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 Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc

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Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc Empty
PostSubject: Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc   Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc Empty4/23/2013, 11:58 am

This is from the Antaiji temple English website - the author is a fellow named Muho who is the western abbot - from Germany and most of the students seem to be non-Japanese. If you want to watch the embedded videos, go to the website and click on them there. This essays are from 2010 and later.....

The fact that I am posting these essays does NOT mean that I agree necessarily with their points of view -- not at all - I just think they are of interest and contribute to more background and historic perspective. For example, in one part of these essays, the author talks about how there can only be one transmission and once received binds you to your teacher for life, etc. Old story and as I have said many times, you can fire your teacher and have many teachers or no teachers. I challenge the meaning of transmission and its excessive focus in Japanese and even still in American Zen. It seems to mean whatever you want it to mean and is often glorified and mystified to no good purpose. Also, Soto Zen in Japan has all kinds of rules and procedures that developed over the centuries as part of the feudal patriarchal temple system. Kennett, like even many Japanese Soto priest who came west, wanted to be independent from the Soto sects head office for the most part, although some teachers did officially register their ordained students with the head office eventually - like Maezumi - who had his main students go through the official Soto recognition system - something that most Americans know nothing about and could care less about.

What does it take to become a full-fledged Soto-shu priest and is it really worth the whole deal? (1)
(Adult practice - Part 45)


In the tenth chapter of the Gakudôyôjinshû, Dogen Zenji says that there are two ways to define oneself in body and mind. One is to delve into and explore zazen, the other is to meet a teacher and listen to the dharma. Both, Dogen says, are essential for reaching the way.

At this point of the "adult practice" series, I am still concentratin on the aspect of exploring zazen. I want to continue to write about the hips in the summer. We will also investigate the hands, eyes and the role of the mind during zazen later. After that, I want to write a couple of articles about studying with a teacher. But before I continue with the series, I want to address the question which serves as the title of this article: What does it take to become a full-fledged Soto-shu priest and is it really worth the whole deal?

The question of course relates to the topic of meeting a teacher and studying in a sangha, in this case not only eager dharma brothers that share our daily practice, but also a complex organization with a fixed structure and a huge bureaucratic apparatus, called Japanese Soto-shu.

So here is my answer to the question (all of the following applies to the procedures in Japan. Outside of Japan, different rules and fees apply):

To become a full-fledged Zen priest recognized and authorized by the headquarters of Soto-shu in Tokyo, the first step you need to take is

a) Monk's ordination (shukke tokudo)

Requirements differ from teacher to teacher, but on the material side you need the whole outfit (inner and outer robes, belts, o-kesa, rakusu, kechimyaku (transmission chart) and eating bowls), which can be quite expensive and/or time-consuming to make (at Antaiji, you write your own kechimyaku, while the rakusu and o-kesa are donated. The rest you have to buy). You also need to be willing to take the precepts, although no-one here in Japan expects you to keep to their letter. Actually, at Antaiji most ordination ceremonies are followed by a party that involves drinking, although abstaining from alcohol is part of the precepts.

The whole ceremony consists of first receiving the materials and then taking the precepts. It takes about an hour, there is lots of chanting and dozens of prostrations for the ordinaiee to be made. You need to make a photograph or two as proof during the ordeal, otherwise it will not be recognized by the Soto-shu headquarters.

You send in the photograph with a form with your name on it (both lay name and ordination name consisting of two Chinese characters) and a copy of your passport. The registration fee is 2000 Yen. The form also needs to be signed by the teacher, who has to be an authorized temple priest. After a month or so, you receive an official document from the headquarters that recognizes you as a Soto monk in training, together with a small handbook that is supposed to introduce you to your vocation (it is called shuryo-hikkei and I quote from it in my article for the Antaiji yearbook 2004.

Congratulations! You are now officially ranked as a joza in the Soto hierarchy. Joza is sometimes translated literally but misleadingly as the "top seat", but more realistically it is simply one who has "climbed a seat". "Top seat" is the original meaning, and the joza is used to translate the theravada (lit. "elder") in theravada buddhism (Jap. joza-bukkyo), for example. In old India, it referred to monks who had been practicing for at least 10 or 20 years. In old China, the joza used to be what is the shuso (see below) is in Japan today - the leader of the training monks. In fact, as you are the last one to be ordained into the commmunity, when you become a joza today in Japan you will sit on the bottom seat. Sorry.

The only rank below that of joza is the shami, which stems from Sanskrit zraamaNerikaa and means "novice monk who has taken the precepts". Today in Soto-shu, kids below the age of 10 who take the precepts are called shami, everyone else (even an eleven year old who is ordained) is a joza. So, as a matter of fact, the people who are in reality only novices (shami) are called "elders" (joza), while a real elder or head monk is called shuso and has the rank of zagen (see below).

I used to ask people to stay at least 6 months at Antaiji before they ordain. I am thinking of changing that to 3 years now. The reason behind this is:

I have ordained twelve people so far. Only one of them lives in Antaiji right now. Some of the others have their own Zen dojos in their home-contries, others have gone to train at other temples, or live secular lives again. From some I have not heard in years. That is Ok with me. Whoever ordains at Antaiji should, if possible, stay for a longer stretch of time, but if it is not possible, because people have other responsibilities for example, that is no problem for me. The only question is: What meaning does it have to be a Zen monk and not live in a Zen monastery? Whenever people ask me this question, I answer: It depends on you, you have to give meaning to your monkhood. Either you do, or you do not. You can live in your apartment and have your kesa sitting somewhere on a shelf, collecting dust, or you give meaning to your being a monk through the way you live in daily life. But there is no fixed answer, you have to find your own.

In practice though, it can lead to problems, especially when people realize that Soto-shu will cross them off their lists after 10 or 20 years or so (see below). So as the present policy at Antaiji is that you have to stay either less than 100 days or more than three years, I would like to say: If you want to ordain as a monk, why not invest three years first at Antaiji?

The second step you eventually need to take is:

b) Risshin and Dharma combat ceremony (hossenshiki)

Confucius has a famous saying:
At fifteen my heart was set on learning; at thirty I stood firm; at forty I had no more doubts; at fifty I knew the mandate of heaven; at sixty my ear was obedient; at seventy I could follow my heart's desire without transgressing the norm.

In Confucius' life, standing firm at age 30 is the second step. One could see a parallel to risshin here, the second step in the carrier of a monk ("heart set on learing" being the first step for a monk as well). It took Confucius 15 years.

