Wednesday, December 02, 2009

JUKAI and Why I No Longer Do It...

I promised an piece about jukai, so here it is. I've written extensively about jukai in all of my books. The longest bits about it are in Hardcore Zen, in which I talk about the jukai ceremonies I went through (three of them!) and in Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate, where I talk about the jukai ceremonies I've performed.

For those who don't know, jukai is the traditional Buddhist ceremony of receiving the precepts. A person publicly vows to honor the Three Devotions, and uphold the Three Universal Precepts and the Ten Fundamental Precepts. The Three Devotions are to Buddha, Dharma (Buddhist teachings) and Sangha (Buddhist community). The Three Universal Precepts are 1) to observe social rules, 2) observe the universal rules of morality and 3) work for the salvation of all beings. The Ten Fundamental Precepts are 1) not to destroy lie 2) not to steal 3) not to have excessive desires 4) not to lie 5) not to live by selling liquor (didn't even know her) 6) not to discuss the failures of Buddhist priests and laypeople 7) not to praise oneself or berate others 8) not to begrudge the sharing of Buddhist teachings or other things but give them freely (or give them to Ace Frehley, I can never remember) 9) not to become angry and 10) not to abuse the three treasures; Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Nishijima Roshi says, "The precepts are not rules. They are the common habits of Buddhists." He likes to quote an old Buddhist saying that, "No rule is our rule." Furthermore, the Buddhist precepts apply only to yourself. They are never, ever, ever to be used as a means of judging other people's behavior. You can never say that someone else is breaking the precepts because you cannot know what the precepts mean to anyone else. You can only know what they mean to you.

People often ask me if they should take jukai themselves. The answer is always the same; I have no idea whether you should take jukai or not. If you have to ask a complete stranger, the answer may be that you're not ready. But that's about as much as I can say.

Recently a very close friend of mine took jukai at Green Gulch Zen Farm (where they farm Zen) in Northern California. For her it was a wonderful and moving ceremony. She benefited greatly from it. She took a long time deciding if she wanted to do this. She made the decision when she knew it was her own will to do this thing. Then she went straight ahead without hesitation.

I'm suspicious of teachers who encourage their students too strongly to take jukai and offer it too easily. I always wonder if it's a strategy to increase their market share. Pushing people to take jukai feels wrong. The decision to go through the ceremony has to come from the student, not the teacher.

I've decided to stop performing and officiating jukai ceremonies myself. I'm not saying I'll never do one again. But for now I am no longer offering them to anyone. I made this decision because I found that I am highly uncomfortable with the expectations that often come up from people who have taken the ceremony. I'm not interested in being anyone's "spiritual daddy," and that often seems to be what people are looking for when they ask to take the ceremony. I find that, for me, jukai tends to interfere with the kind of practice I wish to participate in. In my case, for reasons I can't quite understand, juaki tends to encourage dependence rather than independence. So I've decided to drop it. For now.

I'm not doing this as any kind of official stance as head of Dogen Sangha. Other Dogen Sangha teachers can decide for themselves if they want to perform jukai or not. I've chosen not to on my own, for my own personal reasons. Other DS teachers are encouraged to approach the matter in whatever way they are comfortable with.

So there ya go. The jukai article!

Here are the talks I gave recently in Victoria, BC:

Nov. 17th Talk
Nov. 17th Q&A
Nov. 19th Public Talk
Nov. 22nd Zazenkai Talk

Remember I'm giving talks and leading sitting practice in St. Paul and Minneapolis starting Friday. Details are AT THIS LINK.

And the Zazen at Hill Street Center will be held as usual this Saturday even though I won't be there. The meetings are much better when I'm not around, they tell me.


James said...

Seems fair enough, teachers, like students should make up their own mind.

PhilBob-SquareHead said...

A couple of questions;

"1) to observe social rules"
What if the social rules included Not protesting your warmongering, present-day, wall street patsy President?

Would it be wrong to play "spiritual daddy" to a sangha of loose, liquored up, horny cheerleaders?

Mumon said...

I'm not interested in being anyone's "spiritual daddy," and that often seems to be what people are looking for when they ask to take the ceremony.

So, like, how does that square with your vow to offer the Dharma freely?

Seriously, you're already an ancestor; you can't help it. And, as gniz said, you're not a particularly bad one.

