can happen. Or flowering will take place
because the garden is properly maintained and you keep the deer out.
And you're not off doing other things when you should be watering your
The other thing is that precepts, I think, are somewhat impossible, too,
which is one of their virtues. Taking up the way of not killing to just
to take the first precept alone, is very difficult to do. You burn a
log of wood in the fire and you find out your killing ants that are in
the log of wood. You breathe and bacteria perish by the millions. And
so, obviously, there is a way in which this is simple. Don't cause
unnecessary suffering in life, but also we have to engage with our own
fallibility, with the fact that we are imperfect and that when we live
on this earth, we depend on each other. It's not just our own efforts
here. Even if you only eat soybeans. Somebody clears the field to
plant those soybeans. You cut down the trees and the squirrels lose
there homes, and so on. So other beings are always giving their lives
for us and we acknowledge that when we take the precepts. And we
acknowledge that as a consequence we have a certain obligation of
service ourselves. That gratitude is an appropriate response to life
and we have to give back something to the world. We can't just try to
live a comfortable life, that if you try to live a comfortable life,
you'll perish in misery in some way or another--inwardly or outwardly.
If you fling away your comfort and are prepared to live a true life,
then you'll be serene, and only then.
So, this is the Bodhisattva Path of Compassion, which is sometimes
called ??? . Which understands that we are all
linked indissolubly, that each person contains every other person and
each being contains every other being. Even the rocks and the stars are
beings in that way. This is a great truth of meditation that you
realize when you really meditate and you begin to see. And the precepts
acknowledge this in their own small way.
The precepts even, in a sense, transcend themselves. When you're really
absorbed in the path, when you're really giving yourself over to your
meditation, there is not really a question of whether to do something or
not. You just plunge into your life fully. When you really do that
things simplify themselves around you. Things become clear. And you
commit to life. This is not to say that you won't suffer, because
suffering is part of being human, but your attitude toward your
suffering, I think, will change a great deal so that you will not be
thrown by your suffering. When you eat, you eat. When you're sad,
you're sad. When you're happy, you're happy. And you don't hold onto
any one thing longer than is absolutely right. You step into the river
and the river just carries you on.
Wherever you are in your life, whatever you are doing in your life, it
is important to value this. This is what taking the rakasu really
means: that you value it and you are prepared to put wisdom and the
ultimate peace at the center of your life. Not have it just around the
edges as something you'll pick and do one day. Which is okay, and there
is a stage for that, but when you want to put it at the center of your
life there is a stage for that and you must listen.
One of the things that I think that we develop in zen is integrity. If
you can think of integrity not as a narrow thing, but as a rather wide
thing, like a wide river that carries many boats, it really has a few
different elements and I'll just pick out a couple of them today. One
thing is that I think it gives us a kind of inner guidance for what it
is right to do, that gradually we get better at listening. You listen
inwardly. When you listen inwardly, you will know what to do in the
outer world. The conflict is nearly always an inward one. You think you
are being persecuted, well, maybe you are, but your inner conflict is
about how to hold that and what attitude to have towards it. When you
resolve your inner conflict, the persecution will change. You may still
be being persecuted, but your attitude towards it will be really quite
different. You'll be free.
So integrity is to listen inwardly and sometimes it tells you to do
things in the outer world. Some of you heard Mayumi Oda's story the
other day about the plutonium ship and how she had this quest because
she wanted to do something in the world. She was an artist and she
didn't know how to do anything in the world except make art, which is a
noble thing, but she knew she needed to do something else. So she
meditated and watched her dreams and chanted and did many things to
focus this. In her vision she heard a voice telling her to work on this
one issue, plutonium. This would be a good thing to do for the earth.
And so something just followed, the outer action just followed from the
inward. It didn't follow from making a list of all possible outer
actions and the good reasons for doing them and the bad reasons for
doing them and factoring that out. It came out of the depths, the non-
rational depths of her being. And it really is always like this if an
action is going to be true and successful. It is in harmony with the
Tao. So when integrity is to listen well, integrity is to ask the
question and then to listen and when you do get a response, then to do
it. To have the courage to act.