During the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) you needed to have at least 20 years of practice as a monk under your belt to be the shuso (head monk) and do risshin. Today, you have to be at least 20 years old or you have to be at least 16 years old and been a monk for a minimum of 3 years. I.e., if you ordain at age 13, you can be shuso at age 16 (at least in theory, although it actually happens that a father who at the same time functions as his sons "zen master" lets his son be the shuso while he is still in high school).

But, if you ordain after the age of 40 and do not take this step within the next 10 years, Sotoshu will erase your name from its register. If you are under 40 at the time of your ordination, you have a maximum of 20 years to do risshin and perform the dharma combat ceremony. That means that if you receive the title of joza but do not live up to it (in the eyes of the headquarters), they will promptly remove it again. If you ordain, Sotoshu expects you to act as the head monk and be the officially registered leader for a practice period during the first one or two decades of your practice.

What is the meaning of risshin?
The literal meaning is: "To raise one's body into a standing position". This is what children learn as toddlers. When still babies, they where first crawling on the floor, then walking on all fours. Eventually they learn to pull themselves up and climb on chairs and tables, they can stand and walk by themselves, and finally they get better and better at expressing themselves verbally as well. They learn to share the perspective of the "big ones". They become recognizable as human beings, they are no longer the content of a crip in the corner of the room.
With a monk's risshin, it is quite similar. It means to gain physical stability. Confidence in oneself and one's role as a monk. The ability to express oneself and share a wider perspective, not restricted to one's own needs only. He starts to function like a pillar that supports the sangha.
Maybe the reason why the physical presence, the attitude and the voice of the monk who preforms the dharma combat ceremony are so much emphasized, while the actual content of what is said is of secondary importance, has to do with the literal, physical meaning of "standing firm".

What exactly does the dharma combat ceremony consist of, that accompanies risshin?
As the name says, it is more of a ceremony than an actual "dharma combat". It lasts about an hour and the main part of it is an exchange of questions and answers between the members of the sangha and the head monk. This exchange is usually rehearsed in advance. The ceremony highlights a three month practice period, during which the person in charge serves the community as the head monk. He or she will not necessarily be the oldest or most experienced in the sangha. Still, it will be the person's job to act as a leader and be able to replace the teacher during his absence, or give dharma talks in the teacher's place. The first instance of a head monk (shuso in Japanese) in Japan is Ejo in Koshoji. It is documented in the fifth chapter of the forth book of the Shobogenzo Zuimonki.

In the video below, you can see a small portion of the first such ceremony that was performed at Antaiji after I became the abbot (10:05 - 10:40). The shuso is a monk from Poland who ordained in a different temple.

Soto-shu expects you to receive dharma transmission (shiho, see below) from the same teacher you ordained with (the ordination teacher is called jugoshi, while after dharma transmission he will be your honshi, so you can not have different jugoshi and honshi).

It is possible to switch teachers though, if both your old and your new teacher give permission. In this case, the new teacher will be your new jigoshi. If you can not get the permission to switch teachers from your old teacher, you will have to re-ordain with your new teacher.
Only in the case of the dharma combat ceremony, it is possible to do it with a teacher different from you ordination master (the teacher you do risshin and hossenshiki with is called hodoshi, because of the hodo (dharma-pole) that is usually erected during shinzanshiki (see below) as a sign that the teacher is from now on preaching the dharma).

In most cases, a monk will perform the dharma combat ceremony at a small parish temple close to his teachers temple, when the resident priest of that temple performs the "mountain ascending ceremony" (shinzanshiki, see below). Other monks become the shuso when they train at a formal training monastery (sodo, see below) for a couple of years.

In my case, I performed the ceremony at the temple of a senior dharma brother of mine, when he became the resident priest at his own temple and performed the "mountain ascending ceremony". In a case like this, the shuso usually does not spend the whole 3 months of the retreat at the temple, as the temple is not a traing temple but a parish temple in the first place, i.e. there is no functioning sangha of training monks. This is the case for 99% of Soto temples in Japan. That means that I lived and trained all the time in Antaiji and only went to my dharma brothers place for about a week or so with a group of my fellows from Antaiji.

When you are the shuso at a regular sodo though, you will have the position for the whole practice period and also enjoy certain privileges (entering the bath before everyone else, sitting next to the roshi) and extra duties (running with the wake-up bell every morning, cleaning the toilets, having no days off etc.). In some sodos like Eiheiji for example, it is extremely difficult to become the head monk. Other places seem to be desperate to find a candidate. I had a Japanese student who ran away from Antaiji because he could not handle the practice, but when I introduced him to a country side sodo not far from Eiheiji, he was given the position of the shuso right away.

In Antaiji of course, it is also possible to perform hossenshiki as a head monk. Some people think that only at a regular sodo an abbot can perform the hossenshiki multiple times, while at a parish temple it is possible only once, at the time of the "mountain ascending ceremony". This is false, although it is true that in practice most parish temple priests perform the ceremony only once, while a sodo does it twice each year, once during each ango (practice period of 3 months, usually held in spring/summer and autumn/winter).

In fact, any temple can perform the ceremony as often as twice a year, it is just never done. This is because of the lack of a sangha at most temples. Without a functioning sangha, it is very complicated and costly to organize the ceremony (and the whole practice period, which only takes place on paper of course). How long it takes until you are asked to be the shuso at Antaiji depends mostly on your practice, the amount of responsibility you are able to shoulder, the leadership you can show. In most cases so far, people had been monks at Antaiji for at least 30 months (2 and a half years), sometimes even up to six or seven years before they became the shuso.

The fees for Soto-shu are about 20.000 Yen, but often the senior priests that attend the ceremony need to be paid as well. Therefore, depending on where the ceremony is performed, it can be quite expensive. I have heard of monks paying up to 1.000.000 Yen (one million Yen, i.e. 10.000 US dollars) for the whole thing. The calculation usually runs like this: You have a dozen or so of big guys sitting in the front row with their fancy kesas on. They need to get 500 dollars pocket money. The resident priest who functions as the hossenshiki master gets another one or two grant. After that, travel expenses and food catering need to be covered. Often, they ask you to appear in a brand new kesa and koromo, which also cost money. In the end, 10.000 dollars might not be enough! At a place like Antaiji though, as everyone participating does so as part of their practice, nothing but the Soto-shu fees need to be covered.

While in the case of ordination, it is usually the student who asks the teacher to be allowed to ordain as a monk, it would be very strange if a monk asked to be made the shuso in a temple and be allowed to perform hossenshiki on his own initiative. It has to be the priest who asks the monk to be his shuso for one practice period. If you are asked to do so, you might want to check how much money you will be charged later (on the other hand, that question might be considered very impolite!).