What you seem to point to is you're not comfortable with some of the reasons people seek to get jukai; but that's a matter apart (or should be) from what you, yourself do or don't do.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

It's really too bad that people get hung up on ideas about rules and the forms, etc. And the whole business of people using precepts (including monastic precepts) as a pretext for judging others is definitely %^$& annoying as %$#@.

There are lot's of good reasons to say goodbye to all that. But every precepts ceremony I've ever participated in has been a joyous event. I always cry. And their is usually cake.

Anonymous said...

Well I'm sorry you feel this way Brad
I have to say it is a pretty lame ceremony as these things go, walking around a chair three times (kinda like you lost the last round of musical chairs)
Even though it has a dorky aspect, it was still quite lovely and meaningful for me

I hope you do reconsider I wouldn't want to have gotten
anything not also available to others who are interested
otherwise I would have declined

as far as dependency goes as a result of the ceremony I haven't experienced that in myself or others at Hill St
I wouldn't know about anyone else

It was important for me to receive the precepts from you because I agree wholeheartedly with your take on the precepts

this is a connection to you, to Hill St DSLA sangha members which has meaning to me

I hope you will revisit this topic again


Anonymous said...

Do you need a receipt to be a Buddhist or does acting like a Buddhist make you a Buddhist?

Does taking Jukai mean that you now will keep the precepts more than if you didn't?

I don't know. From what I've seen Jukai can make people feel special and somehow superior to and separate from all the non-Buddhists in the world and that seems to sadden me.

gniz said...

I think I'm as much a Buddhist as any of these mofo's, but some would disagree.

I haven't taken the precepts.

Anonymous said...

Who are the other teachers in the Dogen Sangha?

Anonymous said...

"Who are the other teachers in the Dogen Sangha?"

Curly, Larry and Moe.

Brad Warner said...

There are a lot of Dogen Sangha teachers. Mike Leutchford in Bristol, England, Peter Rocca and Gerhard Wolfram in Tokyo, Michel Proulx and Jean-Marc Brazy in France, Dan Alon and Gil Alon (no relation) in Israel, Gabrielle Linnebach and Jurgen Seggelke in Germany... There are many more.

And PhilBob, yes, of course I would totally reconsider my decision if I were asked to play "spiritual daddy" to a sangha of loose, liquored up, horny cheerleaders. I figured that was understood.

It's true that jukai can be joyous and it's also true it can feed into feelings of superiority. All I can say is what I've said, that for me it just doesn't feel like the thing to do.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

There's a great line in an old Inspector Morse episode. Morse and his flunky, Lewis, have just finished interviewing a nun as part of some murder investigation. Later on, Lewis complains to his boss because he felt that the nun was "bein' all holier than thou", and Lewis found this annoying.

"She is holier than thou, Lewis," was Morse' reply.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it saves the bother of having to learn how to do the ceremony properly.

Anonymous said...

I find that, for me, jukai tends to interfere with the kind of practice I wish to participate in. I would totally reconsider my decision if I were asked to play "spiritual daddy" to a sangha of loose, liquored up, horny cheerleaders. I figured that was understood.

Because you are the type of teacher who does sleep with his students sometimes, I can understand your decision.

Mike Dolan Fliss said...

Gosh, I love the precepts. Maybe too much, I dunno. But they've been and are such interesting inquiries, for me. There's dozens of versions that all sort of shine light on each other, and awareness of them seems to shine light on whatever the fuck is that I'm doing. I have no idea what it means or how it feels that you're not offering Jukai anymore. I guess for me taking them more intently, or continually, seems to have helped steer me away from being a dickhead (moreso). I dunno what the ceremony means or is, and not sure what it means or is for me, either. I suppose I may end up just drilling into them, holding them more and more interestingly, til finally I'll feel behind in NOT taking them, like I should have already taken them. Maybe it will be similar to how I concluded I should just give up the need to be precise and be Buddhist already, after years of thinking about & reading about Buddhism, trying to grapple with my life using those tools, sitting, etc... even some academic study, all coming to: well geeze, I might as well get over myself already and accept a label, wrought with complexities as it is. Seems taking jukai would be like that for me right now. Interesting article, Brad, thanks. I'm interested though: did you take Jukai? Why/what'd it mean, if anything? And in retrospect, does that meaning look different? Read yer books, but would enjoy hearing more.

Mike Dolan Fliss said...

