Memories of Shukke Tokudo

My head is covered in hot towels and then shaving foam. The monks, laughing and joking, take turns to finally shave my head smooth and bald. The two strands of hair are carefully left intact. I loved this ceremony. I felt a real sense of sangha and membership of an age old tradition.

Afterwards, Hank Malinowski, who had kindly agreed to be my dresser in the Tokudo ceremony, helped me practice putting on and taking off the monk’s robes. These consist of a jubon, kimono, koromo and kesa which together manifest the three influences of Japan, China and India in our Zen tradition. The process was more challenging, could I say, than I had imagined. Later, a seasoned monk told me that managing the robes was a lifetime practice. I believe him!

On the evening of the same day, I sat alone, bald as a baby in white kimono, in the now dark Founder’s room. Upstairs in the zendo, evening zazen was taking place. I heard the beginning bell and then silence. For half an hour I had time to review why I had requested ordination from Genpo Roshi and to gather focus for the ceremony. I heard Roshi arrive and and go upstairs. His jisha came down to take me into the zendo. It was full but all I really saw was Roshi, dressed in brocade robes on his high seat in front of the altar and the mat in front of him to which I walked. I felt completely present and Roshi absolutely met me with a power that empowered me. I made three full bows and the ceremony began with Roshi (the Kaishi) deeply intoning the Invocation of the Three Treasures. NAMU JI PO BUTSU – being one with the Buddha in the ten directions.

After the Gatha of Atonement and renewing the Three Pure Precepts, the Ten Grave Precepts and the Three Shukke Tokudo Vows, Roshi shaved off those two strands of hair and, my last connection to lay life. I stood and Roshi presented me with my monk’s eating bowls, robes and zagu. Then, as a new born baby, Hank dressed me in the koromo and kesa. The ceremony ended with the Gatha on Receiving the Precepts. Roshi congratulated me and then teased me about taking twenty four years of practice to become a monk. It is a Kanzeon record I am embarrased to admit! We all chanted the four vows and folk generously congratulated me. Some of us went out for a drink.

Keizan Sensei

By cutting off the root of attachment you enter the realm of the Buddhas: among all beings receiving life in the Six Realms, this is the most joyful life. Reflect! Now your body-mind is is suddenly turning from eternal transmigration and you are being irreversibly and eternally born in the no-born country of Buddha.