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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
summer 2005| 56 |buddhadharma A layperson is less visible and must prac- tice in a sometimes hostile or unsympa- thetic atmosphere, without getting lost or discouraged. Suzuki Roshi once said that one must be a good lay student in order to be a good priest. Lay ordination and priest ordination are two tracks, and in the middle is the monk. The terms apply to both men and women. According to my understanding, a monk is a person who is practicing in a monastic situation and can be either lay or priest. The term monk indicates the kind of practice one is doing rather than the type of ordination one has. When we attend prac- tice period at Tassajara, we are all monks participating in the same way. Eventually, some of the monks should and will become priests, and some lay stu- dents will spend an appropriate amount of time in residence at Zen Center and then return to a more worldly life. Hopefully, they will continue practice as laypeople involved with Zen Center, while living in the larger society. This style of lay practice is very important and vital, and lay ordination is an acknowledgment of that connection. To be ordained into the sangha as a layperson or a priest are both equally valid. We take the same six- teen precepts. But a layperson lives and sets an example within society, while the priest takes care of the sangha, makes the practice available, and is responsible for carrying the tradition forward, both in its historical and emerging aspects. Many laypeople who have practiced a good number of years have actually taken on the same responsibilities as a priest. They are practice leaders, they teach classes, and hold key positions. For some time, we have been thinking about how to acknowledge and give formal recognition to this kind of practitioner. We will continue to work on this. As far as I know, this type of formal recognition will be something new for our school. We have the unusual circumstance of having longtime resident students who are not priests, but who cannot properly be called laypersons either. I have begun giving a certificate of lay recognition to some long- time practitioners − I call it lay entrustment. It authorizes that person to teach, but not to ordain others, as I feel that to be the task of a transmitted priest. In Japan, college-age boys from temple families go to the monastery for a few years of rigorous training before return- ing to the family temple. They have a different kind of training than we do. They are all ordained as novices, so the atmosphere is quite different. They also come from a cohesive Buddhist culture and have not yet journeyed into their adult life. Here at Zen Center, we have many kinds of people from diverse back- grounds, ages, and levels of experience, which makes our system far more com- plex. In Japan, the student is ordained as a novice and then begins the practice. Here, we practice for many years before becoming ordained. In the history of Buddhism, the celibate monk has always been treated in a special way. Having given up all worldly desires and ambitions in order to practice with complete devotion, the monk is supported by the laity. In return, the monk prac- tices virtuously and acts as a teacher and guide for society. As we say in our meal chant upon receiving the food offering, “May our virtue and practice deserve it.” Although our priests are not expected to be celibate, they are expected to be faithful in relationship and not promiscuous. One problem that arises is that because a person is a priest, one might think he or she must be very special. Then, many people may want to be a little bit spe- cial. But my feeling is that a priest is a servant of the sangha. In other words, rather than being put on a pedestal, I believe that priests should direct their energy toward serving the sangha. When priests selflessly serve and provide lead- ership with sincere effort and humility, (Opposite) Calligraphy by Jakusho Kwong Roshi they are spontaneously honored by the sangha. Respect has to be earned. The function of a priest is to set that kind of example for the sangha and provide the glue that holds it together. It is a rather humble position and at the same time a noble one. The respect must be earned − it is not automatic − and one of the worst things a priest can do is use the position to lord it over people, or as a means to acquire a powerful advantage. It can also be a problem if a sangha of priests is seen as an elite or privileged group. There are some schools that only recognize the ordained monks as sangha. But for us, the sangha includes all practi- tioners, and in a wider sense, it includes all beings − not only humans, but trees, rivers, mountains, and the animal kingdom. Originally, the sangha was made up of monks who were supported solely by the laity. But in our sanghas there is no laity to support priests or monks in the tradi- tional way. We have had to develop inno- vative ways, such as providing programs for the public and services like the sum- mer guest season at Tassajara. Sometimes priests must go out to work. I think it’s a good idea at some point for a priest to do this, to test their practice and then come back again and be visible as a priest. The overlap of priest and lay can some- times lead to confusion. But I’m not wor- ried about the confusion. The priest has a path within the practice, and the layperson also has a path within the practice. Rather than interfering with each other, they can and should be mutually supportive. We are all in the same dharma boat, but each one is at a different stage of development and understanding. We can all practice together harmoniously if we know where we are moment by moment and treat each other with love and respect, being aware of both our abilities and shortcomings. In the Asian countries, there is more of a distinction between priest and lay. For instance, in Japan, if you are a carpenter,