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Buddhadharma : Spring 2015
is beginning to mature, and we see them as serious Zen practitioners, without ordination. Then the question becomes, what is ordination for? What’s the difference between the ordained person and the non-ordained person? I think that challenges us. For me, the priesthood increasingly is about service; ordination emerges as “I want to serve.” We need to look at what ordination means without an expectation that there’s a way of making a living at the end of it because in the conceivable future, there isn’t. em: I have spent two decades navigating what it means to have three children and a wife and to live the life of someone who relies on the community for support. I think it was really healthy, in my case, to be challenged with having to step out and not be supported in any kind of conventional way. When I talk with young people who are afraid about making it in the world, I say, “Look, we have to give our life over to generosity, not because we think we’ll get something but because that’s the only true way to live—whether you’re working a job or you’re living on alms, it’s really the same thing.” You’ve got to risk that. You’ve got to risk your livelihood to really find out what livelihood is really about. Jf: I also think we need priests who are ministers, who will lead religious congregations, in addition to the great project of awakening. I really hope we can find a growing number of people who are willing to take this reckless chance of acquiring the skill sets and putting up a Sunday-worship service, something built around the grown-ups but also for the kids. em: Recently another priest and I were talking about the state of Soto Zen Buddhism in North America, specifically about the age bracket we’re in as teachers. Both of us are in our forties, and we’re not seeing much of a cohort. One of the questions that came up is, are we discouraging young people from taking up the path of a Zen priest, and beyond that, are our communities and institutions supporting the possibility of people engaging the vocation of priestly life? Jf: I think there are going to be a whole bunch of experiments in how this comes together. I am worried about the relatively small number of people younger than we boomers. We’re going to start falling away really soon, and you guys are going to be stuck with the mess we made. What can I say? Good luck! em: Thanks! My concern is that when I look at Soto Zen in the West, I see many, many obstacles to that path of ordination. It looks as if sometimes a young person who’s on fire is just told to wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. And pretty soon they take up another career, maybe get married, have children, and then they’re thirty-seven and they’ve got a mortgage. So taking that fire into the commitment of a priestly life seems to be really discouraged. I worry that we’re not tapping the inspiration of people at that point when they’re ready to blow out the stops a little bit. Jf: Then there are the people who want to ordain but haven’t—often their practice JAMES MyOuN FORD is a senior guiding teacher with Boundless way Zen and a unitarian universalist minister. EJO MCMuLLEN is the resident priest of Buddha eye temple in eugene, oregon. Both are Soto Zen priests. James myoun ford and ejo mcmullen discuss why it’s becoming harder and harder to get young people to ordain dialogues 24 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 1 5 PHOTOS(TOP)evankaufman(BOTTOM)UNkNOwN