Updated: Mar 11
Student’s in Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha are encouraged to identify a topic for me to cover in my Weekly Dharma Notes, blog and cover in my Dharma Talks at our Tuesday Service.
One’s practice path refers to time and tasks of a student working and learning with their guiding teacher. This allows for exploring one's self through various teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and ancestors, personal experiences, awakening, understandings, and interrelationships with other students in sangha as they share the Dharma. All while engaging in the roles and service of zazen, zendo protocols, and sangha leadership. All of which evole one’s bodhisattva life. Below is a brief summary of this multi-year informal and formal journey.
Taiun Elliston-roshi (Hojo) Abbot of the Silent Thunder Order (STO) is responsible for the majority of these guidelines. I have inserted actions specific to Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha. This is a guide and can be adjusted as conditions and variables warrant.
Each student taking a set of actions below is doing so in joint understanding between she/he and the Guiding Teacher. The path is directional and suggests milestones. However, I suggest you think water as well as dirt.
This is an introduction and has hundreds of swirling particles. I say this to dissuade not to persuade. It all comes from within you and as is noted below your presence in the Sangha is a celebration for all, while at the same time, taking all the steps outlined below is not for everyone.
Sharing the Dharma has no requirements…
It starts when a person begins talking to a teacher (sensei) about what they would like to do with their interest in Zen Buddhism. This leads to more meaningful discussions if the student wishes. The teacher provides information on the history and activities of the Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha (FSZS) the Silent Thunder Order (STO), which is the lineage of Unshin Sangaku Dan Joslyn-sensei (founder of FSZS) along with introductory readings. Dokusan is explained as a way to begin 1:1 talks with sensei as the person looks within and ponders if this is for them. A person may come and go as they wish to leave at any time. We consider time spent in sharing the Dharma (teachings, exploring truth and meaning discussion) most worthwhile. The person develops their zazen practice through consistent periods of daily sitting. And, begin to learn the normenclature of Buddhism and Soto Zen through knowing one’s self.
One may decide to participate in additional sangha activities, while making use of sangha services, taking Dokusan and attend 1 day (zazenkai) to multi-day (sesshins) retreats.This person is considered a member and may welcomed to to be engaged at this level for as long as she/he wishes. One may support FSZS through what we call Dana- heartfelt giving of one’s time to help during events and making financial donations if they wish to support programs and operations. Here again one may attend as long as they wish. Many persons elect to take the step of taking vows acknowledging their identification as a Buddhist.
Jukai is the initial step of declaring one’s beliefs to be aligned with Buddhism. The Jukai ceremony at FSZS is offered once a year in November which is the founding month for both our sangha (FSZS) and founding teachers order (STO). A person usually has a minimum of six months to one year of participation in FSZS before taking vows. The Guiding Teacher works with the person making the request and establishes a schedule for readings, Dokusan, and other activities deemed important in the person understanding Jukai. Once the person begins and completes this process, 6-11 months, they are considered an informal student of that teacher. The person is requested to keep a journal of their experience, learn the basic chants, and protocols of the sangha. The person may wear the Wagesa, a ribbon around the neck indicating completion of Jukai in the Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha, and a set of juju or Mali beads representing teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Zaike Tokudo is the next step to take if one wishes and is accepted by the Guiding Teacher. It is a formal step as it could lead to orientation into priesthood later on. As with each request to train and serve at different levels, the student must demonstrate their readiness to their teacher to take the steps. In this step one demonstrates their commitment to Zen practice and willingness to serve others through additional roles and responsibility within the sangha. A student will need 2-4 years beyond Jukai before asking to undertake the eleven months of study, tasks, and service to complete the Jukai ceremony and to then begin providing direct assistance to the Guiding Teacher and members of the sangha. The student will read the two books of our founder Matsuoka-roshi and the two books of the STO Abbot, Elliston-roshi, and review all of the Soto Zen precepts/vows. They will sew a Rakusu which is a Zen bib and have 2-3 mentors explore discipleship, one of whom will be a sewing teacher. A journal is kept during this process. Upon completion the disciple may become a practice leader, one in charge of sangha operations and assistance to the guiding teacher, along with taken on assignments as needed in the sangha.
