Guan Xue's Ordination

4th June, 2006. Last day of May-June 2006 Sesshin held at Murray Grove in New Jersey.

The last part of our sesshin is a special event. Today we are going to publicly observe the ordination of Chia-ju Chang in our order of Rinzai priests. This is my first ordination – I haven’t done this before--but it is a very important occasion for Chia-ju and for all of us, I think. She is the first person from our community to take this very important step in life. I’m quite thrilled that she has decided to do this. Let me just mention something about our lineage as a way of starting.

Our lineage belongs to the Japanese Rinzai school of Zen, but it is a rather unusual lineage. It began in the Ming Dynasty—the 17th century--when a group of monks from Mount Huangbo in China came to Japan and founded what is now called Obaku Zen. Obaku became the third Zen tradition in Japan, the other two being Rinzai and Soto Zen. At that time, the monks from China thought they were just bringing the latest form of Rinzai Zen, but in Japan it was treated as a separate school, Obaku.

Along with the Huangbo delegation to Japan there was one lone Rinzai monk who came from the Han Shan Si or "Cold Mountain Temple" in Suzhou. He went on to start a new temple in Japan, Kanko-ji, in what is now Kameoka. Since then, there has been an unbroken lineage of priests in this tradition. This is called the Cold Mountain tradition of Zen. It started in the Han Shan temple in Suzhou and continued through this Japanese lineage until the World War II period, when the lineage holder was a man named Miyauchi Kanko. He had one Dharma heir, Kangan Webb, an American, who was my teacher. Kangan trained with Miyauchi Roshi at Kanko-ji but he also trained at Myoshin-ji. All the priests who trained at the Kanko-ji temple also trained at Myoshin-ji or Ryutaku-ji, which are the two major Rinzai training temples.

At any rate, most people don’t know about our lineage. It's nothing special – just one of the Zen lineages in the world.

As for the Cold Mountain temple in Japan, it . . . sort of . . . went down the tubes, I’m afraid. I won’t lie about it! After WW II, there was a political reform. In Japan, as in China, monks were not always widely supported, believe it or not, by the population. Temple establishments tended to survive by means of rental income from their properties. When people were old they willed their properties to local temples out of devotion. And these properties became a source of rental income for the monks living in the temple. Also, it was often a better deal for people to give their land to the temple than to pay heavy taxes on their property to the government. People often donated their land to the temple but continued to live and farm on the temple property, a very common arrangement in East Asia. But after WW II, many of these properties were taken away from the temples. Many of the middle- and small-sized temples faced financial ruin, and one of them was our home temple. That’s the way it goes!

Now, except for my own teacher, there is only one surviving person who represents this lineage today and that, I’m sorry to say, is me. It’s too bad that I’m left in charge but I’m doing my best, and you all have certainly done your best at this sesshin. So, today I am welcoming Chia-ju to this Cold Mountain tradition. She is going to be ordained as a priest in our lineage in front of all of you here.

Since I have demystified our lineage, let me say something about what it means to be ordained. In ancient Buddhist tradition, a person could become a monk or a nun. This is what it meant to be ordained. You basically gave up your family and gave up your personal name and you got a new name. You pledged yourself to a life of celibacy, homelessness, and poverty as a member of the Sangha. For literally thousands of years, men and women have given up everything and become “home leavers.” They renounced worldly life and became bhikshus or bhikshunis.

This tradition has evolved over time. For example, in ancient India, monks and nuns were prohibited from doing any kind of work. The Indian idea was that monks or nuns should be entirely dependent on the support of the community. If you go to Thailand or Burma today, where very traditional Buddhism is practiced, you might see a few monks working, but they don’t sustain themselves by their labor. When Buddhism went to China, however, it didn’t really have the support of the community, and so there was a dramatic departure from traditional Buddhist practice. If the Chinese monks had depended on alms (begging), they would have starved to death. The great Zen Master Bai Zhang changed the tradition to allow monks and nuns to work. In fact, they had to! Bai Zhang was famous for saying, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat!” So, introducing work into the life of monks and nuns was Bai Zhang’s innovation.

Now, when Zen traveled to Japan, it underwent another major transformation which was the innovation of married priests. Around seven hundred years ago, there was a renegade monk named Shinran who shocked everybody by getting married. He didn’t get struck by lightening and didn’t turn into a monster. Gradually people decided that it was OK for monks to get married. Strictly speaking, these people should be called "priests" rather than "monks," since bhikshus (monks) and bhikshuni (nuns) absolutely cannot marry and are subject to other restrictions as well. Even though Shinran was a Pure Land monk, the Japanese now have many married priests in the various branches of Buddhism, including the Tendai, Zen and Shingon traditions.

