Receiving the Buddhist Precepts
What does having Jukai mean?
Literally, jukai means to receive (ju) the precepts. (kai) In practical terms, receiving the precepts means agreeing to follow the Buddha Way, to embody the Buddha way. Jukai is sometimes called lay ordination (as opposed to home-leaving ordination for monks and nuns). While all Zen students study the precepts, having the ceremony of jukai to formally receive the precepts from your teacher (called Kaishi) is a step in practice that affirms your commitment to follow the Buddha Way.
“Receiving the precepts is entering the way.” says our Founding Teacher Dogen Zenji, “…entering dharma is always receiving the precepts. Without receiving the precepts, one is not a disciple of buddhas, not a descendent of ancestors.” He further says that “When beings receive the Buddha’s precepts, they attain the level of all Buddhas. They are truly the children of the Buddhas.”
In fact,when you receive the precepts, you receive a lineage – an acknowledgement of your place in the Buddha family. The buddhas and ancestors become your spiritual family. This is signified by receiving a kechimyaku (lineage chart). That kechimyaku has a red line (signifying a blood lineage) starting with Shakyamuni Buddha, passing through the Indian ancestor teachers, Chinese ancestor teachers and Japanese ancestor teachers down through Maezumi Roshi to Myoyu Roshi and then returning to Shakyamuni Buddha.
When is the appropriate time for a student to receive jukai ?
Here are some minimum guidelines for readiness to receive jukai:
- to have a sincere desire to commit to follow the Buddha Way
- to have become a student member of GPZC (a student of Myoyu Roshi)
- to have practiced for at least 1-2 years with the GPZC sangha
- to sit with a group regularly, ideally, weekly. Or to regularly attend monthly half-day sittings in Monroe
- have a regular (ideally daily) sitting practice at home
- to have regularly attended teisho and Dharma talks
- to regularly participate in the Day of Reflection.
- to have attended at least 3 session or zazenkai
- to have taken a few classes that touch on the shadow aspect of your self (for example Where Compassion Begins, writing workshops, shadow workshop, Narrative Identity, classes offered by the Harmony Circle on ethical guidelines)
What happens in preparation for jukai?
- Formally ask to receive the precepts from Myoyu Roshi
- Make a rakusu in the nyo-ho-e style (with guidance) This is the rectangular patchwork garment that is worn on the chest with neck straps.
- Complete the lineage chart (kechimyaku)
- Take the series of jukai classes
What happens when you take jukai?
There will be a the ceremony of jukai (receiving the precepts). Family and friends can attend. It is mportant that others witness your commitment visibly. You witness it, too, by physically putting on the rakusu, feeling the weight of the rakusu, which you will now wear during sitting and most other GPZC events. This is not trivial. Wearing the rakusu is a manifestation of your Buddha nature – whether you believe it or not. Seeing someone else wearing a rakusu can be encouraging to your practice as well. Wearing a rakusu signifies that they have had jukai and have made a commitment to follow the Buddha Way.
Wearing a rakusu itself can be very meaningful and influences how you act. It also influences others who tend to look to you as an exemplar because you are wearing a rakusu. While having jukai gives someone some seniority, jukai is not about rank. It is really about affirming your commitment to follow the Buddha Way and serve the Sangha, the community of practitioners.
Receiving jukai does not conflict with any other religious tradition as far as Buddhism is concerned. In fact, there are those who take jukai and also have strong ties to another faith.
At jukai, you will also receive a Dharma name, that is written along with the verse of the kesa on the back of your rakusu by your teacher. The name is usually two Japanese characters (kanji), for example “Myoshin” meaning Subtle Mind. Usually the name is spoken in Japanese. The Teacher chooses the name for the student although the student is welcome to suggest a name or part of a name that has meaning for them. From that point on, your Dharma name is the name you use at GPZC functions.