My Jukai – Rosie Shishin Dembski

In the first year I came to StoneWater, I attended a couple of Jukai ceremonies. I found them quite beautiful and a bit strange, and I guess it opened up a small part of my curiosity.

Like the form of Zen, it was a bit of mystery that I allowed to soak into me over time rather than approach it intellectually. But it was at the time very much something for others; not me!

I was mostly interested in sitting. I had practised running away from a lot of life and in sitting I learned to turn towards the hard bits and be with them. I also came to appreciate the form. Bowing felt natural, not subservient at all, but respectful of the wonder of life itself. The chanting I found more difficult because it reminded me of organised religion and the Christianity that I had rejected. I still do not like all the words, although some I love, but I say them all, mindful of all that they bring up. Most of all I learnt to surrender to the process.

Choosing to take Jukai was an expression of feeling I belonged. Over time I came to feel safe with the Sangha and opened up. I felt supported by them and wanted to support them too. It was, and still is, a refuge in a difficult but healing time of my life. So it felt quite sudden, though it was perhaps two years after I started attending, when I realised I was part of the Sangha and Jukai made sense for me. It was no longer for other people. It was time for me to do it.

I was quite nervous about every aspect of it. Not fully understanding what it was about; being a bit worried about the precepts; the challenge of sewing my rakusu; and taking part in a ceremony where I would need to speak up in front of others, as an introvert, all felt really hard.

So I read a little, and decided to do little chunks of the rakusu to overcome my feelings of panic. I had some support from Sangha members too which was lovely. I was worried I would not finish in time.

My rakusu came to take on an emotional meaning that I did not expect. I nearly felt like I had given birth to it. One of my neighbours also sewed a bit of one strap. I miss it now, as it is still at the Zendo because of Covid.

On the day itself, I met my Dharma sister Zaza who was taking Jukai with me. We were both quite nervous, so it was good to be nervous together. My husband and kids came to watch, and so did two very good friends.

There was a lot of bowing, of saying I will, to the precepts. Or was it I do? Can’t remember…

My little boy loved the bells and when Sensei splashed some droplets of water in his direction. My daughter told me I was a weirdo, and hugged me tight.

I was very excited getting my Dharma name from Roshi, at the time Sensei: Shishin, that Sensei translated as Lion Heart. It was good, as someone who was always expressing my fear of everything, to receive a name reminding me that I am strong.

And I felt the strength and care of my Sangha friends standing beside Zaza and me, cheering us on.