PART ONE: SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP
Teaching Authority within the Empty Moon Zen Network
For the protection and transmission of the Zen Dharma we cultivate various forms of leadership.
The following teaching authorizations are given in trust to individuals through the transmitted teachers: Practice Leader, Dharma Teacher, and Senior Dharma. The latter two titles are borrowed from the Kwan Um School of Zen. These teaching authorizations do not represent Dharma transmission in the sense used normatively in the Zen world. These appointed positions may be rescinded by the transmitted teachers. The authority granted is strictly derivative, held only as long as the transmitted teachers or the individuals themselves feel it helpful for the individual leader and the community.
Practice Leader: A Practice Leader holds responsibility for the functioning of an Empty Moon group. They are familiar with the forms of practice within the Empty Moon, and may give basic practice instruction. They are people with a stable meditation practice and some basic understanding of the Dharma and the sangha.
Dharma Teacher: A Dharma Teacher is a mature practitioner who has been given permission to give talks within the community. In general, five years of practice and substantial sesshin experience are expected of anyone advanced to this position.
Senior Dharma Teacher: A Senior Dharma Teacher may give talks, and may meet individually with students in private interviews (dokusan). Within parameters set by their shoken teachers, Senior Dharma Teachers may also work with students on koans. In general eight to ten years of practice and extensive sesshin training are expected of anyone advanced to this position.
Dharma transmission teaching authorizations are given a transmitted teacher through the authority of her/his own transmission. We strongly encourage any teacher considering offering transmission at any level to seek the approval of at least one other transmitted teacher, and ideally two.
Dharma Entrustment (for lay practitioners) or Denkai (for priests)
This is the beginning of formal Dharma transmission, the acknowledgment of deep insight into great matter of Zen in alignment with one’s teacher. The formal title is Dharma Holder and for priests, also Osho.
A Dharma holder may give the precepts and receive formal students through the rite of shoken. For priests this is full ordination, and an Osho may ordain others up to and through this rank. A Dharma holder may not transmit their own successors.
Among other expectations a Dharma holder is usually expected to have sat for a minimum of two hundred days of sesshin or zazenkai. If a koan practitioner, a Dharma holder is expected to have advanced significantly through the Soto Reformed Koan curriculum established by the late Daiun Sokaku Harada Roshi.
As acknowledgment of Precepts transmission, the first of the sanmatsu documents passed on in Japanese Soto Zen, the kechimiyaku is given. Priests will also receive the kiragami. There is a private ceremony followed by a public acknowledgement where the new teacher is given a kotsu. A lay teacher will also receive a colored rakusu and a priest a colored kesa.
Dharma Transmission (also Denbo)
This is full transmission, acknowledgement of mastery on the Zen way. The title for a Dharma successor is Sensei. A sensei is free to function as a Zen teacher in any way they find appropriate.
Among other expectations a sensei is usually expected to have sat for a minimum of three hundred days of sesshin or zazenkai. If a koan practitioner, a sensei is usually expected to have a mature understanding of the koan curriculum and can guide people through its intricacies.
As recognition of Dharma transmission, a Dharma successor is given the other two sanmatsu documents in a private ceremony, followed by a public ceremony where another lineage document is presented.
While Denbo is full transmission within the Soto school, because of our inheritance a transmitted teacher who also holds Inka may pass it on as they find appropriate. It is normally considered an acknowledgment of mastery of koan practice. But it may be conferred on non-koan teachers, as well.
A general guideline is that it should be at least five years from Dharma transmission and the recipient is commonly seen as having become a senior teacher.
Inka Shomei is given in a public ceremony, after which the teacher may be referred to by the title Roshi (old teacher).
PART TWO: ORDINATION
Shukke Tokudo (leaving home ordination)
or Unsui Tokyo (clouds and water ordination)
For most of its history the Buddhist tradition has been divided between renunciate practitioners and their nonpracticing lay supporters. The renunciates, monastics adhering to the hundreds of strictures in the Vinaya code, constituted the ordained sangha.
