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Jukai – Receiving the precepts

Shukke tokudo (to be discussed in my next ‘blog’) means “leaving home and entering the way”.  The correct name for jukai is zaike tokudo, that is, “staying at home and entering the way”. Jukai is a ceremony for lay practitioners receiving the precepts. 

After a time of regular practice we may start to come to the tentative view, that I have found a path/tradition that I can lead my life by. A path that I may even wish to follow for the rest of my life. If this view matures and seasons and you become sure of it, then the jukai ceremony is a formal way of acknowledging this, and a way of sharing with others that you have made a decision to commit yourself to the path of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha (the Three Treasures).  As a rite of passage, it can mark the fact that you have embraced or, at a lesser level, accepted that you are the Buddha, (even if you have not necessarily understood this and its implications at every level). Now you want to practice the teachings of the Buddha and demonstrate that in a formal ceremony. You wish to show that you are a member of the sangha, and that this practice is a guiderail for your life.

There are 16 precepts, and they’re not rules that are laid down from the outside or imposed upon you.  They offer a picture of how we might lead our lives in a way which will bring greater harmony, and a greater sense of ease and compassion for ourselves and all other sentient beings.  All of these things are relative of course. You may receive jukai and still be not at ease, but more at ease than if you didn’t take the precepts, or try to follow them. Zen practice is not a panacea for well being. But our hope is that though the practice, manifesting the precepts will become a natural expression of who we are and how we lead our lives.

The other important thing about jukai is that through the ceremony you create a link with our lineage. You receive a Buddhist or dharma name, and also a lineage chart.  The lineage chart shows, with a red line, the connection between Shakyamuni Buddha and all his successors.  Finally it reaches down to me, and then to you under your new dharma name. You become part of the lineage.   You have a connection all the way back to Shakyamuni Buddha.  For me that added a real weight to how I felt about the whole thing when I received jukai.  In this sangha, through Maezumi Roshi, and then through Genpo Roshi and then through Tenshin Roshi, I am empowered to transmit the kai, the precepts, to you. 

The external mark of jukai is the rakusu.  I like people to make their own.  There are situations in which people do not or cannot because of time, circumstance or other reasons, but essentially I like you to make your own rakusu.  There is no fixed tradition, but in this lineage they are usually made from black cloth with a white panel sewn into the back.  The rakusu is made up of 16 strips of cloth and it is a miniature version of the monk’s kesa.  The tradition and pattern arose because at one time in China’s history Buddhist monks were persecuted.  Wearing a kesa was dangerous thus the rakusu, which can be hidden under clothes, was worn instead. 

On the white panel on the back is written your dharma name and the verse of the kesa.

Vast is the robe of liberation,
A formless field of benefaction.
I wear the Tathagata’s teaching,
Saving all sentient beings.

Senei giving instruction during the jukai ceremonyKeizan Sensei’s post talk comments

We had a wonderful two Thursday nights discussing what the verse of the Kesa means, it’s worth looking into.  So that’s jukai, a statement by you that you’ve chosen to enter the Way.  Any questions on jukai?  You’re more familiar with jukai aren’t you, than shoken?

One thing I’d like to say about jukai.  What I know from experience is that people who have been in the practice for a long time will sometimes only request jukai  if something awful happens.  So… don’t wait till you get hit by a bus!  [Laughter]