I made a vow that I would return to the high desert. I made my promise to the scrubby hills and the adobe walls, to Roshi Joan, and to myself. Vows are not lightly made and this one is ripe to be honoured. I’m a little terrified, tremulous, and excited. Trying to simply be ready for whatever arises, and to take it all forward from there into whatever mystery comes next. Stay calm, carry on.
In a few days I will leave for Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ll be there until end of March doing what one does in such a place: mopping floors, chopping carrots, sitting on my black cushion, wrestling with the vexing paradoxes of Zen, and picking thorns out of my bike tires.
This time out I will also be preparing for ‘jukai’ – the taking of the lay precepts of Zen. This doesn’t mean i’m becoming much more of a monk than I already am. I won’t shave my head or assume celibacy. Jukai isn’t a graduation. It doesn’t entitle me to any special treatment, or discounts or bonus air miles. It is an initiation. It means that I feel ready to commit fully to this path, for as long as it will carry me. I take a deep breath and dive in.
The formal requirements for jukai at Upaya are:
1. Hand-sewing my rakusu – a funny-looking black biblike garment symbolizing a mini-buddha’s robe. Every stitch is done with mindfulness and invocation. In the Zen Peacemaker order followed at Upaya, the rakusu is made of scraps of recycled fabric begged from among my friends and family. Mine will be heavy on denim and bits of party-pants.
2. Submitting hand-drawn lineage charts of my male and female dharma ancestors, beginning with the buddhas before buddha, through the milennia down to me, and then circling back to the ancestors.
3. Hand-writing a ‘gloss’ on the precepts. This is my personal take on the precepts, and reflection on how they show up in my life. In part, this Bicycle Buddha blog is exactly that.
4. Creating my personal lineage document, detailing just how I got here and who have been my teachers and guides along the way. Starting with a whole long lineup of quarrelsome intelectual Jews, right up to the here and now. I think it will look like a sort of comic book.
In March, if I have fulfilled all the requirements, I will go through a formal ceremony of jukai. I will be swished with a horsetail amid much bowing and chanting, handed back my rakusu signed by my preceptor Joan Halifax, and receive my brand-new dharma name (I am very stoked for this—never did feel like ‘Carmen’ suited me).
From there I guess, the real work and the deep fun rolls on. One, two, three, jump!