This was symbolized by the concept of a four-fold sangha. Laymen, laywomen, monks, and nuns.
For many centuries it was the Vinaya-ordained sangha of monks and to a lesser-degree nuns who guarded and transmitted the way. Starting in the Eighth century in Japan, a new model of ordination appeared that was “neither monastic nor lay.” It would eventually become the only form of ordained practice in the country.
This Bodhisattva priesthood model largely took on the shape we practice within about a hundred and fifty years ago. And coming West it has begun taking on additional characteristics which are described as we go on.
One way of understanding this new ordination model is within a three-fold sangha of lay practitioners, priests, and monastics. This three-fold community, where in addition to a new ordination model being introduced, the sharp divide between genders is dropped together with the usually not stated but always enforced dominant place of men.
This new model reframes many cultural assumptions, and allows each community of practice, the monastic, the priestly, and the lay to flourish without having to deny the other ways.
Within the Empty Moon we are currently able to support lay and priestly practice. It is our stated intention to not privilege either state, but to fully embrace that both have a place as Zen roots here in the West and North America. We hope the day will come where we can also fold into our sangha monastic community. We are comforted to note there are a number of communities already with this focus.
With that a description of some of the whys and hows of priestly ordination.
Notably in this form of ordination that emerged within Japanese Buddhism and which we transmit was the absence of a vow of celibacy. This mode can be called Bodhisattva ordination and is the form of ordination maintained in Empty Moon Zen and most if not all of the other Japanese-derived Zen lineages. The shift in focus from Vinaya ordination to Bodhisattva ordination reflects our particular vision of the fullness of the Zen way.
As it takes further shape in the West we currently identify three unique aspects to the priestly ordained way.
One is a commitment to a vowed life. Here we ordain into a community of practice. We take the same vows as lay practitioners, but there are additional nuances to our commitment. Specifically, we find an ongoing expectation of supporting each other in our practice in both spirit and practice. One way of looking at this is by considering the Christian concept of third orders as opposed to “regular” orders, which with the Christian churches also drop vows of celibacy.
The second is a commitment to a liturgical life. Here, again, we can see parallels in the Christian tradition and particularly in the celebration of Eucharist. Through rites that have evolved in Japan over more than a thousand years, and rooted in celebrations a thousand and a half older, of chanting, bowing, offering incense or flowers (and in some adaptations water), with the express intent of the healing and blessings for the world, including named people and situations we find a work that is unique to our ordained life.
We make no "theological" assertions about this liturgical practice, also called "service." We simply and whole-heartedly embrace this as a calling of our hearts as an expression of the bodhisattva way. Literal, metaphorical, all are outside our concern. Rather we bow into this as a critical part of the ordained way.
These first two aspects are fully part of the ordained life in Japanese Zen. The third aspect exists in Japan, but here in the West it becomes clearer and more explicit. And that is the call to ministry, the conscious preparation for and a life devoted to the service of others.
These are the heart of our practice as Soto Zen priests in the West.
Different people are called to focus on different aspects of Zen priestly life and might give one or another greater focus in their lives. However, they can be considered like the three legs of a stool. Without all three legs one’s ordained life is unbalanced. And, we expect anyone who is ordained to embrace all three and to acquire competencies in support of these aspects of Soto Zen Buddhist priesthood within the Blue Cliff Zen Sangha.
Ordination publicly affirms the significance and prominence of the role of the Dharma in one’s life, in the same way that a marriage ceremony might be said to publicly affirm a commitment and relationship to one’s long-time partner; nothing changes, and everything changes.
Ordination is conferred by a fully transmitted priest through the authority of her or his own ordination and precepts transmission.
Upon being ordained one becomes an unsui priest. The term unsui means “clouds and water”—evoking the image of a person flowing freely and unattached even in the middle of worldly life. The ceremony in which one becomes an unsui is called Unsui Tokudo, or simply ordination. In the Empty Moon Zen Network, priests are neither monastics nor lay people, fully practicing as priests but also keeping a job, possibly maintaining an intimate relationship, and perhaps raising their children, even after ordination.
