Zen is a practice and a way of life, with meditation at its core, and is intended to foster peace and compassion for all beings. Our community (sangha) specifically orients itself towards climate action and justice for IBPOC (Indigenous, Black and people of color) while striving to welcome everyone, regardless of gender or sexual preference, race/caste, color, religion, parental status, different physical or neurological ability, age, prison record etc. Sometimes, being welcoming to everyone means that we have change our traditional practices to undo systematic ways in which oppression (e.g., patriarchy and whiteness) has operated in our tradition.  

Tradit Any formal or informal membership, retreat related posts/jobs or rites of passage are meant to support our larger community and systematic training in an ancient lineage. However, attachment to any rank/title, position, rite of passage or a sense of belongingness can harm our greater purpose of being in “Right relationship” with the fundamental reality and all beings. Attachments bring us farther away from grounded compassion. 

Jukai (受戒 – Precept Receiver) candidates need to contact the teacher at least an year prior to the ceremony. Jukai candidates usually have attended regular meditation with sangha for a minimum of one year, at least three full length meditation retreats with BIM, one of which could be a BIPOC retreat, taken precepts-related classes (see our introduction modules) and discussed their relationship with precepts with a teacher in the sangha. Our sangha emphasizes compassion towards all animals and encourages constant care around impact of our diets and actions on non-human animals as a part of our precept practice. Candidates would also be regular supporters/volunteer contributors to our sangha.  At the Jukai ceremony, candidates take the Bodhisattva Vows, and receive a rakusu and a dharma (spiritual) name. See a description of a ceremony of a sangha member here. Jukai candidates will be guided to work with teacher/priests in the sangha to understand the Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, Brahamaviharas, Paramita/precepts, Basic myths around Climate Crisis and racial justice. After Jukai, everyone in our sangha is encouraged to develop a very strong ongoing commitment to take climate and racial justice actions, to understand, “compost” and alleviate racial, climate/environmental, class and gender-based traumas, and other systems of oppression within the framework of Buddha’s Eightfold path (see here and here), re-indigenization, and three pillars of Ecodharma (see here and here). 

After settling into this fundamental rite of passage, one may humbly grow into other rites of passage that align with either the traditional Zen training or the Lay Engaged Zen training steps. Lay rites of passage include lesser focus on koans and more on engagement with the polycrisis of the 21st century. While our curriculum might shift in response to the changing landscape, there are currently four post-MU koan books to be covered for the traditional path but only one for the lay path. 

Traditional Zen Training

Unsui (雲水 – Cloud and Water Person – Novice Zen Priest) Unsui means you are a servant to all beings and like water, seek the humblest level. And like cloud, you learn to go unnoticed. Unsui candidates must be sangha members in good standing who have done Jukai and are serious about their post-Mu koan training.  They must discuss or submit a petition in writing to the teacher at least one year prior to ordination (Tokudo ceremony where one is presented with robes and other symbols of the lineage), attend at least three consecutive sesshins after their petition/ask has been accepted, and vow to serve the community in the role of a Zen priest for their entire lifetime (or at least 20 years).  After Tokudo ceremony, over many years, unsui is taught to lead the form of sesshins, develop/follow birth, marriage, funeral ceremonies and other rituals associated with our tradition, encouraged to memorize sutras and they learn to be in all supportive roles during a sesshin including retreat management (Shika), Cook (Tenzo), Densu/Kokyo (Chant leader), Inji (Assistant for teacher), Timekeeper and Zendo upkeep (Jikijitsu/Chiden/Ino) and Jisha (Tea Server). Unsui can lead groups in short (1-1.5 hour) meditation sessions or lead discussion after a half day sit (Zazenkai).

Osho (和尚 – Harmonious Priest) candidates must be Unsui in good standing that have completed at least 35 weeklong sesshins, served as the lead in every retreat post at least once, attend at least two sesshins a year, and be prepared to renew and deepen their vows in an Osho ceremony. Osho is fully qualified priests who can give dharma talks, dharma interviews and ordain Unsui. Oshos can lead sesshins (Zen intensives) but only with clear permission from their teacher.

Dharma Heir (印可 – Inka – seal of succession) candidates must be an Osho, must have deep understanding of koans in our curriculum (Precepts/Paramitas, Sangha’s Eightfold path study, Mumonkan, Hekiganroku, Book of Serenity, Transmission of Light, Tozan’s Five Ranks, Other selected Zen Texts/poems including Transmission of Lamp), and be fully committed to and considered capable of transmitting this lineage to the next generation. Dharma Heirs are qualified to give teisho, offer dokusan and confer Sensei, Osho and Dharma Heir rankings.

Lay Engaged Zen Training

Senior Student (Shuso) is a lay member in good standing who has deeply settled into their precepts, post-Mu koan practice and engagement on climate/social justice and done Jukai, and attend at least one full length sesshin a year on an ongoing basis, vow to serve as a healing and humble nurse for the community in most of the retreat roles (see Unsui section above). They will be encouraged to lead/develop grief rituals, people of color retreats (if relevant) and courses like “Dharma of Resistance“. They must have learned to embody principles and practices of engaged spirituality with respect to racial justice and climate action (e.g., the Fierce Vulnerability Network). A senior student can lead groups in short (1-1.5 hour) meditation sessions or lead a discussions after half day of meditation (Zazenkai). Like Unsui, Shuso is a position of responsibility of caring for others but not authority and Shuso worries about stuff so others in the community don’t have to.

Sensei (Teacher) is someone who has been a Senior student in good standing and has completed an excess of ten years of practice with the community, served as the lead in most of the retreat roles (see above) at least once or served for many years supporting a satellite meditation group associated with our sangha. Lay teachers should have finished most of Mumonkan and may lead daylong sits and give dharma talks. They can lead POC retreats, grief rituals and engaged Buddhism courses/workshops. Sensei could lead sesshins (Zen intensives) with clear written and public permission from the teacher if they/he/she have already made significant progress with our sangha’s koan curriculum.

Lay Dharma Heir candidates must be a Sensei, must have deep understanding of koans in our curriculum (Precepts/Paramitas, Sangha’s Eightfold path study, Mumonkan, Tozan’s five ranks and other essential aspects of transmitting dharma), and be fully committed to and considered capable of transmitting lay aspects of our lineage (trauma healing practices, community building for loving humans and non-human animals in these times of polycrisis) to the next generation. Lay dharma Heirs are qualified to give teisho, offer dokusan and confer Sensei and Dharma Heir rankings and give Jukai. The list of koan curriculum is subject to change for a Lay Dharma Heir. Currently, there are four post-MU koans books in the traditional path but only one for the lay path. 

True Person with No Rank (真人無位)

This is a saying of Zen Master Rinzai that points to the sage within all of us that transcends all rank and position.  A sort of holy-fool, having no attachment to rank, role or position, that “goes in and out of our face” all the time, which means it is always there, but not always seen.  There is nothing to attain, and anyone who takes any rank or position too seriously is seriously deluding themselves and harming the community.

(Traditional Zen trainings stages adapted from Choboji sangha website. Lay rites of passage developed in consultation with several American Zen Teacher Association teachers)