Hossenshiki is practiced only in Soto, it is unheard of in Rinzai-zen. Several months before the practice period starts, you and your teacher have to apply to the headquarters for permission of the practice period to take place (there are several conditions, one of them being the presence of a shike, a high ranking roshi). After you complete the 3 month practice period, a form signed by you and the teacher will be sent to the headquarters in Tokyo. This time you get no certificate back, but you are now officialy promoted to the rank of zagen, which is (really) something like the "top seat", or more literally the "base seat/seat base".

The following steps are:
c) Dharma transmission (shiho, also called denpo)
d) Changing of the robes (ten-e)
e) Paying respect to the main temples Eiheiji and Sojiji and acting as the "abbot for a night" (zuise, promotion to the rank of osho)
f) Mountain ascending ceremony (shinzanshiki)
g) Holding a practice period (kessei, promotion to the rank of dai-osho)
and the obligatory training period in an official Soto priest seminary (sodo ango) for at least one year (if you graduated from colloge, otherwise longer).

In the next article, let us invest what the third step, shiho, is all about. Does dharma transmission make you a Zen master? How does it work, and how important is it? Is it really a transmission of dharma, or is it just a piece of paper that passes hands, a formality?

Finally, after covering all of the steps in the carrier of an aspiring Soto-shu priest, the question will be: What function does all this ceremonial stuff serve? Why should anyone want to do it? Is there any meaning to it, or should we rather do without?

Last edited by Jcbaran on 4/23/2013, 1:24 pm; edited 4 times in total
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Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc Empty
PostSubject: Re: Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc   Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc Empty4/23/2013, 12:01 pm

What does it take to become a full-fledged Soto-shu priest and is it really worth the whole deal?
(Part 2: Ten points to keep in mind about dharma transmission)
(Adult practice - Part 46)

Before we start, some more things about the physics of zazen. I received an e-mail from Al Coleman of Hey Bro! Can You Spare Some Change?:
"I found two books that you might be interested in regarding posture. They take an anthropological approach to studying posture (cultures that carry heavy stuff on their head as part of their daily life).
The first is the more polished of the two. It is a big book with both beautiful illustrations and great practical exercises. The one odd thing though is that she says if posture is correct then ones breathing should be thoracic instead of abdominal. I asked her about this and she said that in people she has observed belly breathing, if you ask them to breath into the thoracic cage, they will feel like they are suffocating. I'm not sure I agree. www.wellstackedback.com
The second is still a beautiful book but lacks on the practical side. www.agelessspine.com
She really emphasizes abdominal breathing as essential to a healthy posture.
Besides that glitch, both approaches are similar."

I did not read either book, but they seem to be interesting. On his blog, Al also recommends the following video:

Also, there is an article about Hips (and 'watch yer knees!') over at Long River Zen:

"Here are some basic hip opening exercises suitable for cautious beginners.
Here is a longer yoga-based hip routine that is intended to help people work towards the lotus posture.

Here is another page with preparatory stretches for lotus.
Please heed all the warnings on these hip stretching pages and remember that stretching the hips is a gradual and gentle process."

Some of the excercises are quite similar to the Makko-ho technique we saw in "Lotus in the fire" of September 2007. Check out. Before I get back to the hips and the rest of the posture, I will continue to deal with the question: What does it take to become a full-fledged Soto-shu priest and is it really worth the whole deal? This time it is about: Shiho

Now we finally get to the physics of transmission, the third step in the "carrier" of a Soto-shu monk!

c) Dharma transmission (shiho, also called denpo)

The third step in the carrier of a Soto-shu monk is dharma transmission. As with becoming the shuso, in the case of shiho it is the teacher who decides when, in his view, it is time for the step. Again, it would be strange if the student suggests: "I think I have been ready for shiho for quite a while now, how come you haven't given me the papers yet?"

So what is the actual procedure, when and where does it take place, and how long does it take?

After doing dharma combat (hossenshiki), the student has 20 years of time to receive the dharma (shiho) from his teacher. Usually, it takes less, but there are also monks who lose their status as registered Soto-shu monks because they fail to do shiho. Nevr mind, this only means that your name disappears out of the registers in Tokyo, it does not mean that your robes and bowls are confiscated. Shiho is, unlike ordination and dharma combat, not done in the mainhall before everyone else in the sangha, but one-to-one in the abbot's quarters (hojo). The students prostrates many times, in a special sequence, first nine, then eight, then seven times... in between pieces of text are recited. Finally the teacher gets off his high chair, that the student had been circling around, and the student takes the seat while the teacher pays his respects to the student this time. Usually the procedure takes time at night, and at one point both student and teacher check the documents that the student had been writing in the week (or weeks) before. They use a candle for this, so if the ceremony took place in broad daylight, this part of the ceremony would not make much sense. Probably the fact that it is done one-to-one and at night time has to do with the story of the transmission of the dharma from the fifth to the sixth patriarch in the Platform sutra. Or at least that is my guess. Besides teacher and student, there are no other eyewitnesses and no photographs are taken. So the documentation papers that serve as proof of the transmission are the only material evidence of what took place. Of course, the dharma is not "inside" these papers, but it is not in the head either. The subjective feeling of the student, that he "got it" from the teacher alone is not enough. Therefore the material evidence is of utmost importance. Writing these documents on three (or - in the lineage of Sawaki Roshi - four) sheets of silk paper is what takes most time and concentration.

You receive these three sheets of silk paper from your teacher, together with a sutra book-style manual that explains the procedure in medieval Japanese. The teacher receives the materials from the Soto-shu headquarters in Tokyo, who charge 16.000 Yen for them. The teacher has to apply in advance to the Soto-shu headquarters, and they send the expensive paper with their seals on it to the temple. Necessary requiries are of course that the student has not only ordained but also been the shuso for a practice period during which he performed the hossenshiki. After the empty papers arrive, the student has to write the documents of the transmission in his own hand. Normally you have about a week to write, although that may depend. I have heard of students who get a whole week off to prepare the documents. In the case of Antaiji, you do not get any time off, so you have to cut down your sleeping time while doing all the farm work etc during the day. In my case, it took me considerably longer than a week to write all the stuff. Of course, you write with a calligraphy brush and you have to take great care NOT to mess those silk papers up, because the head quarters will not send you any extra papers, unlkess you pay another 16.000 Yen.

