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Lay Vows at Bright Way Zen


Jukai, Receiving the Precepts and Formally Becoming a Zen Buddhist

What we call “Jukai,” or receiving the precepts, is a fairly open and accessible step for anyone who is an active member of Bright Way Zen, has been practicing for at least a few months, and has studied the precepts. We give the wagesa for this step, which is a symbolic garment used for various Buddhist purposes in Japan but not widely used in the West.

People who have received Jukai have formally become Zen Buddhists and have vowed to live their lives by the precepts as best they can. Once you have been regularly practicing with Bright Way Zen for at least a few months and have gone (or are currently going) through our annual 10-week precept study, you can ask Domyo about participating in our annual Jukai ceremony to receive the precepts. This usually happens in the spring. Click here for more about Jukai.


Zaike Tokudo, or Lay Ordination

After you have been practicing with the Sangha for a year or more and have received Jukai, you may consider talking to Domyo about working toward “Zaike Tokudo,” or lay ordination. Zaike Tokudo literally means “staying at home to accomplish the way,” and is the lay corollary of “Shukke Tokudo,” or monastic ordination (leaving home to accomplish the way). Even once you make initial decision to investigate this path, after consultation with Domyo, it will take at least a few years of intensive Sangha involvement before you will be asked to prepare for the Zaike Tokudo ceremony.

People who take the step of Zaike Tokudo have come to identify deeply with our lineage of Soto Zen, our Dharma Cloud lineage in particular, and the Bright Way Zen Sangha. They want to make explicit service to the Triple Treasure of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha part of their bodhisattva path. Such service is not required for full participation at Bright Way Zen, for deep spiritual realization, or for accomplishing the Buddha Way. It is simply a personal choice. There are infinitely many ways to function as a lay bodhisattva and Zen practitioner.

Identification with our Sangha’s manifestation of the Dharma is rooted in personal experience of, and familiarity with, our foundational lineage teachings and texts; our forms of practice, including zazen, retreat and sesshin; making and keeping vows; regular study of the precepts; ceremonies and chanting, and filling practice roles such as chant leading, teacher’s assistant, and care of the altars.

Lay ordinees (Sangha Holders) feel a responsibility to help sustain the Sangha and ensure our lineage continues. This is a position of learning and service and not formal authority, status, or empowerment to teach independently. However, Sangha Holders need to be responsible with the authority and status the role may naturally carry. People who take this step sew a rakusu and receive a Dharma name.

Once people have trained for and received Zaike Tokudo, they may support the lineage and Sangha in many different ways, and not all types of support are required. Part of the nature of lay practice is that it takes different forms depending on the person. While receiving Zaike Tokudo requires experience and familiarity with many aspects of our lineage through at least a few years of fairly intensive involvement with the Sangha, over time lives change and some people may end up doing only one or two of the things in the following list long term.

Once they receive Zaike Tokudo, an active lay ordinee (Sangha Holder) may support the Sangha and lineage by:

  • Contributing financially, perhaps even including the Sangha in their will or making substantial contributions toward capital campaigns
  • Contributing time and skills for practical support, such as through service on the board of directors, administrative support, help on the website, Zendo repairs, bookkeeping, etc.
  • Helping to staff the Zen center through service in volunteer and practice roles, such as cleaning the Zendo, caring for altars, chant leading, Zoom hosting, and helping to organize and staff retreats
  • Persistent and visible participation in Sangha practice over the course of many years, showing up for the sake of the Sangha if not for the sake of one’s own practice
  • Giving student talks and leading classes when requested by the teacher
  • Participating in leadership of the Sangha by attending Sangha Holders’ meetings, cultivating a sense of responsibility for and ownership of the Sangha, identifying areas of need and working with the teacher and other elders to resolve them, and envisioning what the Sangha could become
  • Finding ways to contribute one’s extra time, energy, and creativity toward enriching the Sangha, such as coordinating new processes or projects, or leading independent groups focused on Buddhist study or practice as manifested through poetry, art, parenting, or living with chronic illness

If you have received Jukai and are a regular participant with Bright Way, you are welcome to start a conversation with Domyo about eventually receiving Zaike Tokudo and taking this role of service in the Sangha.


Zaike Tokudo and Cloud Zendo Sangha Members

If you live at a distance from Bright Way Zen’s Dirt Zendo or can only participate via the Cloud Zendo for other reasons, is Zaike Tokudo possible? This is a difficult question.

Ideally, all Bright Way Zen practices would be open to those who sincerely want to participate! However, there are many aspects of our lineage (physical forms, in-person interactions, ceremonies, sesshin) which are impossible to experience only through the Cloud. The opposite is also true – there are evolving practice experiences that are unique to the Cloud Zendo – but generally speaking, those who are able to practice in our Dirt Zendo also practice regularly in the Cloud Zendo, thus getting both kinds of experience. For someone pursuing Zaike Tokudo with Bright Way who does not live locally, periodic visits to the Bright Way Zen Dirt Zendo, and/or participation in sesshins in-person, will help a great deal to broaden their experience of the lineage.

Nonetheless, someone could become a Sangha Holder through practicing only/primarily in the Cloud Zendo and then wholeheartedly serve the other Cloud Zendo members with particular insight and sensitivity. Feel free to bring up your interest with Domyo.


Comparison with Lay Vows in Other Soto Zen Lineages in the West

Outside of Japan, most Soto Zen temples and centers do not operate under any kind of central authority. Therefore, different lineages and temples have evolved their own ways of offering and holding lay vows. The following is meant to help you understand how Bright Way Zen’s traditions fit in with those of other Soto Zen lineages and temples.

In most Soto Zen lineages in the West, the ceremony of Jukai (receiving the precepts) falls somewhere between our Jukai and our Zaike Tokudo in terms of formality and commitment. Typically, you would practice with a Sangha and teacher for several years before sewing a rakusu and then receiving Jukai and a Dharma name. The step means you have formally become a Buddhist and part of the lineage and may or may not involve the degree of preparation and commitment we tie to Zaike Tokudo.

In other Dharma Cloud lineage temples/centers (including Dharma Rain Zen Center, through which we trace our lineage), Jukai is offered as we do it at Bright Way. There is then a step called Lay Discipleship, where one asks a transmitted lay or ordained person to become your formal teacher, and this is the step associated with a rakusu and Dharma name. (Formalized Lay Discipleship-type practice is generally not found in Soto Zen outside of the Dharma Cloud lineage.) The expectations around Lay Discipleship differ by teacher and may or may not look as committed and involved as our Zaike Tokudo.

At Bright Way, Zaike Tokudo does not entail a formal teacher-student relationship with Domyo or another teacher, although you will need to follow the teacher’s guidance with respect to preparing for lay ordination, and the teacher will perform the ceremony and give you a Dharma name. You are welcome to form an ongoing relationship with a teacher and make it central to your practice, but this is not required. Domyo is available for consultation to all active Bright Way Zen members.