Note from Irisha:
Many of the Leafers have started the preparatory study for the second online Jukai and put their sewing skills to test. Once again I did not think I was ready for taking Jukai this year for a number of reasons but asked Fugen (Torbjörn), one of the last year’s Jukai takers and a committed Leafer, to share about the ceremony itself and what Jukai meant to him. In this post he shares his Jukai experience.
What about you? Have you taken Jukai or whatever equivalent can be found in your tradition? Did it influence your life? If so, how? What is your take on the formal commitment to the practice?
Fugen on Jukai experience
What is the meaning of “Jukai”?
According to the Buddhist Dictionary, Jukai literally means “to receive” or “to undertake the Precepts”. It is the ceremony both of one’s formally committing to the Buddhist Sangha and to the practice of Zen Buddhism, and of one’s undertaking the Sixteen Mahayana Bodhisattva Precepts as guidelines for life.
Traditionally for Jukai, one receives from a teacher a rakusu, which represents the robe of the Buddha, a kechimyaku, written lineage chart connecting the recipient to the Buddhas and Ancestors, and a Dharma name selected by the teacher and representing qualities of the recipient’s personality and practice. The Soto Sect’s Shumucho (Religious Affairs Office in Japan) wrote:
Though people approach it with different motivations, all participants must realize that in Jukai-e they inherit the life and quintessence of Buddhism as passed down correctly by generation after generation of Ancestors since the days of ancient India.
When do you take Jukai?
Nishijima Roshi wrote that one should take Jukai at the start of their study of Buddhism:
When a Buddhist seeks to commence upon the study of Buddhism, there is first a ceremony which should be undertaken: It is called ‘Jukai,’ the “Receipt of the Precepts”, the ceremony in which one receives and undertakes the Precepts as a disciple of the Buddha. … Master Dogen specifically left us a chapter entitled ‘Jukai,’ in which it is strongly emphasized that, when the Buddhist believer first sets out to commence Buddhist practice ….. be it monk, be it lay person, no matter ….. the initial needed steps include the holding of the ceremony of Jukai and the undertaking of the Precepts.
I took my first Jukai after being a Buddhist for more than 15 years. For me it was not a really big thing, it just happened to be an option so I took it. But ultimately I believe you can take it anytime and any number of times for that matter.
So how does it work? What do you do?
The Jukai ceremony itself wasn’t so impressive. It was just me, my wife and a computer as we we’re doing the ceremony online. We did some ceremonies , some bowing, some chanting and some zazen. It was more or less like anything you do in life – ordinary.
The thing about Jukai is not the ceremony itself, that’s just the “end of the beginning of the journey”. In my lineage we we’re supposed to sew our own rakusu and study the texts about the meaning of the Precepts. It’s not just to step up and take a ticket, it’s hard work. Sewing the rakusu is a tremendously arduous endeavour, but also a very good practice: the rakasu is made up of a lot of little pieces of cloth which have to be handsewn together in preordered fashion.
The precept study on the other hand was made up as a book club, taking you through the Precepts one at a time, with lots of great discussions on the way. This is a helpful way to approach the Precepts. By not confronting them all at once. Slowly and steadily considering them, putting them up against each other so to speak, you realize they are not that different either in manner or goal.
Precepts are at the core of Jukai. In the chapter on Jukai in his work Shobogenzo Master Dogen pointed out that precepts were central to our practice:
Unless we accept the Precepts, we are not yet a disciple of the Buddhas, nor are we an offspring of our Ancestral Masters, because they have considered one’s departing from error and resisting wrong to be synonymous with practicing meditation and inquiring of the Way. The words, “They have made the Precepts foremost” are already what the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching is.
What does Jukai stand for?
The representation of Jukaj and the Precepts are about us trying, as much as we can, live in a manner unharmful, healthy and helpful to ourselves and others, knowing that ultimately there is no separation between us and others. It is also equally important to understand that the precepts are not commandments in the Judeo-Christian sense, they are more like guidelines for us along the way. You won’t go to hell if you break them, but you might encounter some hardships.
Secondly, the Jukai ceremony is a commitment to live by the Precepts, “do the Dharma” and be “Buddhists” in a sense. It represents a vow to seek to remain within the Precepts although our human nature might push us sideways. The ceremony does not make you into a Buddhist, you already are. You might say that it celebrates the fact.
Thirdly, the Jukai ceremony stands for a commitment to continue the practice, to the sangha and to the teacher, knowing that ultimately there is no separation.
Fourthly, it is a statement to yourself and others that you are trying to “draw your straw to the anthill”, “do your part”, and try to do “good things”.
As I see it the Jukai puts an emphasis on a number of things, the precepts, a sort of confession/commitment, a statement.
I learned more from the journey towards Jukai than I have leaned during the rest of my “life as a Buddhist”. The question is if it will change anything.
Now, I may anger some people by saying that taking Jukai isn’t such a big thing. It was not for me. It doesn’t involve earthchanging moments, no strikes of lighting to the head or anything dramatic like that. It just confirms what you already know and do. For me it’s not a big thing, but for some it might. Ultimately, the real significance of Jukai will be that which every recipient finds for him/herself.