If you do not finish the writing of the documents in the course of one year though, your teacher has to apply anew and pay for three new sheets of silk. It goes without saying that each of the three papers serves a purpose, because there are three different documents to be written. They are called sanmotsu in Japanese, which literally means "the three things". These are
a) Shisho (the scripture of transmission, the names of the anscestors arranged in a circle - the dharma has passed on from to Shakyamuni to yourself, and now you give it back to Shakyamuni. There is a small piece of papaer, propably originally written by Sawaki Roshi, with some comments. This paper is also copied by the student when doing dharma transmission at Antaiji.)
b) Daiji (the great matter, a cryptic symbolization of the content of the teaching. Again, there is a small extra sheet of paper that explains about the meaning of the symbols.)
c) Kechimyaku (the blood lineage, looks quite similar to the blood line transmission that you already wrote at the time of ordination) Actually, in the lineage of Sawaki Roshi (and maybe other lineages as well) a student is told to write a fourth document on an extra sheet of paper, which is called
d) Hisho (the secret document, which is encoded, but the code for decyphering is on the same paper, so once you hold it in your hands it is not so "secret" anymore.)

Each of the documents comes in a separate envelope. They are signed by both teacher and student and stamped by the teacher in a similar manner like the kechimyaku at the time of ordination.

A few things that are important to know about shiho:

1) Denpo and shiho: Transmitting and receiving are two sides of one coin

Dharma transmission is a mutual thing. It can only happen when both teacher and student agree that this is the time and place for it to take place. When the student is not ready to receive (shi-ho), there is no way for the teacher to transmit (den-po). If the teacher is not willing to transmit, there is no point for the student to claim he "got it". Dharma transmission is nothing subjective, it does not happen "in the mind".

2) Once or never

Dharma transmission can happen once, and only once, or never at all. Multiple dharma transmission is nonsense. If you receive dharma transmission from one teacher, from then on that is your one and only teacher, your real teacher (jap. hon-shi). The multiple lineage holders that you hear of in the West are [banned term]. Therefore it is important that both sides, but especially the student, make sure that this is the right time for them to make this important step.

When a teacher offers dharma transmission to a student, the student not only has the right to refuse, he actually must refuse if he does not feel that this teacher is his teacher for life. It happens from time to time that a "Zenmaster" suggests that you leave your present teacher and follow him. It has happened to myself a number of times here in Japan. So be carfeul. Because after shiho, you can not change your teacher anymore, as you could still change the jugoshi (ordination teacher) before shiho. The only thing you can do to cut the connection with your teacher (hon-shi) after shiho is to disrobe. After that, you may ordain as a novice monk again.

You can inherit the dharma of one and only one teacher. In the past, monks where allowed to receive transmission from several teachers. The monk who had most dharma transmissions was considered to be the most enlightened and had the best chances to become the abbot of Eiheiji. This was changed by the eminent Soto monk Menzan to the rule that lasts to the present day: Only one transmission from only one teacher. Multiple dharma transmission in present day Soto-shu is considered nonsense. You hear of that a lot in America though, where some peopleclaim to be "both Soto and Rinzai". Are they authorized by both Soto and Rinzai, as they actually exist in Japan today? No, in reality they are NEITHER Soto NOR Rinzai, but their own hybrid brand. That is OK, it is just a different thing. They play a different game with different rules. To me, saying that you have transmission from three different teachers in a way is like saying that none of these transmissions is for real. Because if only one of them was for real, why bother to shop around for the other two?

3) Who are you?
Dharma transmission defines who you are as a Zen monk. It is like your DNA. The documents of the transmission (that - among other things - list the names of the Buddhist ancestors from Shakyamuni Buddha up to yourself) are unique, there are not two Zen monks with identical documents. When you receive dharma transmission from teacher A, it will never be the same as dharma transmission from teacher B. And the dharma transmission you will eventually give to your students will not be the same either. You can only transmit the dharma YOU received from your honshi, nothing else. In fact, this is a little complicated: It is the dharma you received from your teacher, but it is not HIS dharma anymore, it is YOUR dharma now. It would not be the same if you had reveived it from another teacher, but it would not be the same if someone else had received it from the same teacher either. The transmission you could have received from teacher B would not have been the same as that from teacher A. And: The transmission that you reived from teacher A is not the same as the transmission your dharma brothers and sisters received from the same teacher A. Why? Because the receiving side is also part of the "DNA". The dharma is not only defined by the teacher, but quite as much by the student. Therefore, when you transmit the dharma to your students, not a single one of them will receive the same dharma, each of them will receive their unique dharma. Although it is not just "in the mind", it is neither like a material object being passed on from teacher to student.

To use two examples that Dogen Zenji gives:
Dharma transmission can be like pouring milk from one cup to the other. No oil, liqour or lacquer must be added, Dogen says in the "Kesa kudoku" chapter of the Shobogenzo. It would not be milk any more. He allows for the addition of water though. This dilution would make the milk thinner, but it would not change the colour, the flavour or taste. If we were Homoepathics, we might even claim that this process is a "potentization" of the original milk. I would like to change Dogen's metaphor a little and say that dharma transmission is like the pouring of clear water into clear water. Old water that dates back from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha is mixed and "potentized" each new generation. Still, it must never be mixed with oil, liquor or lacquer. It must be 100% water, but half of it is your original water, half of it is the water transmitted from your teacher, containing one drop of each generation dating back to the time of the Buddha. And even that is only half-right: In reality, it is 100% YOUR water, and it is at the same time 100% of the Buddha's water. When you transmit it on to your students, it is still YOUR dharma, but at the same time it is 100% your students dharma now.

That leads us to Dogen Zenji's second example from the Gakudoyojinshu. The teacher is like a skilled carpenter, the student is like a piece of wood, he says there. It depends solely on the carpenter what can be made from the piece of wood. Even low quality wood will turn into a piece of art when the right carpenter works on it. This is an important teaching for anyone who is in the position of a teacher: When your students do not develop in the way you wish, do not blame it on them, balme it on yourself. Otherwise you are like a carpenter who says": "Who built this crooked house? There must have been something wrong with the wood!"

For the student, though, there lies a danger here: You might think that the responsibility for your practice does not lie with you, but with your teacher. You might ask: "How come that after three years I am still not enlightened? Why do I still suffer? What makes me miserable? Maybe I should look for a different teacher!"

