Jukai - The Precepts · Zen - Study

Introduction to Jukai – Nishijima Roshi

Introduction to Jukai – Nishijima Roshi

Sekishin: What is the Jukai ceremony?

Gudo: Jukai is the ceremony in which one receives and undertakes the Precepts as a disciple of the Buddha.

Sekishin: That sounds, I think, like something to be undertaken solely by Buddhist monks …..

Gudo: No ….. In Jukai, we find both the receipt of precepts intended for monks, male and female, and those precepts intended for all laypersons wishing to become Buddhists…. It has both aspects.

Sekishin: Usually, the ceremony in which someone becomes a Buddhist monk is called by us lay people as either ‘Tokudo’ or ‘Jukai.’ This is the first time that I have heard that there is a Jukai ceremony only for laypersons.

Gudo: Yes. Now, because Buddhism is in a rather low state, the Jukai ceremony is very rarely held for laypersons. However, in the Shobogenzo, Master Dogen specifically left us a chapter entitled ‘Jukai,’ in which it is strongly emphasized that, when the Buddhist believer first sets out to commence Buddhist practice ….. be it monk, be it lay person, no matter ….. the initial needed steps are an ‘establishing of a Will to the Truth’ and, hand-in-hand therewith, the holding of the ceremony of Jukai.

Sekishin: What exactly happens during the Jukai ceremony?

Gudo: Well, there are small variations in detail, but the heart of the ceremony is always the receipt of precepts from the teacher. The teacher reads the precepts, one following the other, asking after each, ‘Will you maintain this?’ In response, the disciple intones, ‘I will maintain this well.’ That is the ceremony.

Sekishin: What are the precepts which are the object of the ceremony?

Gudo: The precepts which are used in this Jukai ceremony are referred to, usually, as the ‘Sixteen Great Boddhisattva Precepts,’ the Mahayana Boddhisattva Precepts.

Sekishin: And what are those sixteen precepts?

Gudo: The sixteen precepts consist of the ‘Three Devotions,’ the ‘Three Universal Precepts,’ and the ‘Ten Fundamental Precepts.’

Sekishin: So, the first of the ‘Sixteen Great Boddhisattva Precepts’ are known by the name the ‘Three Devotions?’

Gudo: Yes. These are the precepts of feeling devotion to the three highest values revered within Buddhism.

Sekishin: What does that mean ….. ‘the three highest values revered within Buddhism?’

Gudo: Those are the ‘Buddha,’ the ‘Dharma’ and the ‘Sangha’ ….. the three highest values to which we Buddhists should feel tremendous devotion, and therefore to be called the ‘Three Devotions.’ In Sanskrit, these three are referred to by the name ‘ratna-traya,’ which can be translated as well as the ‘Three Jewels.’ I very much prefer both these terms to the often used Buddhist term ‘The Three Refuges,’ for refuge strikes me as a concept which has been influenced by an idea of ‘salvation’ in Christian theology, for example, by an external savior. It is rather different.

Here, the meaning of ‘Buddha’ is, most specifically, the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha, who is our first Buddhist ancestor. However, simultaneously, it means the many Buddhist ancestors who have merged fully into the teachings of Gautama Buddha, who have arrived at a state at one with Gautama Buddha. All are our Buddhist ancestors about whom we may feel tremendous devotion …..

Sekishin: What, then, is ‘Dharma?’ Is it the same meaning as we have discussed earlier?

Gudo: Yes. ‘Dharma’ means this very world of Reality in which we actually are living, as well as the Buddha’s teachings about this real world. Early in our conversation, I pointed out that Buddhism is a religion which reveres an affirmation of the real world. ‘Dharma’ is this real world.

This world of reality, when looked at from an idealistic standpoint, is a world filled to the brim with events and situations which disappoint, which fail to satisfy or meet our expectations. And if we respond just by simplistically contrasting our ideals with the state of the real world, talking nonsense about how the world should be ‘this way,’ or how things would be right if only they were ‘that way’ …… Well, Gautama Buddha taught that human beings shall not find happiness by that road.

On the other hand, we also have to keep in mind that Gautama Buddha did not mean that the ‘real’ world is thus, in contrast, to be viewed but as a world of pure physical matter lacking all meaning and value ….. something cold and dead and meaningless.

Perhaps this world of reality seems to us to be but a world of suffering filled with contradiction and irrationality and the like ….. filled with many terrible things. However, there is another way to view this world, a ‘Middle Way’ between those perspectives: Even a world of suffering filled with contradiction and irrationality and the like, if we will but look upon it from a composed and still perspective ….. observing calmly, watching serenely ….. even such a place will manifest before us as a world of structured order, showing its aspect as an harmonious world in which contradictions and irrationality are swallowed up whole.

At bottom, this world of Reality is the only world, the alpha and omega of a world, that we human beings possess. Thereby, if we but look well at this, our one and only – alpha and omega world which we human beings possess ….. awakening to the harmony contained within it ….. employing that order as the standard by which to judge and regulate our conduct ….. in the process, I dare say, making good contribution to the cultivation of an harmonious and peaceful society ….. ….. Such are, in Gautama Buddha’s teachings, the duties which have been imposed upon us as human beings, as well as the way of happiness itself.

Thereupon, from such a perspective, Buddhism considers this world of Reality ….. this ‘Dharma’ ….. as among the highest values about which we human beings should feel deep devotion.

Sekishin: That brings us to ‘Sangha’ …..

Gudo: The ‘Sangha’ of ‘devotion to the Sangha’ derives also from the Sanskrit language, and means the collective body of all Buddhists. Specifically, it points to the ‘home leaving’ priests, both male and female, and the men and women who are ‘home staying’ lay believers, together constituting the religious collective which is Buddhism.

No matter how noble and true the teachings of Gautama Buddha, if there were not Buddhist disciples to uphold the teachings and put them into actual practice, the teachings could have no worldly value. By such meaning, only when the ‘home leaving’ priests and the ‘home staying’ lay believers first did find the Buddha’s teachings and sought to put them into practice as tenets of their daily lives….. only then could both the Buddha and the Dharma be said to have given rise to the value they each possess. From such perspective, Buddhism considers of the same high value to both the Buddha himself and to the very order of the universe as expressed in the teachings of the Buddha….. of that same high degree of value is the body of all Buddhists who pursue the value to be found in both the Buddha and those principles which the Buddha teaches.

From A Heart To Heart Chat On Buddhism With Old Master Gudo


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