On August 19th, 2010, dropping all thought of “here” and “there”, an unusual event took place over the Internet, when three of the members of the virtual Threeleaf sangha lead by Soto Zen priest Jundo Cohen, were ordained as novice priests, all by the book, in the traditional manner. People from all over the world could stream the ceremony (now available on YouTube). It was performed simultaneously on three continents: while the teachers (Taigu and Jundo) were perched in front of their laptops in Japan, the three ordainees were located in Canada, Germany and Sweden, linked via the Internet. Torbjörn or Fugen, as he is known at Treeleaf, was one of the three novices receiving ordination, connecting with the others from his flat in Tibro, Sweden. In a number of emails we exchanged shortly after the event took place, I asked him a few questions about the ceremony itself and his thoughts on becoming a priest in training. Here I publish them in one post (with Fugen’s permission), just as they are. A lot of snow came down since August but better early in winter than never…
– Fugen, do you remember when the idea of becoming a Zen priest first crossed your mind?
I had no thought of becoming a Zen priest, but I was asked by Jundo on December 22nd last year if I would consider it, and here we are. Now, for me, becoming a Zen priest is no big thing, I don’t really see me as any different or having become any different, and I didn’t seek any of honorifics some people sometimes seek and call themselves by. I’m really just me, being here, doing this.
That being said, for me, becoming this is a good practice and it enables me to help more people in the process.
– This particular ordination is unique in that it was conducted entirely online. I guess I want to ask you if it felt real?
First up, what is real? I am not a Zen teacher and only in training as a priest, and as such is not to be viewed as an authority of any sort in the matters of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, but according to Buddhism the world you think is real isn’t really as you think…
Now, we might sidestep all this by saying something like ”virtual-real” (on-the-Internet) and ”real-virtual” (off-the-Internet), but to answer the question, yes it felt real… But at the same time some times it felt very much unreal, as you were floating on clouds and everything just happened around you, and you just floated along… And I don’t think what had actually happened hit me until I got on Skype afterwards and the people tried to get my attention…
Did it change the relationship between me and Treeleaf? Yes, it did. People at Treeleaf seem to regard me as something I’m not really. Now, that was more or less expected, and can be dealt with. I’m not any better than them, and i respectfully ask them to let those things go o those who seek such honorifics.
My involvement with Treeleaf has somewhat deepened, although I’ve always regarded it as my sangha and Jundo and Taigu as my teachers. The depth has been shown by taking on more responsibility and new assignments, as for example for this Ango period I’m taking some charge in running the practice partner exercise for those who wanted to do that.
– What now in terms of continuing priest training?
Now the real practice begins. 😉 The training so far has been taking about 2-3 hours each evening, with a lot of reading, studying, talking and sewing (we have been sewing our own Kesa), and it will more or less continue in the same fashion. In addition to this, we are encouraged to seek out other Zen dojo’s and practice there and set up our own little sangha/sitting group.
– Can you say a few words about the ordination ceremony itself, its different bits? Anything you remember particularly well?
Shukke Tokudo is the ceremony of ordination marking the passage from layperson to what we call a monk, nun, or a priest (the Japanese term of is Unsui- cloud and water). Tokudo means ‘ceremony,’ and Shukke is ‘leaving home.’ So in a sense it’s a homeleaving ceremony, although there is no home to leave and it is more in the lines of coming home…
The ceremony is supposed to be composed of three parts, or so I’ve been told. One known by all, one known by the teacher and one ”unknown”. And it really was all of it. My brother came by train from Gothenburg early in the morning, and from there the circus was on.
Before long I had my head shaved, was interviewed by both radio and newspaper, got the outfit on and off a couple of times, standing barefoot before the computer, all clad in white and hearing the words ”the ordination ceremony…”
As for the ceremony settings, it was just me, my brother and a computer as we were doing the ceremony online. We did some ceremonies, some bowing, some chanting. It was more or less like anything you do in life – ordinary, simple. The ceremony itself wasn’t so impressive.
Or maybe it was. Maybe that was what made it so special. Because we deem it so special and important, made it special and important…
The thing about Shukke Tokudo is not the ceremony itself, that’s just the “end of the beginning of the journey”. And it isn’t really about the ceremony, that’s just a ceremony. Even if I hadn’t done the ceremony, if the lightning had struck out my connection or whatever, i would still be here doing this, doing what I have always done and always will do.
– Is there a way for someone who is curious about Treeleaf to meet you and others in a more personal environment than via the forum?
I am also doing something called ”The Treeleaf teaparty”, a regular ceremony on Sunday nights (Swedish time), where anyone interested may join, where we do a meal chant and some sharing of insightful tips and other discussions in a sort of conference environment, most often via Skype.
– How can people get in touch with you in case they want to attend one of your tea parties?
They need to first e-mail me their Skype name so we can add them to the group. My email: awasedo[at]googlemail [dot]com.
-Do they have to be acquainted with the intricacies of the Japanese tea ceremony?
Not at all. It is a rather informal setting.
– Anything else you want to add/share?
Yes, I would thank everybody, especially the ordained at Treeleaf. It’s all good practice. Thank you for your practice.
– Thank you, Fugen! Congratulations on your Ordination. Look forward to connecting with you again and hearing where the wind takes you and the TreeLeafers.
Read more about the ceremony on Fugen’s blog.