Our ordination vows are seen as life vows and should be approached with respect and considerable hesitation. We do not have a set formula leading to ordination, although there are some prerequisites to candidacy and an expectation that one will acquire certain competencies prior to ordination.
Priests vow to manifest the life of the sangha. Ordination is a commitment not only to Zen and Buddhism, but also to our particular manifestation of the Path within the Blue Cliff sangha. This means taking on tasks of support and leadership within the community and beyond our walls. An unsui (clouds-and-water) priest may perform all the rites of the Soto school and the Blue Cliff sangha, including performing marriages and conducting funerals. An unsui priest may also serve in the larger community in a variety of ministerial capacities.
We see the life commitments of ordination has three aspects. Our Western sense of ministry being one. A second is to belong to the order or companionship of practice. And, the third is service through a liturgical life focused on the regular recitation of sacred texts, offerings of incense and and candles and bowing as an offering of hope and intention for the world. While each person will probably find one of these directions more important in their personal life, with ordination one takes on obligations to all three.
And in some ways Unsui Tokudo is a novice ordination. It is a significant marker on one's life path, but also in many ways simply a beginning. An Unsui priest may not give the precepts and may not ordain others. These authorizations come with Denkai transmission, which is described above. And, because these things need to be explicit, full Dharma transmission and authorization to teach only comes with Denbo, also described above.
We take the Guidelines for the Formation of Soto Zen Priests in the West as a template document. And we have our own expectations as follows here:
Candidacy for Ordination
Those who wish to be ordained must first discuss their intentions with their shoken teacher. If they do not have a shoken teacher, they need to establish that relationship, as the shoken teacher must approve advancing to candidacy for ordination. This is the person who will serve as their preceptor. Should one’s shoken teacher be a layperson, an ordained preceptor must be found who will work together with the shoken teacher.
There are many ways to manifest the priesthood and the gate to walk through ordination is wide. Nonetheless there are broad parameters to be noted that mark out the likelihood of success on this way. Ordination is not an excuse to avoid living life. Indeed, we feel that ordination is a way to live the fullness of one’s life in service of the Dharma. What follows are guidelines for doing that. If someone considering ordination feels that they don’t fully meet these guidelines, and still feels a strong calling to this path, they should not be dissuaded from discussing the matter with their shoken teacher.
A candidate for ordination should be liked by children and dogs. A candidate should be committed to the ideal of service. They should be stable in their life or well on the way to becoming so. They should have substantial experience within the Zen Way. There is a general expectation that a candidate will have some life experience and a sense of the larger world—such as, undergraduate degree, extensive work experience, service in the military, raising a family.
Ordination Candidacy Committee –
Once accepted into candidacy by their preceptor, an Ordination Candidacy Committee (OCC) will be formed. It will consist of three people plus the candidate. One will be the shoken teacher. Another will be a well-established lay member of the sangha selected by the shoken teacher. If the shoken teacher is a lay person the preceptor and the shoken teacher will both serve on this committee. The third member of the committee will be selected by the shoken teacher and the Candidate in consultation.
As a Candidate one is expected to demonstrate proficiency in a number of skill sets and experiences. Specifics will be agreed to by the Candidate and the Ordination Candidacy Committee and a written covenant and time-line will be composed that lays out a path of study and practice leading to Ordination.
The competencies leading to Ordination will normally include the following:
Pastoral Skills. These can be acquired in a number of ways: coursework, so long as there is also a practicum; guided reading; volunteer or related experience; and/or a Clinical Pastoral Education unit.
An ability to perform all the standard Zen ceremonies as observed within the Soto School and within the Blue Cliff Zen Sangha. The expectation is that the Candidate will come to understand the forms and the underlying assumptions and to manifest them with some grace, and will be able to modify or create rites as necessary.
