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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
88 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 1 6 Twenty years ago I took part in a jukai ceremony and received the precepts. I had debated with myself over whether to make such a public declaration, and then I read a description that likened the precepts to logs laid across a marsh: they were there to help you in your journey. I went ahead with the ceremony and have never regretted it. However, at the time, even though many people sew a rakusu, or buddha robe, as part of jukai, I accepted the option not to. On the one hand, though I feel dedicated to the study and practice of the dharma, IamnotsurethatIcan confidently call myself a Buddhist. The terms “Bud- dhism” and “Buddhist” are only a couple of hundred years old and of Western origin. They’re generalized terms that refer to such a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices that they almost lose any meaning for me. On the other hand, my formal practice over the years has always been grounded in the tradition of Soto Zen. I am a resident of a Soto Zen practice community. We regularly start our day with zazen and a morning service; more often than not, I am the doan for that service, leading the chants and ringing the bells. Can I consider myself not to be a Buddhist when I am so clearly living out the forms of this dharma path? Over the years, I became increasingly conscious of my choice not to sew a rakusu. Some years back, I read about a prominent woman Buddhist teacher in the West who Journeys threads from my past by carl hultman sewed her rakusu out of colorful cast-off material; it looked nothing like a traditional one. I liked this idea. It goes back to the ear- liest days, though that early sangha stuck to earth tones for its robes. It occurred to me that I had an old piece of material that, if it were used for a rakusu, would hold mean- ing for me: my old Class A’s hanging in my closet, my dress green uniform from when I was an officer in the army. I had been an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam in 1968 and ‘69. When I returned from overseas, I spent my last summer in the military as a Survivors Assistance Offi- cer. One of our jobs was arranging military funerals. I was the guy in charge of the fir- ing squad that offered the traditional three- gun salute, and it was I who accepted the folded flag from the coffin and presented it to the next of kin. I was always wearing my dress greens. With help from other residents, my uni- form was transformed into a buddha robe. The finished rakusu was army green with black straps and a tan back, my military col- ors; the neck straps were fashioned from the wide black trim that went down the outer seam of my officer’s trousers. For the cloth on the back, which is usually white, we used tan fabric that matched my army dress shirt. It’s a little simplistic to compare the transformation of my military uniform into a Buddhist robe with my own transforma- tion from a young military leader in combat to a dedicated student and practitioner of the buddhadharma, but the parallels are there. I am quite looking forward to practic- ing with a rakusu. I am not sure why, but by incorporating my past, it has taken on more meaning than I had imagined. Carl hultMan is the executive director of the hokyoji Zen Practice Community in southeastern Minnesota. hoKoKarneGis