In the United States, Buddhism is undergoing yet another major transformation. We have seen the emergence women who are the leaders of Buddhist communities. This has happened all over the United States. For example, the head of Los Angeles Zen Center, which is probably the biggest Buddhist temple in Unites States, is a woman. I think the present head of the San Francisco Zen Centre, probably the oldest Zen center in United States, is a woman. If you go a little farther north, the leader of the Zen Community of Oregon is a woman, and a pediatrician, named Jan Chozen Bays. In my opinion, this is another turning of the wheel. You see the arising of women who are playing a key role in Zen and Buddhist practice, whereas historically this had not been the case in Asia. My feeling is that Chia-ju and people of her generation represent a very important development in Zen practice in the West. And this is an innovation that is as important to Zen’s future as Bai-Zhang’s innovation many centuries ago. This is an absolutely essential change if Buddhism and Zen practice are to grow and prosper here, in my opinion.

Finally, let me say something about Chia-ju. I guess all of you know her well and there is no particular need for me to sing her praises. I have been practicing with Chia-ju for twelve years. It has been my great pleasure to sit next to her for sesshin after sesshin after sesshin. I have been deeply moved by her determination, commitment and good humor. I have to tell you that in the twelve years that I have been teaching, I have made a fair numbers of mistakes and blunders. I have sometimes regretted the way I have approached the teaching of Zen. Through it all, I have always valued Chia-ju’s friendship and her unfailing good humor no matter what happens in our community.

I think Chia-ju has demonstrated the kind of commitment to Zen practice that I was talking about earlier today. To take vows as a priest in our lineage is basically to say, “Zen is the center of my life. Facing Mu-shin is the most important thing in my life. There are other things that I value, but this is number one!” Now, it’s not necessary to “leave the world,” and you can’t come to live in our monastery. For one thing, we don’t have a monastery! And it’s not necessary to shave your head. As you can see, I don’t shave my head. Those things are not terribly important. The most important thing is that people face Mu-shin day in and day out, sesshin after sesshin, with utmost devotion. I think that Chia-ju Chang has done that, year after year, in the twelve years that I have practiced with her. She is highly worthy of this, and this is a wonderful day for me.

So now I have to ask Chia-ju to make some promises.

Kurt (facing Chia-ju): “Are you a human being?”
Chia-ju: “Yes!”

Kurt: “Good. You can’t be a god, naga, apsara, asura, or any other creature if you want to be a member of the Sangha. You might not have known that. You have to be human.”

Kurt (facing Chia-ju): “Are you comfortable with the promise that you won’t kill anything?”
Chia-ju: “Yes!”

Kurt (facing Chia-ju): “Are you comfortable with the promise that you won’t steal?”
Chia-ju: “Yes!”

Kurt (facing Chia-ju): “Are you comfortable with the promise that you won’t lie or slander anyone?”
Chia-ju: “Yes!”

Kurt (facing Chia-ju): “Are you comfortable with the promise that you will keep your marriage vows?”
Chia-ju: “Yes!”

Kurt (facing Chia-ju): “This next one is hardest one for some people. Are you comfortable with the promise that you will refrain from the excessive use of alcohol and avoid all mind altering drugs?”
Chia-ju: “Yes!”

Kurt (facing Chia-ju): “Can you come forward please?”

(Chia-ju moves forward and Kurt cuts a tiny portion of her hair. He wraps it in a piece of paper and offers it to the candle on the altar)

(Chia-ju leaves the room and comes back wearing priest’s black robes.)

Kurt (facing Chia-ju): “Today, you have become the latest member of our Cold Mountain family. Priest ‘Guan Xue’.”

Kurt (turning turns to Yi-Hsin, who is laughing at his bad pronunciation of Chinese): "What did I say? Did I pronounce that right? Did I even get close?"

Kurt: “Guan Xue. My sister.”
(Bows to Chia-ju)
(Everyone bows)

Kurt (facing Chia-ju): “This is karmically a very important event, yes? I know you will honor those robes all your life. I have seen you honor this practice for the last 12 years. I have the highest confidence in you. I love you, I am your brother and I will do everything I can in this life to help you. Thank you very much. May you have a long life. Priest ‘Guan Xue’. Right?”

Last revised 6.29.06