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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
buddhadharma| 55 |summer 2005 on the Platform Sutra, but he didn’t have time. So when we were with Suzuki Roshi our attention was focused on his teach- ing and understanding of dharma. After his passing in 1971, we began studying and teaching classes, developing a study center, and learning something about Buddhism and Zen. After many years of study, we could finally see how accu- rate Suzuki Roshi’s understanding of Buddhism was. When the founder is gone, it is natu- ral for the students to study more and to broaden our knowledge, as well as to define our practice and create catego- ries and standards. Although our priests learn the liturgy and the service positions, train in the various monastic positions, and study the appropriate literature, we have never established a formal curricu- lum for training, even though there have been attempts to do so. But I think we are in a position where such a curriculum would be helpful, and would not sacrifice the fundamental intuitive quality that is the basis of our practice. Now thirty-four years after the founder’s death, how do we think about priest practice, lay practice, and monk’s practice, aside from not knowing what a priest is. Priest ordination is not as common as it was twenty-five-odd years ago, when it was considered to be the prime aspiration for a student at the San Francisco Zen Center. Since that time we have not been ordaining as many, but allowing some space to harmonize lay and priest practice. I think it is important to remember that although Suzuki Roshi ordained a number of priests, he was equally committed to his lay practitioners. My rule of thumb for ordaining a Zen priest is that the candidate must already be practicing with the same attitude as a priest. Then, after at least five years, ordination can become a natural step, an acknowledgment and an encouragement to continue. I think of a priest as someone who doesn’t have any other ambition and whose whole life is devoted to practice for the sake of practice. One’s practice is wholehearted and selfless, accompa- nied by a strong desire to understand the dharma. One is ready and willing to help and support others, and that willing- ness comes before one’s own attainment. Heart Sutra, Oil on panel, by Reverend Sunya Vajra Karuna One’s practice is steady and continuous, not contentious, competitive, materialis- tic, or easily discouraged. Most impor- tantly, one is not doing it for one’s own self-aggrandizement, or for gain or posi- tion. A priest should remain upright and honest and set an example for others. Sometimes a student will ask if they can be ordained as a priest and I may say, “Yes” or “No” or “Perhaps sometime.” If I say to someone that it might be a good idea sometime in the future, responding in that way allows them to consider what it might feel like as a possibility, and then to sit with that for a while. We may have the desire, but to ask the question and get a response puts it in a new light. There are many excellent students who practice in a steady and mature way, and yet it wouldn’t be right for them to take on the burden of priesthood. This is why lay ordination is so important. As a lay- person, one practices in the world and utilizes the forms of the world as forms of practice, which is a very advanced way. This can also be an important part of a priest’s experience. A priest puts on the full robes, shaves his or her head, and is a more visible example, inviting feedback.