Shukke Tokudo, or Novice Priest/Black Robe, is the next step to take if one wishes and is accepted by the Guiding Teacher. This requires a minimum of 3-4 years of practice beyond Zaike, and requires 2-3 years of study in priestcraft. During this time the student is sewing a black Okesa (robe) with the assistance of a sewing teacher. 1:1 meetings with the guiding teacher will increase to include in sutras studies. Importantly the student will take on more sangha duties under the the supervision of the Guiding Teacher The student may be in contact with others who are undertaking, and/or completed Shukke. This is a period of intensive interaction in sharing the Dharma between teacher and student. The ceremony will take place in November at which time the Novice Priest will be given a second Dharma name reflecting the order in which they have been trained. Next, the Novice Priest may wish to is undertake further study with a transmitted priest outside the Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha. This period includes a 90 day Ango or monastic retreat where one becomes exposed to priestcraft practices and ceremonies. There are several associations that a priest may wish to join. Each has their own set of requirements. It is at this point in time that the student and guiding teacher will look into what they are and how the student may or may not, include those steps during the years of study between Shukke Tokudo and Shiho. A journal should be maintained. A black robe will be sewn. "A Black Robe" may sit in with the Guiding teacher on Dharma discussion, give informal talks and lead zazenkai and short sesshins.
Shuso usually refers to the last year of a student’s journey before he/she completes requirements and undertakes the Shiho ceremony. The meaning is “Senior Student.” The student will act as the right-hand of the guiding teacher with extensive conversations with the Guiding Teacher. This should be approximately 6-8 years after Zaike Tokudo. The year also will see the student selecting a koan, approved by the Guiding Teacher. The koan commentary will be put in writing by the student and given out to the FSZS and STO. The student will then present his/her case in a public forum, Shuso Hossen, where the Shuso must defend their understanding and answer all questions for as long as the Guiding Teacher wishes and could allow members of the public to ask several questions each. At the completion of Shusho, the student may approach the Guiding Teacher to ask if they may begin to sew. This means to sew the brown robe of a fully transmitted priest. Here too, a student may choose not to take the next step.
Shiho means fully transmitted priest and follows the tenants of one Buddha recognizing another. Specifically, how Hongren passed the robe and bowl of Shakyamuni Buddha to his student Huineng. This in turn dates back further to Shakyamuni Buddha holding a flower in an assembly of advanced students (arhats) one so only one smile as getting or receiving the transmitted meaningful message (receiving) the transmission to MahaKasyapa . The ceremony, the most extensive of all in the guidelines, is 7 days and involves multiple tasks to be completed, hours of solitary zazen by the nominee, attendance by other transmitted priests and many 1:1 meetings of the nominee with the Guiding Teacher and Preceptor . The elapsed time between asking to sew and Shiho maybe 2-4 years. A journal should be maintained and a brown robe sewn. A second Rakusu may be sewn if the nominee wishes to do so. During the 2-4 years the student should spend time with other teachers exploring other views and experiences following the same path begun in Shukke Tokudo. Upon completion of Shiho a person is seen a ready to take on full responsibilities of priest and teacher. Shiho is not meant to imply that your supervising teacher is no longer your teacher, just that s/he has entrusted you with the dharma to propagate as you see fit in the situation in which you find yourself.
The elapsed time may vary from the suggested calculated time between each student and the Guiding Teacher. For general comparisons the path is 14-20 years depending upon the time availability of the student. There will be travel and other costs involved along with Dana to teachers. The calling precedes each step of the journey. This means one feels deeply the direction one wishes to take. The teacher(s) and student relationships are deep and not without disagreements, falling down seven and getting-up eight will happen. As my teacher Taiun Elliston-roshi told me and now I have come to experience everyday…teacher or student, remember we simply teach each other the Dharma…”
To end with “…you may wish to ask questions,” I know is an understatement. This is also something for 1:1 discussion in Dokusan.