Well maybe not "love." I guess more precisely, I have great appreciative feeling for them that I enjoy, which is clearly appreciation for the jewels and for myself, all woven together. But this from a guy who has the three right-speech related precepts written on his toothbrush.

Which actually reminds me of one other question I've been meaning to pass AT you, Brad, from the ether. The whole "buddhism as transformative practice" thing. As for as relative bodhicitta goes, I guess you could say, there's all these practice that seem to have some effect. Otherwise, why practice? Yet they seem to point at an ungettable just "changing" isn't really the way to get from here to there. But it seems like the more changing, simplifying, reaching center you do...the more aware you might become of that distance between what is achievable through transformative practice and... I guess, what's always been and will always be. Seems like you gotta have these changes.... if only to get closer to being able to see there's no such thing as getting closer, or that thing that won't change. It's a funny thing. Anyway: "zen as transformative practice, ultimate/relative stuff".

Dan_Brodribb said...

I've been reluctant to take the precepts, not becase I'm worried I can't keep them, but because I find many occasions when I don't particularly WANT to keep them... even though I often know better.

In such cases I feel like a contestant on a game show, spinning the Karmic Wheel and then crossing my fingers and jumping up and down going "Come on, Come on...No consequences! No consequences!"

Shit. Consequences AGAIN! This game is rigged, man.

I'm not sure if I'll ever take an official ceremony, but I'm coming around to the idea of the taking the precepts in my heart, at least--mostly as a reminder to myself that even though it's fun to be the "bad boy" and there's a certain gleeful satisfaction on those times I think I was able to "pull one over on the Law of Cause and Effect" often turns out that I didn't get away with as much as I thought I did.

zenmite said...

In ZWIKDIC Brad said that there is no zen without rituals and ceremonies. Is there zen without the jukai ceremony? Why? Is there zen without the hungry ghost offering? Without bowing? Incense? Who gets to decide which ceremonies can be dropped without taking away the 'zen'? If Brad eventually drops all the rituals and ceremonies will it still be zen? If there is no zen without ritual and ceremony then zen must be a pretty fragile construct. The e-sangha crew believed there is no zen without literal rebirth. I sort of liked master Yun men's suggestion; "Chan (Zen)...can we get rid of that word?"

Mumon said...

Ven. Warner:

Good to see you actually engaging in the comments.

Your choice, of course, is your choice, but to tell you the truth, for me, taking jukai was a benefit, and if there was a feeling of superiority to that, well that's OK, because coupled with that - or perhaps way, way overpowering that, to me, was a feeling of obligation.

I wanted to be obliged to be a more moral and ethical person.

I fall woefully short today, and now, but taking refuge, and making vows is of import to me.

Your mileage varies, good for you.

But there is value in a ceremony where one vows to actually live a better life.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking: Genpo and _____ took vows, and look at their lives.

Well, you know, even though Blake was right about brothels being built with the bricks of religion, for us not to recognize that it's a bad thing to screw people over is a pretty bad thing in and of itself. So I'd rather social norms and ceremonies that commit us to not screwing each other over.

Your mileage varies, but that's why I took vows.

And it leads to a natural question:

Why did you take vows?

Mumon said...


I actually didn't ask for jukai.

My teacher told me I was getting jukai.

After quite a few years. Without my ever asking.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a question the head of any zen center is always working with:

what to keep, what to drop
what to include, what to cut

when you think about it, every living organism is doing this all the time

chants? no chants
a few chants--only at certain times, or every time
candles, incense, nothing
a statue of buddha, of kannon,
no statues

what is this space created so that others may also
explore ...

Chris said...

"The e-sangha crew believed there is no zen without literal rebirth"

E-Sangha, fortunately for the rest of us, is full of crap and people who would like to turn zen into a religion.

They believe there is no zen without literal rebirth, but what do they *know*?

Anonymous said...

"walking around a chair three times "


my lineage doesnt do that, juat alot of bowing. Does Jukai vary alot?

proulx michel said...

Anonymous said...

"Who are the other teachers in the Dogen Sangha?"

Curly, Larry and Moe.

I'm Curly...

Phoque! The "word" is fistie...

Anonymous said...

Any sangha-less, teacherless, London, England zen types should know that Mike Luetchford (correct sp) leads a retreat in London, usually on the second Sunday of every month (not the first, as it says on the site), in Bethnal Green. Contact details here:

Free trial offer! No obligation!
If you fancy it, please call/email beforehand.

Anonymous said...