I have another friend who was working as a nurse at a hospice. She was
kind of a star in that system. She was very good at that work and
everybody thought she was wonderful. Four times in a row when somebody
died and she was in the room, this voice just spoke to her and said, "No
more deaths." She didn't know what it meant and she sort of ignored it
and she said, "Well, I'm just having a hard day." Then fourth time she
realized, "If I keep doing this, I'm going to get sick, something bad is
going to happen and I must stop." She resigned that day. Not that the
work was bad, but that a voice inside her, her integrity, was speaking
and saying, "This is not right for you right now." And so then she went
off and another path opened up for her. Even though there were no jobs
for her or anything, she resigned and immediately another job that she
really wanted opened up. But we have to listen. Sometimes the
integrity tells us to be heroic, sometimes it tells us not to be heroic,
but it tells us if we listen and that is a very important thing that
emerges when you start committing to the Way, taking the Way seriously.
I can't tell you the importance of that commitment.
And it's not a commitment that comes out of your head, which is why we
don't really encourage people to make that kind of commitment in zen.
It's a commitment that comes out of your heart and out of your depths.
It is a commitment to finding your own voice, really, your own speech in
the world, your way of action. And it is a commitment that even though
you've taken it once, it can always be renewed. It's always good to
notice where you're at with it. It's always good to notice, how you're
doing with zazen? Are you attentive during your day? And if you're
gathering your mind during your day. Gradually, you'll still continue
to make dreadful mistakes, I hope, but gradually this will ease. When
you make a mistake, it won't throw you as much. And I think, perhaps,
that's one of the first things that integrity--one of the next things
that integrity tells us. First it tells us to listen. When we do make
mistakes it tells us, "Don't overvalue your mistakes." Many sincere
people get very thrown by the things that they have done wrong, but zen
cuts off that karma, too, and taking the precepts does that for you--
helps you do that. Helps hold you to that.
The other aspect of integrity, as I said, is the courage to follow it.
The courage that if you know that zazen will help you, dammit do zazen.
What else is really so important in your life. Follow through and do it
again and again.
The story about a famous figure, in relatively recent Japanese history,
called Takuan, who was a statesman. He was attending the shogun and he
had to be at court all the time, but he had one day off a week. The
night before his day off, let's say it was Friday night, he would get on
a horse and he would ride and walk 150 miles to the zen temple that he
was part of. He would arrive just in time for dokusan and run in and
would have an interview with his teacher. Then he would leave. Run
straight out and get back in time to start work again at the court the
next day. This was person who was a very powerful person and could have
done anything that he wished and he spent it trying to purify his work.
You need that kind of commitment so that you love the true Way. Then
you'll do things in your life for it, you'll create a container for it,
which is what the precepts are. When you take those vows, you're
agreeing to sacrifice a certain kind of disorderliness and sloppiness in
your life and bringing to your life a certain gathering force. In that
you commit and then things begin to grow.
I think the two--The other thing about taking the precepts in the zen
sense is that there is an inclusiveness to how it is held. You don't set
up too much of an inner battle with those parts of yourself you're
uncomfortable with. It's very easy to get a kind of war going. I'm
very suspicious. When somebody declares a war on poverty, I know that
we will have poverty with us a little bit longer. When somebody
declares a war on drugs, I know that drugs will triumph. There's
something about that dualistic opposition or mentality that just doesn't
work in us. So if you declare a war on your own laziness, your laziness
will win. What you need to do is sit down and do zazen and be lazy that
way. Zazen is the laziest of occupations. You just don't add anything
to what you're doing. It takes more effort to put things in. Just stop
putting things in and you'll have pure zazen. So, it is like that.