No, it is not only the teacher who defines the student, it is also the student who defines the teacher. YOU create the teacher just as much as the teacher creates you. Sariputra, Maudgalyāyana, Mahakasyapa, Subhuti and Anada, even Devadatta all studied with the same Shakyamuni Buddha, but at the same time the all had a different teacher, i.e. the Shakaymuni they created through their teacher-student relationship. None of the twelve deciples of Jesus saw the same messiah. Judas met a different Jesus than Peter met. And Paul, who never met Jesus in person at all, created most of the "messiah" we know of today.

To use a different analogy:
If monk's ordination is like asking a girl out on a date for the first time, dharma combat ceremony might be like her letting you have sex for the first time (she is quite conservative and might let you wait for some years). Finally, she might ask you: "Will you marry me?" If you answer in the affarmative, what follows will be shiho. You fill out papers at the town office and are registered as an officially married couple. As with shiho, the reality is not in the registration form. That you love each other as a couple is something you will have to proof to each other in the years to follow. It would be strange to say: "We have not seen each others in years, have not exchanged a word, but we are still a married couple!" In that case, you are only married on paper.

On the other hand, what if you say: "Maybe we are not officially married, but we have been together for quite some time now and really love each other. We can have sex and everything, we can even have kids without being legally married, so why get married in the first place? We can do without!"

Maybe you can do without, but most people (maybe including her) will not view it as the same thing. They will ask: "If you really love me (or her) as much as you claim, why not take responsibility and marry me (or her)?"
Or, as is usually the case, if she (the master) is the one who is not so enthusiastic about getting married to you, maybe she does not love you as much as you would like to think? Maybe it is only in your head?

On the other hand, you have those who can not get married often enough. But not only do you hear from teachers with "multiple transmission", you also hear of teachers who call themselves students of Zenmaster A, but if you look at their credentials, they have dharma transmisson from Zen master B, who comes from a completely different lineage. There are dozens of others, who call themselves the last or best or only true deciples of Sawaki Kodo Roshi (for example), but never received any documentation for that. They claim to have received some "mind to mind transmission", but that "transmission" exists only in their mind, nothing more. It is like you inherit a Chinese noodle shop, but you advertise yourself saying: "In reality I am offering French cousine, it just happens to say "Blue dragon" on the door, that is all!"

From my perspective, there is nothing wrong with Chinese food or French food or Japanese food, this or that lineage of Zen, you should just make clear what you where trained to cook. You can even train with different cooks at different times of your life, or be an auto-didactic cook in your own right, but when it comes to opening your own restaurant, it might be a good idea to decide what food you want to offer. Just throwing all the spices together will not make an "ethnic dish". If you offer French cousine, get qualification for that. If you run a Chinese noodle shop, get trained for that.

It is as if these people were saying: "I am married to this girl here, but the woman I really love was someone else. Unfortunately, she never got around to asking me if I would marry her, but in her heart she loved me more than anyone else!" Or it is like telling the new girl you are dating that the marriage ring on your finger is just symbolical and really means nothing.

On the other hand, if a teacher tries to disown a student whom he has given shiho, going so far as saying that he is not a true Buddhist, is like a wife that tries to divorce her husband saying: "I never loved you in the first place, I just married because you insisted on it."

4) This is the start, not the goal

Dharma transmission is not the last and final step in a student's practice. Quite the opposite, one might call it the real first step on the way of practice. The way has just begun, but now the student has decided which exact way he wants to follow to the end. But all the real hardships still lay ahead of him. To use the example of boy-meets-girl again: At this point of time they have decided that they are made for each other, so to speak, they want to get married and have kids. Hopefully, that does not mean that the romance is over. It just means that both are prepared for the real struggle to begin.

5) The documents

Proof of the dharma transmission is put in black ink on three (or four) pieces of white silk paper. The paper is not a substitute for the transmission itself, but without the paper, no transmission. The documents are like the sign you put under the marriage papers. You can not say: "Maybe I was married to someone else and had kids with him, but I let him marry me only because he was the richest man in town at the time. My real sweetheart was this cool guy whom I met when I was still in high-school, he whispered "I love you sooo muc" in my ear just before he died. In reality, HE is my real love." Unfortunately, that is exaclty what many people have to say about their teacher.

I would recommend: "Marry the girl or boy you love! Or do not marry at all!"
Some may say: "I never had the intention to marry anyway. The idea is so old-fashioned! I will just enjoy myself and spred my seeds like that." In a way, it is true that the instituion that marriage and shiho represent are quite narrow and old-fashiond. "Unnatural" in a way. I would be surprised if Shakyamuni gave dharma transmission to anyone. Probably the idea never occured to him. It seems to be more of a Chinese concept that you can be the "dharma heir" of one and only one master. But, just as the instition of marriage, which is so un-natural and inconvenient sometimes, it still has survived for some reason to the present day. There must be some reason why proper shiho is still held in high regard. When I look at the cases of some "Zen-masters" and their students, I think I begin to understand why.

Love is not in the paper, but it does make a difference if you are legally married to a woman or not, even if it does not make a difference to you. And it also does make a difference if you get "married" deep in the jungle in Thailand for the x-th time, or in a chapel in Las Vegas, or officially registered at the town hall.

The papers can not replace the marriage, they are no guarantee for a happy marriage. But there is a difference between being "married in your mind", or in black and white.

6) Once and forever

Dharma transmission can never be erased. Married persons can get a divorce, but the fact of child birth can never be denied. Once you have transmitted the dharma, you can not claim it back. Once you have received it, you can not return it. But even stupid things like this can sometimes be seen in the "Zen" world.

7) Transmission of what?

What is transmitted when dharma transmission takes place? Just the paper, or some philosophical understanding, or a mystical experience? What is the real content of the transmission? At the transmission ceremony itself, the papers are checked between teacher and student, and many prostrations are done, the student pays respect to the teacher, the teacher pays respect to the student. This is the recognition of the transmission that took place long before the ceremony itself. In fact, it has nothing to do at all with the paper, with philosophy or with mystical experience. The 24 hours of the daily life shared by teacher and student are the content of the transmission, and nothing else.

Cool When does it happen?

Dharma transmission does not (or at least: SHOULD NOT) happen "on a whim". In Antaiji, when you receive shiho after, say, eight or nine years, you will have sat for 15.000 hours of zazen with your teacher. Not only that, you also shared many thousands of meals with him, worked together in the fields for thousands of hours, spread manure, cut grass and wood together, side by side, you sweat together in the summer and froze together in the winter. You cooked for him and filled the bath tub for him, you know how he likes the temperature both of his soup and the bathing water. You also shared many drinks, probabaly. In each of these activities, the dharma is transmitted. None should be left out. Of course, things like weraing the o-kesa, the formal robes, or using o-ryo-ki, the eating bowls, and finally the writing of the shiho documents itself are part of this. Each single one of these day to day activities is of the utmost importance. As with marriage and child birth again, if you do not know each oter and have lived to gether for a long, long time, how can you make a lifetime commitment? Dharma transmission does not happen simply because you sat through a few dozens of "Zen retreats", finished all the "recommended reading" by your teacher and maybe spaced out once or twice on your bicycle on the way to work (which you mistook for enlightenment). Having received the dharma should never be confused with just having an attitude.

