Training at Great Wave Zen Sangha is open to everyone, regardless of background or level of commitment. In general, all students engage in the Eight Gates of Zen Training and make individual choices, in consultation with the teacher, about which of the three practice paths below is best suited to their interests and needs.
- The Lay Path is characterized by participation in weekly sittings; occasional participation in retreats; and financial (and, optionally, work) support of the Sangha.
- The Precept Path is characterized by a life-long commitment to the Zen path; regular weekly sittings; resolved commitment to Zen practice; regular participation in retreats and other Sangha events; periodic dedication of time and energy to the business, logistical, and maintenance needs of the Sangha; and regular financial support.
- The Priesthood Path is characterized by a life-long commitment to the Zen path; consistently regular participation in weekly sittings, retreats, and other Sangha events; dedication of time and energy to the business, logistical, maintenance, and leadership needs of the teacher and the Sangha; and regular financial support.
The Lay Path
In coming from the East to the West, Buddhism has undergone a profound transformation. One aspect of the current transformation is the growing visibility and strength of lay practice. Yet lay practitioners have always been a vital part of Mahayana Buddhism. The history of lay practice goes all the way back to the time of the Buddha and the great lay practitioner Vimalakirti. Vimalakirti was said to be as realized as the Buddha and that the Buddha himself recognized Vimalakirti as being an enlightened teacher. With Vimalakirti, a precedent was set, and the tradition of lay practice has continued from that period to the present day.
At Great Wave, the Lay Path is open to everyone. As a lay practitioner, you are encouraged to simply participate in Great Wave’s weekly meditation (zazen) sessions and to register for an Introduction to Zen Workshop. Once you have become familiar with practice routines, it is hoped you will also join in retreats. Retreats vary in length from one-day retreats (zazenkai), to three- to seven-day retreats (sesshin). Practitioners may attend longer retreats part-time as their individual situations require.
As a lay practitioner, you should also consider making a request to be formally accepted as a student of Great Wave’s guiding teacher. Making such a request creates an important karmic bond, a student-teacher relationship that is essential for spiritual growth and ultimately for the perpetuation of the Sangha and the Buddhadharma.
In general, becoming a student means that you are choosing to defer to the teacher on matters pertaining to your practice. This does not mean that the teacher is a “guru” to whom you owe unquestioning obedience or with whom you are always expected to agree. It means that you are committed to earnestly following suggested courses of action whenever possible and to openly reporting significant struggles. It means that you are able to accept correction in matters of practice. In short, committing to a teacher means committing one’s self to a unique, one-on-one spiritual relationship in which the roles of “student” and “teacher” are respected as the mechanism by which self-realization takes place.
In rare cases, the teacher may refuse to accept a student, but only when it is determined that the student is not ready to make a commitment or would be better off under the guidance of a different teacher or within a different Buddhist tradition. In most cases, however, the request to be accepted as a student is honored and marked by a brief, private ceremony known as shoken.
Finally, lay practitioners are expected to help support the Sangha financially through the payment of monthly dues. (Accommodations exist for those of limited financial means.)
As their practice of, and commitment to, Zen practice ripens, many people consider entering the Precept Path.
The Precept Path
The Precept Path is also a lay path of practice. This path requires an unwavering commitment to Zen Buddhist practice. It involves noticing what is of fundamental importance in your life and dedicating time and energy to break free of a lifetime of conditioning. Entering the Precept Path does not require great spiritual prowess or an advanced level of understanding of the Dharma. You are ready to enter the Precept Path when you
- feel certain that Zen is the right path for you;
- are committed to maintaining the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts (the moral guidelines of the Zen, listed below); and
- you regularly participate in retreats (sesshin and zazenkai).
Precept practitioners are expected to provide financial support to the Sangha through the payment of monthly dues and to provide occasional work (samu) support. (Great Wave endeavors to match students’ abilities to various maintenance and logistical needs.)
To help prospective students clarify their intent to enter the Precept Path, they generally perform the following Seven Actions, listed below. (Note that the guiding teacher may waive one or more of these Actions when warranted.) When the Seven Actions are completed, the student is ready to “receive the precepts” in a ceremony known as jukai. The jukai ceremony makes one’s conversion to Buddhism official.
The Seven Actions
- Formally request to be accepted as a student and to receive the teachings.
This action must be completed prior to the others. (See the lay path above for more detail about this request.)
- Formally request Jukai (or to receive the Precepts).
This may be done at the same time as Action 1. Note that making a request to receive the Precepts may be denied or postponed. In most cases, however, the request is granted as is permission to begin stitching the rakusu (the lay ordination stole) which is needed for the jukai ceremony.
