Sangha Voices Summer 2018

Taking the Jukai  by Vickie Reiju Cumberland

A few months ago, I took Jukai with Karen Maezen Miller at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles.  This sounds kind of exotic, but really it’s not. Maezen is my teacher. Los Angeles is where she practices.  It’s as simple as that. Lama Matt asked me to write a few words, so here goes.

First of all, whether it’s Tibetan or Zen, Buddhism is Buddhism.  It all comes from the same place. Jukai is the Zen equivalent of the Refuge Ceremony and the Bodhisattva Precepts.  During the ceremony, the student takes vows to “Be one with the Buddha. Be one with the Dharma. Be one with the Sangha.”  And then commits to following The Three Pure Precepts and The Ten Grave Precepts. The teacher then asks,” Will you maintain them well?  Will you maintain them well? Will you really maintain them well.”  I had piddled around for almost a year between the time I told Maezen I would like to take Jukai and when I actually did, and I had a lot of time to think about the vows and if I could really maintain them well.  She told me that the vows were not commandments, but the path to end suffering. It’s a subtle shift in perception, but one I can’t stop thinking about. Nyogen Roshi said, “Precepts are not prohibitions based upon Judeo-Christian standards, they are a statement of why we suffer”.

By taking Jukai with a teacher, you are also committing to a formal relationship with that teacher.  I have appreciated and admired Maezen’s wisdom from the first time she came to The Rime Center and gave a dharma talk, probably ten or eleven years ago.  I have attended many retreats since then and each time, the connection with my teacher deepens. But I have never felt that connection as strongly as when she handed me my Rakusu during Jukai.  We were, at that instant, one. One with the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha. Transmission of the dharma.

The Rakusu is a bib-like garment, an abbreviated robe, made of many small pieces of black cloth sewn together.  This is symbolic of an ancient custom where upon entering the Buddhist Sangha, a person’s robes were made of discarded cloth gleaned from the town dump.  In the Zen tradition, putting on the Rakusu for zazen or for service is a renewal of the vows.

My name is Reiju.  My practice is counting my breath.