Stages of Practice – Shoken, Jukai, Tokudo

Stages of practice

As we continue with Zen practice, it is common that our commitment and involvement deepen and that we wish to express this in some way.  There are three ways to do this:

Shoken committing to a teacher
Jukai receiving the precepts
Tokudo ordination as a monk

Each of these is described below and these were the subject of a talk given by Keizan Roshi in 2010, the transcript of which is available here.  Roshi describes what the stages mean and his expectations of students.

It is vital to understand that there is no merit attaching to these stages, they are not badges nor ranks of attainment.  They reflect each individual’s own personal commitment to their practice, and their own lives.  And some sincere practitioners who have been in the practice for many years have chosen to embark on none of them – they are optional not compulsory!

Shoken – committing to a teacher

Shoken is a ceremony in which one formally enters the student / teacher relationship; the student makes a personal commitment to the teacher and the teacher to the student.  The short shoken ceremony done in private during a daisan or interview session with the teacher. If a student wants to do shoken, he or she must ask the teacher to accept her or him as a student, it is not something that the teacher will initiate.

Jukai – Taking Precepts

In taking the Buddhist Precepts, students take refuge in the Three Jewels – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, in a ceremony known as Jukai. It is a formal acknowledgement of wanting to lead your life according to the Buddha’s teachings. Students usually undergo a period of study for their Jukai ceremony.

Jukai is a personal and public commitment to aspire to lead your life in keeping with the sixteen precepts that form the basis of the Soto Zen practice tradition of which StoneWater Zen Centre is a part.

In this talk, Keizan Roshi explains the stages of practice, including receiving the precepts in the Jukai ceremony, .

The Sixteen Precepts

Our tradition and lineage maintains a set of sixteen precepts for lay students. This format originates with the founder of Soto Zen, Dogen Zenji, though the precepts themselves are older, with the Ten Grave Precepts originally laid out in the Brahma Net Sutra.

Unlike some traditional religious contexts, these don’t form a set of laws or commandments that you might be punished for breaking. They are more of collection of guidelines to living one’s life as a follower of the Dharma, as a Zen practitioner.

If you decide to receive Jukai, you will have a chance to study these precepts in greater detail and will be able to ask the teacher about any concerns you might have.

The 3 Refuges

I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha

The Three Pure Precepts

Do not create evil
Practice good
Actualize good for others

The Ten Grave Precepts

Affirm life – Do not kill
Be giving – Do not steal
Honor the body – Do not misuse sexuality
Manifest truth – Do not lie
Proceed clearly – Do not cloud the mind
See the perfection – Do not speak of others errors and faults
Realize self and other as one – Do not elevate the self and blame others
Give generously – Do not be withholding
Actualize harmony – Do not be angry
Experience the intimacy of things – Do not defile the Three Treasures

Jukai Ceremony

The precepts are usually taken at the end of a sesshin (traditional meditation retreat) in a ceremony attended by the sangha and any family and friends who you want to attend. The ceremony is a public declaration of your intention to follow the Dharma and maintain the precepts. During the ceremony, the preceptor will ask you to repeat the 16 precepts, you will be handed your rakusu and you given your Dharma name.

Eligibilty for receiving Jukai

Jukai is given to those who have shown commitment to the practice, for example by turning up regularly to sit with the sangha or, if you don’t live near a group, by attending sesshins and zazenkai. If you would like to take Jukai, you must discuss this with Roshi. Generally, you must also be able to attend a sesshin at which the Jukai ceremony will take place.

Preparing for Jukai

Our sangha does not have a formal ‘Jukai curriculum’ that needs to be studied, but you will be encouraged to read around the issues of precepts and commitment to zen practice (some materials are provided). If you have questions, Roshi is of course available in the usual ways (interviews etc.) to discuss any issues that you want clarified.

Sewing your rakusu

Our tradition, like many Western schools, holds that students sew their own rakusus in preparation for their Jukai ceremony.
The rakusu looks sort of like a patchwork bib, which represents the original robe of the Buddha. The origins of the rakusu are not entirely clear (see this Wikipedia article for some interesting background), and the tradition of sewing your own rakusu – rather than buying one – is far more common in the West than in Japan.
Instructions for sewing your rakusu – see resource page.


It is not necessary to purchase robes for your Jukai ceremony, though it’s certainly an option. Our sangha wear robes of the sort supplied by, among others,, and most students will wear a kimono (white is preferable) under a lay meditation robe fastened with a cloth belt or cord shiken. The rakusu goes over the top of everything else (Monks, priests and teachers have slightly different robes: they will wear a looser, larger-sleeved koromo instead of the lay robe with a kesa over the left shoulder and around the body, rather than the rakusu).

Shukke Tokudo

Some students may choose to take monastic vows in the Shukke Tokudo ceremony. This is an overt commitment to supporting the sangha and is a very serious commitment. If you want to know more, speak with Roshi.