"Virtuous people, the words of the King of the Supreme Law are true, accord with reality and are neither deceitful nor false, unlike those of the heretics whose sermons are arbitrary and aimless. Now listen attentively; your faith in me shall not be in vain." - Buddha
"Driven only by fear, do men go for refuge to many places — to hills, woods, groves, trees and shrines. Such, indeed, is no safe refuge; such is not the refuge supreme. Not by resorting to such a refuge is one released from all suffering. He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Teaching and his Order, penetrates with transcendental wisdom the Four Noble Truths — suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of suffering. This indeed is the safe refuge, this the refuge supreme. Having gone to such a refuge, one is released from all suffering."— Dhammapada 188-192
The Importance of Dharma Study
The scriptures (sutras) tell us that Buddha rains down the Buddha Dharma on all beings in all worlds, past, present, and future. There are none that do not have buddha nature and cannot awaken to the supreme enlightenment.
Though we may not know it, we already possess it. Our buddha nature is our very existence. Yet, unless we learn to make use of it and put it into daily practice the goal of realizing it, it remains very distant from us. Some people mistakenly believe that they must rely upon the favor or grace of a supreme deity, that we cannot accomplish any good thing of our own efforts. In Buddhism we call this a misguided belief in “other power”. As practicers working towards awakening to our innate buddha nature we cannot accept this radical dualism of self and other power. The power within each of us, our buddha nature is always both our own power and the power of the Buddha embodied in us.
Our four part vow: to save everyone, to remove all hindrances to awakening, to study all the teachings, and to attain the Buddha way of supreme awakening is what we have devoted ourselves to pursuing through integrating these four bodhisattva vows into our daily life. Indeed, it is a fundamental tenet of our Mahayana Buddhism that we should live a life of helping others- that our very salvation is a matter of sharing the buddha dharma.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE SZC FORMAL PRACTICE PATH (Student Program of Study)
Osho’s (Reverend Daito Thompson- Osho) Transmission
Establishment of a formal practice path for members of the SZC is the culmination of a program of following training stages aligned with those of the Soto Shu. This was undertaken by the Osho as a result of clarification of the SZC formal practice, toward recognition as a fully ordained and transmitted Zen priest.
The process took into account the Osho’s years of training with The late Reverend Dr. Soyu Matsuoka- Roshi (such a program would normally require a minimum of ten years). Transmission in the Matsuoka-roshi lineage, SZC students will be eligible for formal transmission in our Founder’s line.
The late Reverend Dr. Soyu Matsuoka- Roshi used the term “disciple” for his students, once they had made a serious commitment to practice. He laid out a simple, three-step outline of training stages at the Osho’s request, after the incorporation of Zen Center. The first is “Serious Zen Student,” one who undergoes Jukai (five lay precepts) Initiation, then “Zen Discipleship,” (assistant to the Osho) followed by “Zen Priest” (Zen Teacher). Up until the present, there was little need to go beyond the parameters that the late Reverend Dr. Soyu Matsuoka- Roshi defined. With the advent of a larger practice community, when many other lineages and their followers have arisen in the USA, it is incumbent upon the members of SZC to ensure that its lineage is not questioned as to authenticity or authority.
The formal process that SZC adopted aligns its stages of training more closely with those that are standard for other American Zen centers. As a consequence, the Matsuoka lineage is now recognized as legitimate, and its disciples — students and teachers — accepted without question, by the larger Zen community. Within its family, SZC is free to maintain traditions that are somewhat different from other lineages, and of course exercises total discretion as to how it organize its program, faculty and staff, and the administration of its affiliate network.
There are unintended consequences of any action taken in the context of a group of people. The implementation of any structure may be misconstrued as divisive to the sangha, e. g. by differentiating stages of training. This is a natural human tendency that all are encouraged to resist. The intent is just the opposite — to foster harmony in the sangha through greater clarity of practice path, and a more consistent approach to the ritual and protocol that we practice.
