On becoming a monk 1.

On becoming a monk…

The Easter retreat at Crosby will see three new monks being ordained.  Suzanne Tsuko Adey, Keith Shingo Parr and Sue Eido King will all receive Shukke Tokudo from Sensei on Thursday 16 April.

In the blog pieces that follow I have asked the three new monks to say a little more about themselves and why they are making this serious commitment.  Please read and comment on their pieces.

But first to provide a context, here is the text of a Dharma talk given by Keizan Sensei on Tokudo.

[ For background, there are three ‘rites of passage’ in Zen practice: Shoken is a private ceremony in which a student asks Sensei to be their teacher.  Then comes the public ceremony of Jukai in which the student receives the precepts, is given their rakusu and their Dharma name.  Jukai is about our personal commitment, but Tokudo is different – it’s a vow of service.]  This is what Sensei has to say about this:


Tokudo is quite simply ordaining as a priest.  The vows that we do in Tokudo aren’t that different to what we do in Jukai.  It’s called “leaving home to enter the Way,” but my understanding of leaving home, and this is not how I used to think about it, I used to think about it literally, is that you are actually at home wherever you are.  So wherever you are in the world, you’re at home.  That’s what leaving home means, to enter the Way, rather than staying at home.

The vows are the same as Jukai but there is a deeper commitment.  When you do Tokudo, there is an intrinsic commitment that this is your life, and more importantly, that not only are you working towards your own clarity and development and growth as a human being, but you’re also absolutely committed to work in that way for other folk.

In normal circumstances, and the reason we wear all these robes, if you’d been in a monastic setting, or you’d been a full-time monk, you would be seen to be wearing these robes, they would set you apart, and because you’re set apart, you’re being watched, there’s more pressure to lead the monastic life and maintain your vows.  Because it’s changed in the west, and we don’t wear them all the time, the person who does tokudo has much more of a responsibility to sustain an inner sense of their commitment and the change that it’s made in their life.  It’s not going to be externally seen and checked anymore, so it requires more inner commitment, and inner integrity, to sustain.

And there’s much more expectation from me of what I want from you.  There’s a real expectation that you will uphold the traditions of the practice and what it means to be ordained.  I can tell you, just to give a brief flavour, the Japanese Soto school of America’s guidelines for Soto Zen priests, seven principles of training:

1.       Zazen,

2.       Mindfulness,

3.       Deepening understanding through personal effort,

4.       Self-reflection,

5.       Working with a teacher,

6.       Studying Buddhist literature, and

7.       (the most important for me) Sustained effort.

Q:  You talk about tokudo as becoming a priest, rather than what people normally think of it, becoming a monk…

There’s a lot of difficulty around what to call a Zen monk.  Some people prefer to be called priests, some people prefer to be called monks.  Incidentally, men and women are both “monks,” there’s no separation, no gender difference between men and women monks in this tradition, both are called monks, both are called priests.  I suppose I would only call myself a priest if I was involved in lay ceremonies to do with births or weddings, or those things which we understand a priest would normally do.  Otherwise people get confused.

But there’s also confusion about ‘monk’, because in the West people things of monks as (1) being celibate, and (2) living in a monastery.  And neither of those are true within this tradition.  They haven’t been since the Meiji Restoration… 1868.

Before that, if you were a monk, you were supposed to be celibate.  Of course none of them were which is why they changed it, they went with the flow, “Why bother?” you know!  [Laughter.]

Q:  Some of us think the same thing about priests…

It’s true, but they haven’t gone with the flow yet, they’re still holding out!

Q:  Because I [unclear] a vicar…

A vicar, yeah.  Because you’re C of E, aren’t you?

Q:  Was!

Was – well, you can be both!  I like the C of E, it’s a broad church!

Q:  Is there any formal token of shoken?  I’ve seen at various times on retreat people with…

Yes, we used to have these badges, has anyone got one?  There’s one on my rakasu, from Kanzeon [Sangha].

Q:  Is that because Genpo…

He gave it to people when they did jukai, not shoken, that’s correct.  They became incredibly expensive, so I just stopped ordering them!  So, no, there’s no outer symbol.

Q:  Can I ask the significance of the cloth that you bow on?

The zagu?  I don’t know what the significance of the zagu is!  One of the important things when you wear monk’s robes, you’ll see when I sit down you see me hold the kesa up, you’re not supposed to sit or kneel on the kesa, so one reason for the zagu is to keep everything clean and off the floor and off the mat.   But I’m sure there’s other significances, because you form a cross when you lay it out…

Q: …and it’s folded like that…

It has to be folded like that or you’d be hours standing there trying to get the damned thing in place!  So the Japanese cleverly, like origami, when you receive it, it’s already folded and now and then all you have to do is give it a press.  And if it needs dry cleaning, you need to get somebody else’s zagu so that you can re-fold it!  It’s a good question.

Q:  for everybody who’s wearing robes, particularly these [indicating kolomo and kesa], it’s a deliberate encumbrance, isn’t it?

Yes, this who thing is designed specifically to make sure that you stay absolutely present.  Because if you forget for a moment what you’re doing or where you are, you’re just all over the place.  These things will trip you up!  You try and do jobs with sleevage like that!  Even when you sit down, you’ve got to get it all tucked up and everything in place.  So it’s consciously designed to keep you aware.

Q:  Roshi says the robes train you.

Oh, they train you for sure, they do.  For some of us it’s more of a struggle than others – for me it was a serious – it still is! – struggle.  Other people are immediately graceful and can handle them.  Don’t say anything!

Thank you.