Can never remember the precepts,
so here's a condensed version:

freedom from force and fraud


beware the State and the Church
(they'll do anything to control your body and mind)


free your mind and your ass will follow


don't hurt nobody; help 'em if you can


those who can be made to believe absurdities,
can be made to commit atrocities

(special thanks to Tom Paine, George Clinton,
Arthur Schopenhauer, and Voltaire)

Anonymous said...

well role call of the comment section here would have us believe only a few of the absurd end of the spectrum and a couple from the sublime end of the spectrum are missing....

welcome back everybody!


I think the jukai ceremony could be made to be more straight forward.
I envision a version more like a voting booth--
you step in, close the curtains and only take the precepts you have been keeping
you indicate those on some sort of temporary marking surface which automatically erases what you have indicated when the curtain is opened to let you out/let someone in

Did anyone ever notice it takes a long time to write out in words what was a brief little flash of a thought?

Too much time spent on this little wisp of an idea already

Gooday to everyone

Anonymous said...

sorry, with regard to above thought

you keep taking the precepts until you no longer wish/need to take them.
you take them until you are them or just can't take them no mo


Will said...

I didn't thake these precepts officer. I bought them from a guy down the White Swan.

zenmite said...

In China, where Zen began, Zen monasteries became distinct from other Buddhist monasteries with the famous rules of P'ai-chang (749-814) who supposedly prescribed a strict code of behavior for members of the monastic community and severe penalties for improper behavior. All of the classical accounts of Pai-chang's founding of an independent system of Ch'an monastic training, it turns out, may be traced back to a single source, "Regulations of the Ch'an Approach" (Ch'an-men Kuei-shih) written in approximately 960 A.D.19
According to this text,

"If the offender had committed a serious offense he was beaten with his own staff. His robe and bowl and other monkish implements were burned in front of the assembled community, and he was [thereby] expelled [from the order of Buddhist monks]. He was then thrown out [of the monastery] through a side gate as a sign of his disgrace.

The rules applied to everyone. P'ai-chang further recommended that "a spiritually perceptive and morally praiseworthy person was to be named as abbot." ---from Coming down from the Zen Clouds by Stuart Lachs

While Pai chang's rules were not precepts, (no one is sure exactly what the original rules were) it does seem there were pretty stiff consequences for breaking them. What was considered a serious offense I wonder?

Nathan said...

I did jukai last year, after about six years as a Buddhist practitioner. The longer I do this work, the more I think the precepts are at the core of what we're about. And doing the ceremony didn't make me feel special - if anything, it just reinforced that I better keep working and not worrying about what others think.

But sewing a rakasu and publicly declaring my intentions to uphold the precepts was also a wonderful experience because of the commitment being made, and the way in which making that commitment changed the way I approach my life. I'm less likely to slough off, let sloppy, negative behavior slide as long now, for one thing. And I can see more how the complexity of the precepts run through every action, every event. None of that makes me better than anyone else, I just feel more true to my life than in the past.

With that said, I think Brad alludes to an important point. If offering jukai to current practitioners means making an offering that will inflate one's sense of self, then it's best not to make the offer. If Brad doesn't feel the students he is regularly working with are ready, then why should he offer jukai?

In my opinion, being "ready" means that you won't be running around thinking you're better than others after the ceremony. In fact, if anything, you'll be more willing to see where you're screwing up in life, drop the "holy" mask, and just sit down and shut up for awhile.

mtto said...

And the Zazen at Hill Street Center will be held as usual this Saturday even though I won't be there. The meetings are much better when I'm not around, they tell me.

As Brad wrote above, there is zazen at Hill Street every Saturday. It isn't really better when he's not there. We used to sit extra periods when he was on the road. It was a more-zazen-is-better joke.

But it is still zazen when Brad is gone.

Smoggyrob said...

Hi everyone:

As one of the last people Brad gave jukai to...

I'm sorry?


Anonymous said...

there still is zazen at Hill Street even when Brad is out of town

even if it is zazen by alone, she (or he) with the key will still be opening the door for others who wish to join in wall gazing

sitting sans Brad vs sitting with Brad--well, there's just no comparison!


Anonymous said...

what would you be sorry about, Rob?

I like the fact Brad doesn't just go through the motions of a ceremony if he can't square it.

Somewhere in his talks (maybe he also wrote about this): last year while at Great Sky Sesshin I believe, he was sitting and realized that zazen was happening whether he was doing zazen or not.