Ritual and protocol are central to the cohesion of any group. The changes that the sangha has witnessed, and that its disciples are learning, are relatively trivial, and designed to bring SZC’s public service into greater conformity with the familiar standards of other centers. From anecdotal evidence as reported by visitors from other sanghas, it appears to be working. Those who have felt resistance to the changes are asked to practice patience and in rare cases, asked to leave the sangha. Those that are continually disruptive may be forever banned from the sangha by the Osho.
Not for Everyone
Zen is for everyone, as Sensei often said. But formal recognition may not be. Offering a path to formal recognition is not the same as suggesting that anyone should pursue it. How one actualizes the Zen life is a personal matter. One’s practice is not made more genuine by the trappings of formality. The establishment of genuine Zen practice should be the personal goal of the individual member, and supporting that effort is the central objective of a Zen community.
Students and practitioners of SZC network may not wish to pursue a formal path to become either lay teacher or priest. The program offered by SZC is directed primarily to lay practice, as our Founder believed this to be the future of Zen in America. All members of the SZC sangha are presently engaged in living lives of family, career, and social engagement.
Credentials vs Status
As The late Reverend Dr. Soyu Matsuoka- Roshi once said, we live in a credentialed society; without credentials, no one will listen. The Osho agreed to become his disciple, understanding that this was to enable one to train others in Zen, particularly Zen meditation. However, this aspect of the practice path is secondary to personal practice on the cushion, and that is the way everyone should regard it.
Those who make the commitment to formal training do so in order to serve the sangha. Those who pursue more formal stages of training take on greater responsibility — not to be confused with greater status — within the sangha. Please check your self-ish “ego” at the door, as Sensei often said.
As Master Rinzai is said to have taught, “Above this mass of reddish flesh, there resides a true person of no stature, constantly coming and going through the six portals.” Please do not “mix up Zen” (a Matsuoka-ism) with ideas of stature.
PRACTICE PATH for ZEN LAY TEACHER or ZEN PRIEST
Stages of Training
The stages of training available through SZC begin with training as a Newcomer, and the option of becoming the Jukai Initiate. Jukai Initiation (Jap. Jukai), is open to anyone who is sincerely interested in practicing Zen. This is a personal choice, not a formal stage of training, but is considered a prerequisite for undertaking either lay ordination (Jap. Zaike Tokudo), or priest ordination (Jap. Shukke Tokudo). Vestment (wagesa).
The SZC will recognize three highest levels of training and recognition, that of Zen Lay Teacher (Zen Disciple), Vocational Teacher, and that of Zen Priest. These three options allow individual candidates to assess which path fits their personality and lifestyle needs most appropriately. A person who completes the prerequisites for the former may, at a later time in life, opt to pursue the completion of the latter. This will vary on a case-by-case basis, of course. The details of practice path requirements are presented in outline form elsewhere. Here, an overview of the differences is offered to relieve any confusion.
Broadly, the practice paths are very similar. particularly in the beginning phases. The requirements for a Transmitted Zen Priest have a longer term, and are somewhat more stringent, than those for a Certified Zen Lay Teacher and Vocation Teacher. The latter is more oriented to the scholarly mindset, the former to teaching by example. The main operational difference upon completion of any of the programs is that, only a transmitted priest is authorized to transmit others.
Consequently, training in the three bases: Buddha-zazen, Dharma-study, and Sangha- service; has a slightly different emphasis for a priest than for a lay teacher. Both are expected to be deeply devoted to zazen. A teacher should excel in dharma study and exposition, and need not offer sangha services beyond leading zazen. A priest should be dedicated to sangha service, and need not be as strong in intellectual dharma exposition.
Zen Lay Teacher Certification
SZC is a lay practice lineage, and honors that legacy by establishing a Lay Teacher certification, credentialing those who choose this path for teaching Zen Buddhism, and authorizing them to perform such ceremonies for others. In this way, SZC fosters robust practice for the layperson who maintains a household and other social obligations.