- Participate in an Introduction to Zen Workshop or complete the Introduction to Zen course online.
The workshops are generally half-day events. The online course is undertaken at Great Wave College (https://college.greatwave.org). Both the workshop and the online course ensure that you will have a fundamental understanding of the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eight-Fold Path, the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), and the student-teacher relationship. They also include a brief examination of the Heart Sutra (Prajna Paramita Shingyo) and an overview of the history of Buddhism and Zen.
- Participate in one week-long or two three-day meditation retreat(s) (sesshin) at Great Wave.
Sesshin is a time to develop one’s meditation, liturgical, and samu (work) practices over several contiguous days. It also provides an excellent opportunity to work closely with the teacher. Such retreats produce a profound stilling and centering effect that will help you realize and commit to the Zen Path.
- Participate in a Precepts or Beginner’s Mind sesshin.
A precepts sesshin is one during which various activities and Dharma talks focus on the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts, listed below. You will be given time during this retreat to work on finishing the stitching your rakusu and completing the kechimyaku, the lineage chart of ancestor-teachers. The precepts sesshin need not be in addition to the sesshin requirement of #4 above. Note that any and all students are able to attend a precepts sesshin.
- Deliver a student talk.
This brief, one- to three-minute talk should focus on the reasons why you wish to receive the precepts.
- Perform Tanga-Zume, dawn-to-dusk sitting in solitary zazen.
To be clear, tanga-zume does not require you to remain in continuous seated zazen for an entire day. Reasonable breaks for meals and other necessary activities are allowed. The point is simply to spend the day focused on one’s resolve to follow the Buddhist path. Tanga-zume typically takes place at Myogenji.
Jukai ceremonies are usually held on the last day of a week-long sesshin. Students are welcome to invite family and close friends to attend the ceremony. During the ceremony, you will be asked to vow to maintain the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts. Specifically, you vow to maintain
The Refuge Precepts, which are to
- take refuge in the Buddha;
- take refuge in the Dharma; and
- take refuge in the Sangha;
The Three Pure Precepts, which are to
- cease from evil;
- practice good; and
- save all sentient beings (i.e., to do good for others); and
The Ten Grave Precepts, which are to refrain from
- misuse of sex;
- misuse of intoxicants;
- blaming of others;
- elevating one’s self while debasing others;
- stinginess (especially in matters of Buddhdharma);
- indulgence in anger; and
- disparagement of the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha).
In essence, the Precepts are a description of how a Buddha functions in the world. They are how enlightened beings relate to other human and non-human beings and to our planet. They help us to make moral and ethical decisions and to manifest wisdom and compassion in our daily lives.
Near the conclusion of the ceremony, the teacher will give you a Zen name. The name will have been written on the back of your rakusu, which is given to you during the jukai ceremony.
It is expected that those who have received the precepts will participate as regularly as possible in our monthly Fusatsu, or Renewal of Vows ceremonies. Fusatsu is traditionally preceded by a Day of Reflection, which begins with morning zazen and is followed by several hours of mindful awareness of our relationship with the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts. In the words of Susan Myoyu Andersen, Roshi,
. . . we may think of the precepts from time to time in our lives, [but] it is important to take time regularly to intentionally renew our vows to follow them. The more clear and focused our vows are, the more power they have to get us over rough times.
We must also be willing to continuously examine and re-examine ourselves for the blind spots, rigid opinions and beliefs, and lack of awareness, all of which create separation from others and ourselves. That willingness to keep looking within, to keep refining our thoughts, words, and actions is truly what the precepts are about. It is that openness and willingness that allows our understanding of the precepts–and our practice in general–to grow and deepen. Precepts are not static rules. They require engagement, continuous attention, and a broad, flexible attitude.
We recommend that you observe a day of reflection on the same day Fusatsu is to be performed. Note, you do not need to have received the precepts to participate in the Day of Reflection or Fusatsu.
It is possible that, after many years of practice, students on the Precept Path may receive Dharma Transmission (shiho), the teacher’s final approval of the student’s realization (but this is by no means guaranteed). For practical purposes, shiho means that the student is now a teacher in their own right (and marked by the title “Sensei“). Such persons are permitted to preach the Dharma as they see fit, with one exception: lay practitioners who have received shiho may not perform the jukai ceremony and give the precepts to their own students. The authority to do this rests solely with those who have received Dharma transmission but who are also fully ordained as priests in accord with the practice path described below.