Using the Confucius quote again:
At fifteen my heart was set on learning; at thirty I stood firm; at forty I had no more doubts; at fifty I knew the mandate of heaven; at sixty my ear was obedient; at seventy I could follow my heart's desire without transgressing the norm.

Although you do not have to be at the age of forty to receive shiho (most people are usually younger, but also many much older), this is the point where you have no more doubts about the direction of your practice and who your teacher is. Not only that, you are also able to teach others now and point them a direction. But you are certainly still far away from the state where you can just "follow heart's desire without transgressing the norm". This has also sometimes be misunderstood and led to a lot of trouble in the past, especially sex and drug and money related problems. So maybe we should add another point:

9) Authorization as Zen master?

Dharma transmission does not make you a zen master (what is that anyway? We will see soon...). It does not make you an osho (Japanese for "teacher") either. It is the first of three steps (shiho, ten-e and zuise), at the end of which you will officially be promoted to the rank of osho. In Japanese Soto-Zen, there more than 15.000 people with this rank. It is not as special as you might believe. If you have only shiho but not performed zuise yet, you are not regarded as a teacher of Zen. That, of course, does not man that you can not share your practice with others. Even if you are not a teacher, you can and should share your practice with others.

And what is a Zen master in the first place?
A Zen master, in Japanese, is a zenji. This title is reserved for the founder Dogen Zenji and all the abbots of the two main temples, Eiheiji and Sojiji. So at each time, there is usually only two zenjis alive, unless there is a zenji living somewhere in retirement (like Itabashi Zenji, who is the third zenji alive right now). So, to become a zenji is not impossible, but it is a long way and shiho alone is certainly not enough. Calling yourself a Zen master just because you have shiho is a joke.

So how about roshi? Is someone with shiho considered to be a roshi?
Again, shiho alone is worthless without ten-e and zuise (which I will write about in the following months). But even with ten-e and zuise, you are not a roshi. What is a roshi? Literally, it is an old master. Someone in America once famously said: "Anyone who calls himself a "roshi" and succeeds in making others call him "roshi" too, is a roshi!"
That is probably true in America. And it is also half-true for Soto-shu in Japan, in so far as there is no official rank of roshi. You can and will not be authorized as a roshi by the headquarters. So indeed, everything depends on whether people (usually your students) are willing to call you "roshi" or not. What makes it more complicated in Japan, though, is: If you call yourself a "roshi" here, people will see it as a clear sign that you are not. They will think you are deluded egomaniac, and probably they are not so wrong. If, on the other hand, you claim: "I am a total fool!" - they will say: "At least he has realized as much as that!"

So in Japan, the rule goes:
"Anyone who succeeds in making others call himself a "roshi" without calling himself a "roshi", is a roshi."
A little more sophisticated than the Americanized version of the roshi, but the idea is essentailly the same: Try to make others think of yorself as someone important.

Anyway, having shiho has nothing to do with either being a zenji nor a roshi. Does this mean that it is not so big of a step to make after all? Is it quite meaningless if and when and where you receive shiho? Not at all!

First, if you claim to be a teacher without having shiho, than you should do so without referring to any lineage. It is pretty bad style to say: "I represent this and this lineage, unfortunately my teacher forgot to give me the papers!"
So although shiho alone is not much, no shiho at all qualifies you for nothing but being a dharma practioner in your own right, a follower of the buddha way who may practice on his own or along with others. You may even teach the dharma, but you should not pose as an authorized representative of a lineage or school. Believe it or not, that happens all the time. If you teach without shiho, you should make clear that you are not part of one of the existing schools, but the founder of your own school (which is OK of course, as long as you state so).

10) Is dharma transmission a guarantee for spiritual attainment, or anything?

No, dharma transmission is no guarantee for anything. It only shows that the person who gave the transmission - and only that one person - was convinced that the student was qualified as a teacher. Could he have been wrong? Yes, he could have been wrong. Therefore, if you want to make sure that a teacher is actually a good teacher, you should not only ask if he or she has dharma transmission or not. The question is: Where does this dharma transmission come form? What lineage does it represent? And even more important: What practice did accompany it? What kind of student was the teacher before he or she became a teacher? What is his or her practice now?

On the other hand, is it possible that somebody is a good teacher but has no dharma transmission at all? Yes, that is possible. Shakyamuni Buddha had no dharma transmission. At least from no historical existing person, and that is the kind of transmission we are talking about here. Still, he is a teacher. OUR teacher, because we made him OUR teacher. But such cases are rare. If you meet a person who claims to be a teacher but has no dharma transmission, you should look even closer at who that person is, what he or she is actually teaching and how he or she is actualizing it in their daily life.

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Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc Empty
PostSubject: Re: Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc   Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc Empty4/23/2013, 12:06 pm

Now, the third essay in this series has lots of colorful diagrams, and I don't know how to insert them here. So to make sense of this section, you should probably go to the website and read it there.


What does it take to become a full-fledged Soto-shu priest and is it really worth the whole deal?
(Part 3: Ten-e and some words about Zui-se)
(Adult practice - Part 47)

We have now reached steps 4 and 5 in the carrier of a monk. In a booklet that arrived the other day from the headquarters in Tokyo, I found the picture below that divides the carrier of a priest into ten steps, starting with birth and ending with death. In this curriculum, the two steps are treated as one. After you complete them, you have the rank of osho:

What does ten-e and zuise mean?
Ten-e literally means "to turn the robe", i.e. to change dress. Unsui (training monks) are allowed to wear only black robes and black o-kesa. When you ordain, your teacher has to send a picture taken at the ceremony to the headquarters in Tokyo to have the ordination certified. In the past I gave some of the monks who ordained at Antaiji brown kesas at ordination, and as a result the were not recognized as Soto monks. This is strange, because o-kesa stems from the Sanskrit word kasaya, which obviously refers to the mixed, rusty-brown colour the monks robes are traditionally dyed in. Anyway, I had to take another picture with my students in a different, black robe, and voila!, they were recognized as proper Soto monks.