There is a wonderful story about a man who had a very unbuddhist
occupation. His name was Masamune (sp?) and he was a sword master. He
made swords for the emperor and other fancy people. And the legend is
like this. He also had a very great disciple and he used to train
people to make swords by making them do zazen in a tent rather than
teaching them so much about how to make swords. To attend to their
lives. He had a disciples and it was said that the disciple made even
sharper swords than he did. Somebody took this disciple's sword and put
it in the stream and the leaves floating along ran into the edge of the
sword and were cut just by the light current of the stream. As soon as
they touched the sword they were cut in two. So then he put Masamune's
sword in the stream. He said he found that the leaves just avoided that
sword. That was the sword of no killing at all. The universe just
parted before it.
The whole point, for example, of the precept of not killing, is not to
hold that opposition in our hearts, not to go around fostering quarrels
and fights. This requires a great trust in ourselves, and a discipline
with ourselves, but it also requires a certain trust in the Tao, a trust
in fate. We must trust the universe to carry us until it is our time to
die, and then we must trust it to help us to die well and to take care
of us in that way and thereafter. It's all of these things we commit to
when we take up the precepts.
An initiation is a before and after matter, I think. It's not really
good to do an initiation until there has been some before in your life.
So it is not really good to do Jukai until you really know, have some
sense, of what zazen is and how it can be difficult and it can be
beautiful both. That initiation always seems to have an ordeal as a
part of it. The Australian aborigines, if you meet the old initiated
men, they have great scars across their chests where, as young men in
their initiation ceremony their chests were cut open and packed with
clay--the wounds were packed with clay--so that it made big broad welts
when they healed. This was part of their--something that they
sacrificed in order to gain their own lives. One of the ordeals, of
course, is zazen itself. It can be an ordeal to attend and let go of
things. Your knees can hurt; you get sleepy. But you just need to go
into with whatever is going on with you. Embrace it and find the truth
right in that. The truth is nowhere else but where you are.
And the other ordeal--their is a sacrifice just in taking the precepts.
It should be puzzling and a little bit difficult for you. It should
engage you as a question. How on earth will I do this? Avoiding lying,
even avoiding lying. If you take it up, you will find that it's a Way,
not an act. You can't just make a resolution to avoid lying. You take
up a way of being honest. You find ways that you didn't even notice that
you told lies. Then you find ways that you tell the truth, but it's
cruel and you shouldn't have. And so you find a balance then, you find
a harmonious way of being honest. Then you find ways that you told
lies, but only later you realize you were dishonest when you thought you
were being truthful because you did not know yourself well enough. You
deepen your knowledge of yourself. And so it is a Way and it involves
sacrifice, but it also involves a kind of opening into freedom that you
never had before. When you realize that you are going to be honest, or
at least work towards honesty, a whole lot of decisions don't need to be
made any more, or A whole lot of things that you may have worried about
you just don't need to worry about. You are free. And then your
integrity can speak through. You can trust it. It's not tricky. The
last thing I want to talk about today is to mention, a little bit, the
robe of the Buddha, the rakasu, which has your name written on it on the
inside. It symbolizes your commitment, your initiation and commitment
to the Way. And also the squares. It is made of many little squares
signifying that we can work with the many little fragments of our life,
the many little pieces.
Traditionally it was made from discarded cloth so it was made of little
pieces that you had to sew together. This is true of our lives. Those
little fragments, the things that we ignored, the things that we didn't
value are the things that we have to gather together and will give us
freedom. They can be the most important things. The final thing is
that this patchwork nature of it symbolizes the earth itself and our
connection with the naturalness of life. It is the rice fields, the
corn fields of Kansas, the wheat fields of Australia. It is our
connection with that ongoing rhythm that is greater than ourselves and
holds us and which we always serve. And we can't use it just for our
own advantage. We have to serve the Tao. And there is no greater
privilege, really, than to be a servant of the Tao and of the Buddha
For the rest of today please enjoy your zazen.
End of record