Vocational Teacher Certification
SZC recognizes the value in various vocational studies that align with the Buddha Sangha and Buddha Dharma and encourages individuals to align their vocation in the spirit of the Buddha’s “right livelihood”.
Zen Priest Transmission
With the mainstreaming of Zen in America, and the formal recognition of SZC’s founder, offering full transmission as a Zen Priest has become possible, if not a necessity, credentialing those who choose this path for living the example of Zen Buddhism, and enhancing Zen training by authorizing others. In this way, SZC opens wide the gate for those who are willing and able to commit to a deep level of service to the Zen community.
In undertaking either training path, one must participate in all three areas of training, which we organize under the Three Treasure headings of “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha”:
Buddha practice is participation in the tradition of Zen meditation, or zazen. Prerequisites are defined as time on the cushion. This is the central and most important qualifying activity on the curriculum of the SZC.
Dharma practice comprises Ancestor study, including the written record as well as live review and participatory engagement in the teachings of contemporary mentors. It is secondary to zazen, but not separate; through buddha practice one understands dharma, and through dharma study one understands buddha practice.
Sangha practice encompasses the many traditional forms of service to the Zen community, such as opening and closing the zendo; participating in and conducting formal services for the community; giving zazen instruction and dharma talks; maintaining the program and facility; and otherwise enhancing the Zen practice of others through skillful means. This also sometimes requires going beyond the traditional, and extends to the larger community of which the Zen sangha is a part.
The three dimensions of the practice path outlined above are not separable from one’s personal path, but each individual will have a unique relationship to the three. Therefore it is meaningful to posit a fourth dimension, the “person,” in synergetic relationship to the other three.
Personal practice includes all the dimensions of the Zen life that take place off the cushion and away from the Zen center and sangha, such as right conduct: speech, action and livelihood; the dharma of family life; secular teaching, and service to the larger cultural community.
The unique characteristics of one’s personal life will play a central role in determining one’s proclivity for the particular practice path followed, and the appropriateness of the level of practice to which one might aspire. These conditions change over time, with time of life changes, health and other issues, and lifestyle choices. The minimum annual Practice Discussion is intended to allow for adjustments and adaptations to conditions, in consultation with one’s teacher, as one proceeds along a practice path, or shifts direction.
Buddha Practice: Zazen
As all dimensions of Zen practice are brought into focus on the cushion, the most important prerequisite in the Matsuoka lineage, for either lay practice or priest training, is one’s devotion to the practice of zazen.
Dharma Practice: Study
Ancestrial study is one of two tracks that Master Dogen posited as necessary for complete training, the other being zazen or shikantaza. He said that they are like two stones that should be rubbed together, one in each hand, until there is no gap between them. The problem with study is that there is so much available in the written record, it is difficult to narrow it down to essentials.
In the Matsuoka lineage, certain teachings are considered more central than others, particularly those that deal directly with zazen. Teachings of Soto lineage teachers, beginning with Matsuoka-roshi’s written record, as well as those of his contemporaries, and from there back to Tozan, the founder of Soto Zen in China, are the logical place to begin. Then one should trace back through pre-Soto Ancestors in China, and finally selected precursors in India, culminating with the Sutras of Shakyamuni Buddha, representing a full range of the breadth and depth of dharma.
Teachers and teachings of other Zen traditions (e.g. Rinzai) and countries of origin (e.g. Korea), and other Buddhist sects (e.g. Theravadin) may be studied for “extra credit” but will not be considered essential, or a substitution for Soto texts.
Comprehension is a difficult thing to measure. The vehicle for expressing it is through Dharma talks and participation in Hossen and Dokusan, or written discourse, as well as informal discussions with your teacher.
A bibliography recommended for study is available upon request, listing basic teachings with which both the Lay Teacher or Zen Priest should be familiar. They should be able to discuss these intelligently, clarifying misconceptions that a student may bring up. The list is necessarily incomplete, in the sense of representing a comprehensive bibliography of all essential teachings. New translations are coming available at a rate that makes it difficult to keep the list current.