Now, ten-e is the point in the carrier of a Soto monk when you are finally allowed to wear a yellow-brown robe. The conditions are that you have finished dharma transmission (shiho) and are at least 20 years old. You had to be at least 16 to become a head monk (shuso), and in theory you could receive dharma transmission as a teenager. But you are not allowed to wear the brown robe before the age of 20.

This is interesting, because at the time of the Buddha - and even now in the Theravada tradition - you have to be at least 20 years old to take full ordination as a bikkhu (monk). Could it be that ten-e in Soto-shu is something like a full monk's ordination? At least in theory, the answer is no. The precepts for novices, in Japanese shami-kai exist also in Soto-shu, but they are only given to kids below the age of 10. If you ordain and are over 10 years old, you are - at least in theory - a full fledged monk. But in practice, I think, the regular tokudo-shiki (monk's ordination, also called priest's odrination sometimes) is something like a novice ordination, while the steps of dharma transmission, ten-e and zuise finally make you a proper monk. But that is only my personal impression, it is not the official Soto-shu point of view.

If you are over 20 years old, you can do ten-e any time after you have finished shiho. Your teacher has to send in a document called ten-e-suikyojo. If your teacher has already died, you can send in a document by yourself called ten-e-shiganjo. After a little waiting, the headquarters will return a document called ten-e-kyojo, i.e. the permission to change the robes and wear a coloured o-kesa. After receiving this permission, you have two years of time to pay respect to the two main temples, Eiheiji and Sojiji, where you act as the "abbot for one night". This is called zuise and this is the first time you wear the yellow-brown o-kesa. If you do not perform zuise within two years after ten-e, you lose the permission to change the robes, i.e. you have apply a second time.

There are regulations for ten-e after your teacher has died. Are there regulations for shiho in the case your teacher dies? Naturally, you can not receive shiho from your teacher after he has passed away. Dharma transmission in a dream is not recognized. How abot dharma transmission on the deathbed? In fact, this kind of dharma transmissonm can be recognized, but only under certain conditons: If the teacher lies on the deathbed, he or she can transmit the dharma without the usually decorum and the one-week preparation of documents, but with a simple prostration of teacher and student (called shi-shi-menju-no-hai in Japanese). Still, witnesses are necessary. it is not enough to claim that your teacher whispered the words into your ear, unheard by anyone else. The witness needs to be a Soto-shu priest who is on the board of the temple (i.e. the sekinin-yakuin) and at the same time a doctor needs to issue a medical certificate as proof of the critical condition of the teacher at the time of the shi-shi-menju-no-hai. Even in this case, there are objective criteria for dharma transmission to take place. It never happens just "mind-to-mind".

But let us return to the topic. The picture below shows what colour of robe you can wear at what stage of your monk's carrier:

As a joza (ordained monk before hossenshiki) and zagen (ordained monk after hossenshiki, but before zuise) you can waer only black o-kesa over a black koromo (outer Chinese style robe). On the night that you pay respect to Eiheiji and Sojiji, you can wear a coloured o-kesa for the first time. Usually it has the yellow-brown colour shown in the picture. Your koromo is still black. After zuise you are promoted to the rank of osho and eventually you might become the resident priest in your own temple. At that point, you are allowed to wear a coloured koromo as well, but not the fancy colours like red, yellow or purple which are reserved for the higher special ranks (about those, later). As osho, you can also wear a special hat named after the founder of tea ceremony, Rikyu. I do not own one, but this store sells them for 12.600 Yen a piece:

Nice, isn't it? The higher the rank you climbed, the fancier the hats. They get more expensive too! The picture below will give you an idea how you might look once you have reached the top of the ladder:

You are promoted from one rank to the next whenever you finish one of the steps in the carrier of a monk:
After ordination, you are a joza.
After being the shuso for a three-month training period, you become zagen.
After finishing zuise, you are promoted to osho.
After you become the head priest at your own temple and hold a practice period there for the first time (with one student acting as the shuso), you will finally reach the highest rank of dai-osho.

These four ranks are pretty straight forward and depend on nothing but your performance as a monk under your teacher, and then as a head priest. These ranks are called hokai in Japanese, which literally means "dharma ranks". Apart from these "dharma ranks", there exist eight special ranks, sokai in Japanese, which means "priest rank". Promotion from sokai to sokai is a little more complicated and depends on the school education you received and the amount of time you spend in an offivially recognized training monastery. The lowest sokai is that of a third rank priest. I do not know anyone who has that rank, it does not entitle you to become a priest. When you ordain, you do not have a sokai at all. You get promoted after you trained in an officially recognized monastery and then complete zuise. Everyone I know gets promoted at least to the 2nd rank priest, which is the second lowest rank. The list below shows how long you have to stay in a training monastery to be promoted to the rank of 2nd rank, 1st rank or sei-kyoshi.

If you graduated from university, you can become a 2nd rank Soto priest in 6 months (or 1st rank in 2 and a half years, sei-kyoshi in 4 and a half years). If dropped out of high-school, you need 3 years to obtain the same rank (or 6 years for 1st rank, 10 years for sei-kyoshi). To be promoted to the higher ranks above sei-kyoshi, you first need to become a sei-kyoshi and then wait for someone at the top to recommend you for promotion. For the promotion to the rank of gon-daikyoshi, you need to be at least 55 years old. For dai-kyoshi, you need to be 60 and there is a maximum number of 180 people inside Soto-shu who can have this rank. The famous Aoyama Shundo roshi recently became the first woman in the history of Soto-shu to be promoted to this rank. There are only 30 gon-daikyojo, and only the two abbots of Eiheiji and Sojiji possess the rank of daikyojo. Sounds complicated? It is! What changes when you get promoted? Nothing much, except the colour of the kesa and koromo you are allowe dto wear, and the special hat of course. Also, the annual contribution you have to make to Soto-shu depends on your sokai:

As a simple training monk, you pay nothing.
As 3rd rank kyoshi, you pay 4.000 Yen (about 35 bucks with the strong Yen of 2010).
As 2nd rank kyoshi, you pay 10.000 Yen.
As 1st rank kyoshi, you pay 15.000 Yen.
As sei-kyoshi, you pay 30.000 Yen.
As gon-daikyoshi, you pay 150.000 Yen.
As daikyoshi, you pay 210.000 Yen.
As gon-daikyojo, you pay 300.000 Yen (about 2700 bucks in 2010).
No-one knows, if or how much the daikyojos pay.

