I take refuge in Buddha.
I take refuge in dharma.
I take refuge in sangha.
On Aug. 21, with six members of my sangha, I underwent lay ordination, jukai, and took Buddhist precepts. We entered the zendo, where 50 of our friends, family members and sangha members sat as audience, in a procession with the music of inkans, clappers and drum.The ceremony was one of great formality and theater, as we seven sat on our cushions in front of the altar. In addition to our teachers, Tony Patchell and Darlene Cohen, there were about six other Zen priests in attendance, in full robes. We chanted, bowed, moved carefully and with awareness.
But underneath all of the ceremony was a bubbling joy, an effervescent excitement. It was irrepressible. Early on, Darlene blessed the room with holy water. She bent over a cup of water, murmuring very soft incantations. The entire room hushed, straining to hear her. Then she dipped a pine sprig into the water, and walked over to the altar, spraying droplets on the altar. She then came in front of those of us going through jukai, and sent water in our direction. As she flung water from the pine bough towards me, it caught me full in the face. She smiled impishly and said, "Ah, direct hit!" The entire room broke into laughter.
As we moved from that point into our vows, taking the 16 precepts, the energy of the room, of our practice together, of that afternoon, carried us. First we recited the three treasures, named above, each one three times. Then we went through the three pure precepts: Do good. Avoid doing evil. Work for the benefit of others.
Finally, there are the 10 grave precepts: 1) Do not kill. 2) Do not steal. 3) Do not misuse sexuality. 4) Do not lie. 5) Do not cloud the mind. 6) Do not speak of other's errors or faults. 7) Do not elevate the self above others. 8) Do not be withholding. 9) Do not be angry. 10) Do not defile the Three Treasures.
Our teachers asked us question after question, querying us, will you uphold these principles? And we would respond: "Yes, I will." Always, always, three times for each concept.
The repetition, the vocalization of vow in front of those we love, had a profound and deep affect on all of us that day, I think. I know it did on me.
I have been living a life committed to the path of Zen Buddhism for some time now. But on that Saturday in August, when I spoke my vows aloud, I affirmed my belief in a new way, with a renewed vigor. And I now feel more centered within my practice than ever before. It is easy to discount ceremony as pomp and frill - but there is something to the magic that happens when a group of people gathers together and performs a ritual act. Lives can and do change.