The Candidate must come to have a basic understanding of Buddhism, Soto Zen, and historic and contemporary modes of Zen practice, as well as the evolving ethos of the Blue Cliff. This competency is primarily established through a reading list and demonstrated either through dialogue with the Ordination Candidacy Committee or possibly through a written report/reflection.
The Candidate must continue to be a regular participant in the life of the sangha and to attend most sesshin.
The Candidate must demonstrate a capacity to meet people as they are and must demonstrate self-awareness.
The Candidate must acquire general leadership skills and demonstrate a capacity to use the energies of time and space. Specific skills to cultivate may include public speaking, leading groups in discussion and organizing and leading a committee.
The Candidate must have fallen on their butt in public at least once. This may be accomplished literally or figuratively.
The Candidate must come to show a “priestly presence”—difficult to describe, but recognizable by others. This critical pre-requisite will be determined by the Ordination Candidacy Committee.
Anyone ordained within the Blue Cliff will have a way to support themselves. This might be a professional degree, a skilled trade, or some other manifestation of right livelihood consonant with being a Zen Buddhist priest.
The candidate is expected to regularly sit retreat within other Buddhist traditions as determined by the Ordination Candidacy Committee.
Prior to ordination, a Candidate will be expected to have sat a minimum of between fifty and one hundred days of sesshin or zazenkai. The exact number will be determined by a number of factors. If, for instance, someone has had many years of sustained practice but has been unable to attend retreats because of their family situation or some other obligation, this can be calculated in. Whenever possible one ninety-day Ango is recommended prior to ordination.
The candidate is encouraged to sew their own kesa and zagu over the course of their candidacy in alignment with Blue Cliff's standard patterns, although obtaining the kesa and zagu through other means (such as by purchasing them) is also an acceptable option.
A footnote on our relationship
with the Soto Zen Buddhist Association.
While we are a part of the emerging North American Soto Zen community we have some differences from other Soto communities. For one we do not privilege ordained practice over lay. We acknowledge lay teachers as full dharma successors within our lineage. We also have some different requirements for our ordained clergy than found with the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. As we consider the SZBA very important to the establishment of Soto in North America our differences are not undertaken lightly.
Our senior priest and teacher Ford Osho was an early member of the SZBA, participated in its first Dharma Heritage ceremony in 2004. In 2012 he served as doshi or principal celebrant for that year's Dharma Heritage ceremony. He also served on the SZBA board for a three-year term. And he remains a member of the SZBA. (It should also be noted he is a long time member of the American Zen Teachers Association, as well. He served on the AZTA's membership committee for a decade.)
This said, our clergy are not necessarily members of the SZBA. The turning question going forward is whether an ango experience is necessary in the formation of a Soto Zen priest in North America or whether it is beneficial, but need not be a necessary requirement. We argue the later view, that it is beneficial but not essential. We encourage those who ordain within our community to do one or more ango, if at all possible. But we do not require it.
Within our priestly formation program, instead we require significant retreat time, at least three hundred days of sesshin for a fully transmitted priest or lay teacher. That said if a priest's life allows for the ango experience, we do require it. Following the current SZBA guidelines, this may be done in either a single ninety ango, or with four three week residential intensives.
It is important to note there are people in the West who do not consider extensive Zen meditation practice necessary for priests and teachers, sometimes dismissing it as "butt time." We strongly disagree, believing no one should be teaching Zen and especially its heart practice without a long and intimate experience within the discipline. So, in fact, we see that near year of days of retreat a minimum for adequate formation for a meditation teacher within our tradition.
There are, of course, other expectations. These largely map those of the SZBA. Also we consider koan introspection a central part of our normative training program and an important part of the formation of our Zen teachers both lay and ordained. Those of our priests who complete an ango are otherwise eligible to join the SZBA, which we encourage. And all our teachers are eligible to join the AZTA.
We seek to collaborate with other communities transmitting the Soto inheritance to North America and the West seeking appropriate but rigorous preparation for priests and teachers as well as to find forms of mutual accountability.