You have to make these annual contribution through the temple at which you are registered until you die. After your death, the temple has to produce a deat certificate to be exempted from these contributions (this can become important, as Antaiji for example has to pay contributions for a nun (1st rank) that ordained with Sawaki roshi more than half a century ago and hasn't been heard of for decades. Still we are billed for her contributions every year, and that hurts if you have no parish and therefore no income from funerals).

OK. So much for whining about the bureaucratic stuff. Some words about the "officially recognized training monasteries". These are called sodo in Japanese, literally a monk's hall. Antaiji consideres itself a sodo, but we are not an officially recognized one. That means that you can train here for as many years as you like, you will not be promoted to any rank (except osho, if you receive the dharma transmission - about which we learned two months ago). If you want to become a full-fledged priest who can take over a Soto temple in Japan, you have to spent at least a couple of months to a couple of years in one of thirty something training monasteries in Japan. The most famous ones are Eiheiji and Sojiji, but from Hokkaido to Kyushu, there many other alternatives. Eiheiji and Sojiji have more than 100 traing monks staying there (usually for not more than a year or two), while most of the others have less than ten monks living in the monastery. All of them except two are for men, the nunneries are in Nagoya and in Niigata prefecture. The time done in these places is called ango, it will be the topic of another article. But in two months, first let us get back to zuise, becoming the head abbot of Eiheiji and Sojiji for a night.

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PostSubject: Re: Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc   Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc Empty4/23/2013, 12:12 pm

Now there are many more essays in this series, so probably best not to post them all here, but they are all under the on-line newsletter called LOTUS IN THE FIRE - the essays on what it means to be a Zen monk started in 2010. I have not have time to read the other essays.


Maybe people will find some of this information - from different sources - useful in understanding Zen in Japan, Kennett's time in Japan, how many aspects of Zen are viewed differently... etc.
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PostSubject: Re: Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc   Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc Empty1/24/2015, 11:24 pm


Soto Zen Ranks

Zen institutions have an elaborate system of ranks and hierarchy, which determine one’s position in the institution. Within this system, novices train to become a Zen priest, or a trainer of new novices.
From its beginnings, Sōtō Zen has placed a strong emphasis on lineage and dharma transmission. In time, dharma transmission became synonymous with the transmission of temple ownership. This was changed by Manzan Dokahu (1636–1714), a Sōtō reformer, who argued that Dharma transmission was dependent on personal initiation between a Master and disciple rather than on the disciple’s enlightenment.

Sōtō-Zen has two ranking systems, hokai (four dharma ranks) and sokai (eight priest ranks).


The dharma ranks point to the stages in the training to become a Oshō, priest  To become a dai-Oshō, priest of a Zen-temple, one has to follow the training in an officially recognized training centre, sōdō-ango, literally “monks hall”.


Becoming a Sōtō-Zen priest starts with shukke tokudo. In this ceremony, the novice receives his outfit (“inner and outer robes, belts, o-kesa, rakusu, kechimyaku (transmission chart) and eating bowls” and takes the precepts. One is then an Unsui, a training monk. This gives the rank of joza, except for children under ten years old, who are called sami.


The next step,after one has been a monk for at least three years, is risshin and hossen-shiki (Dharma combat ceremony), while acting as a shuso, head monk, during a retreat. Hosseshiki is a ceremony in which questions and answers are exchanged. After this ceremony, one is promoted to the rank of zagen.


The third step is shihō, or denpo, dharma transmission. Dharma transmission is the recognition of the transmission that took place long before the ceremony itself. In fact, it has nothing to do at all with the paper, with philosophy or with mystical experience. The 24 hours of the daily life shared by teacher and student are the content of the transmission, and nothing else.


To become a oshō, teacher, two more steps are to be taken, ten-e and zuise. Ten-e means means “to turn the robe”. Unsui (training monks) are allowed to wear only black robes and black o-kesa. Ten-e is the point in the carrier of a Sōtō monk when you are finally allowed to wear a yellow-brown robe.


Zuise is also called ichiya-no-jūshoku. In this ceremony, one is “abbott for one night”. The ceremony originates in the medieval organisation of the Sōtō-shū, when rotation of abbotship was the norm. Dharma transmission at a branch temple obliged one to serve at least one term as abbot at the main temple. Abbotship gave severe duties, and financial burdens, for which reason many tried to avoid the responsibility of abbotship. After zuise one becomes an Oshō.


After having become oshō one may become a dai-oshō, resident priest in a Zen-temple. It takes further training in a sōdō-ango, an officially recognized Sōtō-shū training centre. A prerequisite to become dai-oshō is to do ango, “to stay in peace” or “safe shelter”. Ango is a period of 90 or 100 days of intensive practice. There is no fixed stage on the training-path when ango has to be done, but ordination as a monk is necessary, and it has to been done in a sōdō-ango. The aspirant dai-oshō has to spend at least six months there, but one or two years is the usual span of time.


To supervise the training of monks, further qualification is necessary. The relatively low status of dharma transmission means that in and of itself it does not qualify one to accept students or to train disciples. According to the regulations, Zen students should be supervised only by a teacher who has attained supervisory certification (i.e. sanzen dōjō shike status), that is, someone who in the popular literature might be called a Zen master.
To attain supervisory certification requires not just high ecclesiastical grades and dharma seniority but also at least three years’ experience as an assistent supervisor at a specially designated training hall (tokubetsu sōdō), during which time one undergoes an apprenticeship.
There are two grades for training supervisor, namely shike and jun shike. Appointment as shike is done by cooptation:
There are about 50 or so of these in Soto (the Rinzai roshis can also be addressed as “shike”). Even if your teacher is a shike, he can not appoint you as a shike. There is instead a kind of committee, called the “shike-kai”, consisting of all Japanese Soto shike. The shike-kai can appoint anyone as a shike whom they consider their equal, i.e. who has done genuine training and study, cultivated himself and reached whatever understanding that might be considered enlightened enough to match the enlightenment of the other shike.


Promotion in priest-rank depends on school education and amount of time spend in monastery training. There are eight ranks:

  1. santō-kyōshi (instructor 3rd rank)
  2. nitō-kyōshi (instructor 2nd rank)
  3. ittō-kyōshi (instructor 1st rank)
  4. sei-kyōshi (instructor proper)
  5. gon-daikyōshi (adjunct senior instructor)
  6. daikyōshi (senior instructor)
  7. gon-daikyōjō (adjunct prefect)
  8. daikyōjō (prefect)
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Essays from Antaiji Website: on being a Soto priest, transmission, ranks, etc Empty
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