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Where the Teaching is Kept

Sitting & Ritual, Sangha & InclusionGuiding Teacher1 Comment

JUNE 13, 2017

It was raining diligently as I trudged up the slope toward the gate at Sojiji, the temple whose name means "the place where the Buddha's teaching is fully kept." This weather perfectly suited my feeling about the upcoming ceremonies, grey and a bit heavy. Complex ceremonies are not my strong suit, and I had not been to either of the temples where I would be performing them. I wondered how the events would unfold.

Sojiji has an imposing presence. The carved wooden guardians housed at the gate stand several stories high, their fierce faces looming large. The Dharma hall (hatto 法堂) in which ceremonies take place is so vast that there are jumbotron monitors set up on either side of the altar, so that those who are seated in the back can see the activities being performed up front. There are a dozen steps, all deeply lacquered and polished to a brilliant shine, leading from the floor of the hall up to the memorial plaques at the top of the altar. I had never seen such a large Zen temple before.



I happened to arrive at the same time as two other priests, a French woman and Japanese man who had both traveled from Europe. Their friend, who interpreted a bit, said that it had been decided that the four priests who had turned up for Zuise that day would perform their ceremonies together. After the preliminary ceremonial requests, we were lead about to "set ups," places that had been made to look like the places where the ceremonies would happen. However, in order to preserve the rules, we did not actually see some of the locations until the next morning. 

Zuise (瑞世 )  is a word that has sometimes been translated as "debut." It literally means "investiture with a jade tablet" (zui 瑞) upon entering the "world" (se 世) because, in the Song era in China, the Abbots of large public Buddhist monasteries were appointed by the imperial court. These days, Zuise is a series of ceremonies performed by those who have received Dharma transmission in a recognized Soto Zen lineage. Zuise-shi, as they are called, are monks who are the Abbots of the Head Temples for a single day. I had traveled to Japan specifically to perform Zuise at the two Head Temples of Soto Zen, Sojiji and Eiheiji. 

I was not surprised that the ritual forms of Sojiji were different from the ones in which I had been trained, but I still found them confusing. After many years of practice the body has certain tendencies. Even so, my new colleagues and I managed to get fully through the dozen events of the 24 hours. Formal photos followed.

Yet this is really not about ceremonies or titles. It is about having a lived experience of each other as descendants of the founding teachers of Zen. Keizan was peering through the eyes of those I met over the course of two days at Sojiji. His practice was present. The things he felt most important to pass down were enacted, particularly through the monks who live and train at Sojiji, but also through me. That is, the teaching is kept in each one of us, as each one of us.

Keizan's words from the Transmission of Light, the Denkoroku, come forth: "...the work of teaching has come down through questioning and answering...If you can evolve and practice in this way, then you will not be disappointed by your own faults, and you will not be deluded by your own birth and death."

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