I think perhaps something similar may develop out of such events as ceremonies: jukai and the like

I like Brad's version of the ceremony: reading off the printed page, completely devoid of any hint of pomposity. There is NOTHING mystical/magical about the event.

There is just doing it, no big deal. I like that.
I like that a lot.

This approach has been extremely helpful to me.

Rich said...

Brad said:
"I've decided to stop performing and officiating jukai ceremonies myself. I'm not saying I'll never do one again. But for now I am no longer offering them to anyone. I made this decision because I found that I am highly uncomfortable with the expectations that often come up from people who have taken the ceremony. I'm not interested in being anyone's "spiritual daddy," and that often seems to be what people are looking for when they ask to take the ceremony. I find that, for me, jukai tends to interfere with the kind of practice I wish to participate in. In my case, for reasons I can't quite understand, juaki tends to encourage dependence rather than independence. So I've decided to drop it. For now."

Over 2500 hundred years ago when someone wanted to become a student / diciple either lay or monastic of the Buddha, a simple ceremony was held and a commitment was made to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and a few precepts. I don't remember the names but this was recorded in at least two of the earliest sutras which would have been about 200 years after Buddhas death.

Dogen said "The Buddha's truth is not your own Buddha's truth; it is the Buddha's truth of the Buddhist patriaechs, and it is the Buddha's truth of the Buddha's truth.

Rich said...

Brad, My question is, do you teach based on your personal feelings or do you honor the traditions of the Buddha and the patriarchs?

Lauren said...


Perhaps you felt some sting that you might be the one Brad was thinking had "spiritual Daddy" issues, 'cause I've been thinking he meant me.

Lord knows all sorts of human stuff comes up (and out) on this path, and Jukai is indeed a big punctuation mark that can churn up more. I would imagine that all who officiate Jukais see some interesting human reactions to the event, but how can this be "wrong" or anything to be sorry about? We're all human ain't we?

Brad Warner said...

The "spiritual daddy" comment wasn't so much about people I've done Jukai for as the people who've been asking about it. And that's why I'm stopping.

As for whether I "teach based on your personal feelings or ... honor the traditions of the Buddha and the patriarchs," I'd have to say it's definitely based more on personal feelings.

What I do is a kind of Buddhism. I believe that. But I'm not really into tradition. Not because I hate tradition, but because I don't really "get" it & I feel dishonest if I pretend that I do.

Rich said...

Ok, thanks for clarifying and being honest.

Anonymous said...

We Americans do love to interpret things based on our 'feelings'. Gets us into a lot of trouble.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:09

You do know that the patriarchs and the ancestors and assorted monks made this shit up?

You do know that even Shakyamuni made stuff up and then others followed it.

So in fact making shit up and changing the past is just what someone who is a Dharam Heir is supposed to do.

Even more so when Buddhism crosses continents and adopts to new cultures.

So you could argue that Brad is in fact being ultra-traditional in not following tradition.

Anyway, if Jukai is Jukai does it make a difference if the ceremonial monk is Brad or Jundo or Genpo?

Does Gempo giving Jukai make it more magical than if Brad did it? Does taking Jukai from Gempo rather than Brad make it more likely that you will 'attain' something?

Surely Jukai is just an imported ceremony from Japan that splits people into three types - Non-Buddhists, Lay Practicioners and Monks. All three can stare at the same wall in the same Zendo and have the same insights and the same aching limbs.

Where is the difference?

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Mumon said...


Thanks again for the comments. Yeah, clearly if you have the sense that the students are being hindered by jukai, that's well understood.

I don't see the benefit in such a categorical statement, as jukai, like marriage ceremonies or even house sale-closings, are a form of ceremonial, performative speech.

In such speech, the "authenticity" of the speech lies not in how you or the other participants feel about the speech but in about how that speech maps into the rest of the participants' lives going onwards.

So, considering all of the above, I myself could probably play "Drop the A-Bomb on Me," even if I don't get it, if I felt there was some reason connected to my and others' future behavior that was beneficial.

I think, btw, that "traditions" versus "feelings" is a loaded question, because "observations and facts" don't exactly enter into it.

Steve said...

Damn...and I was so looking forward to Brad being my daddy...oh, wait, spiritual daddy. Nevermind.

Nicole said...


Anonymous said...

i'm making my own JUKAI CEREMONY in 12 days!
Endless Bows