The Priesthood Path
The priesthood path is the path of ordination (known as tokudo) and is a life-long commitment. Ordained practitioners are referred to as either “monks” or “priests,” the terms being mostly interchangable. To be a priest in the Great Wave Zen Sangha means placing one’s life in the service of perpetuating the Dharma and of an unwavering commitment to Great Wave and its guiding teacher. Priests of the Great Wave Zen Sangha maintain and manage the affairs of the Sangha so that current and future practitioners may benefit from the Buddha’s teaching.
The process leading to ordination (tokudo) has three stages: the Postulant Priest stage, the Tokudo stage, and Shuso Hossen.
The Postulant Priest Stage
Becoming a postulant generally requires at least three years of prior practice as a precept student and preferably residential training, if available. It should be understood that one is not automatically eligible to become a postulant, regardless of years of practice. This stage of the path reveals the difference between the reality of committing one’s life to the Buddhadharma and any romantic notions about Zen training and priesthood.
Postulant priesthood is initiated by signing a copy of the Postulant Priest Petition, the text of which appears below.
Postulant Priest Petition
I formally request to enter the Postulant Priest program of the Great Wave Zen Sangha. I agree to undertake the vows of stability, simplicity, surrender, serenity, and service during the postulant period of one to two years or more in preparation for becoming a Buddhist priest. This period will serve as a time to confirm my commitment to this path of practice. My participation in the program can be terminated if my teacher or I determine that this is not the appropriate path for me at this time.
I undertake the vow of stability, freely committing myself to a life of supporting and sustaining the teaching of the Buddhadharma. I vow to devote my time and energy to nourishing the seeds of Buddha wisdom at Great Wave Zen Sangha. I vow to acknowledge and provide for the needs of myself and my family, so that I may continue to be able to serve others who are on the Path. In my practice and daily life, I will choose actions that promote the harmony and stability of the Sangha. I vow to consider any major life decisions in the context of my practice and commitment to the Sangha and to openly discuss these with the teacher.
I undertake the vow of simplicity, arising from my understanding that the life and death matter of practice is my highest priority. Any outside employment in which I engage will embody the principle of right livelihood. I will choose employment situations that have as much flexibility as possible, so that I can participate in zazenkai, sesshin, ango, fusatsu, and daily zazen and be available to help organize and manage Sangha activities. I will wear clothing appropriate for a priest and will refrain from excessive attention to my own appearance (in the form of jewelry, cosmetics, or elaborate clothing, etc.) while participating in Sangha activities. I will not accumulate wealth for wealth’s sake, seeking only the financial resources needed to reasonably support myself, my family, and the Sangha.
I undertake the vow of surrender, as a means to release self-clinging. I understand that I am expected to attend all retreats and ango activities of the Sangha. I vow to take the inevitable changes that occur in the training curriculum and in the teacher’s expectations as an aspect of my training at Great Wave and will make full use of the practice opportunities and teachings. I will take responsibility for my actions and well-being and will appropriately report to my teacher any behavior toward myself and others that I believe to be inharmonious with the Precepts.
I undertake the vow of serenity, taking every aspect of my life as my practice. I will seek joy in serving others. I will continuously strive to be harmonious and inclusive. When difficult relations arise, I will first look at the disharmony within myself rather than blaming others. I will think of others’ feelings and needs before my own.
I undertake the vow of service. I will devote my time, energy, and resources to sustaining the practice of the Buddha Way and making it available for generations to come. I vow that, rather than seeing myself as better than others, I will see my role as one of serving others. I vow to devote myself to taking care of the needs of the Great Wave Zen Sangha to the best of my ability.
Once the petition has been approved, the postulant priest embarks on a course of training, study, and service that includes regular participation in sesshin, ceremonies, dokusan (interviews with the teacher), samu (work practice), and regular financial support of the Great Wave Zen Sangha.
In essence, the postulant priest lives the life of a priest, but with the understanding that either the postulant or the guiding teacher may ultimately decide that the Priesthood Path is not the right one.
After one, two, or more years, a postulant priest may, at the discretion of the teacher, receive full ordination in a ceremony known as tokudo. The tokudo ceremony bears some similarity to the jukai ceremony in that it emphasizes one’s commitment to upholding the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts. It marks the beginning of one’s practice as a fully ordained junior priest. Postulants are welcome to invite family and close friends to attend the ceremony.
After about two years, it is generally expected that a junior priest will advance to the stage of senior priest by way of the Shuso Hossen ceremony. This ceremony is marked by a special “dharma combat” in which the priest’s spiritual insight is “tested” by members of the sangha.