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Paths of Practice at Bright Way Zen

The following are ways you might consider giving shape to your life through vow. Vow is an important part of the Zen tradition. All of these paths are optional and a matter of personal choice. If you pursue one or more of these paths, you should really want to do it for yourself. You are most welcome to practice in the Sangha as long as want without taking any of these steps.


Jukai: Receiving the 16 Bodhisattva 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. See How Our Vows Compare with Other Lineages for more information on this.

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: Identifying with Sangha and Lineage and Becoming a Sangha Holder

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 an 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. People who take this step sew a rakusu (a square cloth garment that is worn around the neck), receive a Dharma name, and within the Sangha are collectively referred to as “Sangha Holders.” This is a separate process from establishing a formal teacher-student relationship with Domyo, click here for more about that. 

Why is the step of Zaike Tokudo available? Our Sangha and lineage cannot be held and transmitted to future generations by the teacher alone; instead, senior practitioners help hold the tradition through their own practice and through support of the Sangha. This support can take many forms and depends on the individual; one Sangha Holder might learn to give zazen instruction, another might give occasional talks or classes, while another might want to avoid public roles but instead continue to support the Sangha through their own quiet and diligent practice, and familiarity with our community.

Zaike Tokudo 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 communal Sangha practice, including weekly practice and term student programs
  • Basic Buddhist and Zen teachings
  • Our forms of practice in the Dirt and/or Cloud Zendos (established ways things are done, such putting shoes straight, chanting, maintenance of altars)
  • Zazen, including a regular practice and participation in retreat and sesshin
  • Making and keeping vows
  • Regular study of the precepts
  • Our annual ceremonies and weekly chanting services
  • Filling various practice roles such as chant leading, teacher’s assistant, and care of the altars
  • The practical aspects of how our community is run (board of directors, staffing, volunteer coordination, etc.)

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. However, Sangha Holders need to be responsible with the authority and status the role may naturally carry. In the Zaike Tokudo ceremony, in addition to re-taking the sixteen bodhisattva precepts, ordinees make these five vows:

  • I vow to walk the path of the Buddha; living an ethical life and becoming enlightened.
  • I vow to study the Dharma; working to see the true nature of all things and all beings I encounter.
  • I vow to support the Sangha; helping myself and all beings attain peace and liberation.
  • I vow to live a life of generosity; benefitting the world in whatever ways I can.
  • I vow to live a life of stability; honoring commitments with patience and tolerance, remaining steadfast in practice and relationships.

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

In receiving Zaike Tokudo, it is not necessary for you to vow to maintain this kind of relationship with Bright Way Zen, specifically, for your entire life. The commitment should be serious and indefinite, but it is understood that lives change and therefore your relationship to Sangha may change as well. As long as you are keeping the precepts and feel goodwill toward the Bright Way Zen Sangha, you are welcome to keep your rakusu and Dharma name if your path eventually takes you elsewhere.

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, it is possible that very flexible and dedicated students could become Sangha Holders 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.

Establishing a Formal Teacher-Student Relationship

In most Soto Zen lineages, there is not a step for establishing a formal teacher-student relationship between a teacher (lay or ordained) and a lay student. It is understood that such a formal relationship is required for priest or monastic training (see below), but lay students are not going to need or want to follow a teacher’s instructions about their lifestyle, where and when they train, character flaws they need to work on before sharing the Dharma with others, etc. A priest or monk is training in a very specific way for a very specific purpose, while a lay person is seeking to awaken and manifest the Dharma in the midst of their life as it is.

What a teacher offers to lay student tends to be much more subtle than the guidance given to a priest or monk, but it can be useful. If you are curious, please read Domyo’s essay, “Do You Need a Zen or Buddhist Teacher?”

If you are interested in exploring a formal teacher-student relationship with Domyo, the first step is to get involved with the Bright Way Zen Sangha. She does not offer spiritual guidance outside the milieu of Sangha practice. The next step is to attend talks and classes regularly, and listen to (or read) Domyo’s Zen Studies Podcast. If you find her teaching helpful, you might start meeting with her periodically to discuss your practice. If this is helpful over a period of a year or more, you can inquire about formalizing this relationship in a private ceremony. You will need to have received Jukai at this point, and preferably will also be working toward Zaike Tokudo (see above).

In the ceremony establishing a formal teacher-student relationship, the teacher vows to be your companion on the path indefinitely, or for as long you want. It need not be a life-long arrangement for you; if at any point it seems appropriate, the formal relationship can be ended with another ceremony. A formal student is expected to keep up participation in the Bright Way Zen Sangha, attend retreats and sesshin whenever possible, and meet with the teacher every 1-3 months.

Note: Domyo is available to work with all active members of Bright Way Zen; a formal relationship is not required for this.

Priest Ordination: Making Service to Sangha Your Life’s Work

At some point, someone who has received Zaike Tokudo and established a formal teacher-student relationship with Domyo may wish to receive priest ordination from her and work toward fulfilling the training standards of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (click here to review those standards). The standards are comprehensive and include intensive practice periods away from home, lots of sesshin, and rigorous training in our lineage traditions.

This will require many years of training and is intended to allow you to make creating and sustaining Sangha your life’s work. If you are curious about this possibility, even if you have not received Zaike Tokudo, feel free to discuss it with Domyo.

Shukke Tokudo, or Monastic Ordination: Leaving Home to Absorb Yourself Completely in the Dharma

You may encounter the Dharma and find that it becomes the most important thing in your life. Any other activities pale in importance beside it; all you want to do is devote yourself to practice in order to free yourself from suffering and awaken.

The ancient Buddhist tradition of homeleaving – monastic ordination – may be a path for you to fulfill your heart’s longing. However, the decision to leave home may or may not be possible for you at this point, and following this path requires careful discernment with a teacher.

If you are curious about this path, feel free to discuss it with Domyo. Anyone receiving monastic ordination will have established a formal teacher-student relationship with her for at least a few years, and will need to be mostly free from worldly obligations including young children, the need to care for other dependents, and debt.

For the five years of training after ordination, a monastic is expected to live under the direct guidance of the teacher. They will be expected to spend extended periods (generally 3 months or more at a time) training in different Zen monasteries, and between time spent in monasteries will serve the Bright Way Zen Sangha more or less full time. A monastic will also be expected to fulfill the training standards of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (click here to review those standards).

Ideally, a monastic will be inclined to serve Sangha when their junior training (5-7 years) is completed, and will undergo priest ordination at that time. However, this is not required and a monastic may or may not be motivated by the desire to serve as a priest.

How Our Vows Compare with Other Lineages

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 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.

While all Soto Zen lineages include Shukke Tokudo, what that means various a great deal. In many lineages, (non-lay) ordination looks much like what we’re calling Priest Ordination, and does not require extensive residential monastic training or an extended period of home leaving. We are choosing to separate the Priest from the Monastic Ordination to acknowledge and preserve the valuable aspects of each: Priest ordination being motivated by a sincere love for the Dharma and a desire to serve Sangha, where the ordinee may not be able to leave home or do substantial residential training, and Monastic Ordination being motived by a passionate desire to leave everything else behind in order to do Dharma training full time for many years.