Sangha Practice: Service
Service to the community is perhaps the most important dimension for those who join a sangha dedicated to the Zen Buddhist view and way of life. But without Dharma study and especially sitting zazen, it can become a hindrance to real progress in one’s training.
Sangha practice is at once the most rewarding or pleasant, yet the most entangling and complicated, dimension of Zen training. It is much different seen from the perspective of long practice of zazen and dharma study than it seems in the beginning of one’s practice. It is important to learn how to welcome and treat members and the public, from the perspective of a newcomer when one has taken the position of a disciple in service to the community.
In defining prerequisites for service to the community, the intangible dimensions of attitude, demeanor, and communication skills are difficult to specify. It will have to suffice to list the kinds of protocols and areas of service that are expected, and leave the interpersonal to the discretion of the teacher.
Personal Practice: Daily Life
Daily life includes many choices that are seemingly unrelated to one’s position and practice in the world of Zen Buddhism. But the last of the Ten Grave Precepts, not to defame the Three Treasures, puts a special burden on the Zen Disciple and Zen Priest to attempt to avoid even the appearance of impropriety that might reflect poorly on another’s perception of Zen. As Matsuoka-Roshi used to say, “keep an eye on that one little thing that you allow yourself.”
Zen is not a moralistic path, but as transmitted Priests and Lay Zen Teachers, we have an obligation to behave in such a way as to not prejudice the public attitude toward Zen, in order that they may approach it with an open mind.
Any aspect of dimension of one’s daily life that one feels may be regarded as prejudicial or inappropriate in this context should be considered carefully. If one is unable to resolve such a dilemma on one’s own, one should take it up with the teacher in private but never in a public or sangha forum so as not to defame the Precepts one has vowed to uphold.
The Precepts basically outline those activities and proclivities that would be ill- advised to pursue, and the Paramitas make clear the areas that one should strive to perfect. Along with the Eightfold Path, these Buddhist principles outline a fairly comprehensive lifestyle that is difficult to improve upon, much less discount.
Generally, meditation practice and its hoped-for wisdom is considered a kind of process of maturing within a developmental model. Zen allows for great exceptions to the rule, noting anomalies such as Hui-neng, or the 7-year-old female dharma holder that Master Dogen refers to in the Shobogenzo Raihai Tokuzui, as well as (in) famous renegade Zen masters and poets. However, for most, merit accumulated from past lives is insufficient to bring about a sudden ripening of practice. One must do the work and gradually come to the kind of view and thought that approximate Buddha’s wisdom.
We work together in a teacher-student relationship, one that allows for due consideration of our faults and foibles as part of the learning process. One is enabled to fail in life so that one may succeed in the apprehension of dharma. This, however, does not involve repentance, forgiveness and redemption in the Western religious sense, but a clear recognition of the limits of our ability to overcome karmic consciousness. It is tenacious and pernicious, and requires a great deal of effort.
If one persists in, or insists upon, behavior and views that are at variance with one’s teacher, there is no reason to continue the relationship. Any kind of lifestyle or behavior that is contradictory to the role of Zen Disciple or Zen Priest, in the view of one’s teacher, will be cause for modification, or for termination of the training relationship and or banishment from the SZC sangha.
Specifics regarding conduct: lifestyle, livelihood, and speech and actions outside the domain of the Zen center itself will be taken up on a case-by-case basis. It is expected that amongst those aspiring to Zen Priesthood, conflicts will be few and far between.
I expect of all Zen lay Disciples and Zen Priests of the SZC to uphold their Vows taken with great dignity and honor. You are representing the Buddha-dharma, the Sarasota Zen Center and its Sangha congregation members.
“By the authority vested in me by Buddha and all the Ancestral Zen Masters of our lineage, having received full Dharma transmission by the late Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka-Roshi, Archbishop Soto Zen North America and as Osho of the Sarasota Zen Center I publicly decree it so.” - Reverend Daito Zenei Thompson- Osho, Executive and Spiritual Director, Sarasota Zen Center Inc.