Taigu and I (Jundo) are very content to announce that, last Thursday, our Treeleaf Sangha ordained three new novice Soto Zen priests in the traditional manner.
What was not so traditional, however — and rather groundbreaking and somewhat controversial — is that it was, we believe, the first time that a Buddhist Ordination has been performed simultaneously on three continents (with the preceptors, Taigu and Jundo, in Japan, and our three ordainees in Canada, Germany and Sweden) all linked by audio-visual media via the internet.
Well, welcome to the future… which is just the present all along!
Oh, some small changes to tradition had to be made, and customs adapted, such as that bestowal of the Buddhist robes and head shaving occurring at the hands of a friend or loved one who “served as our hands across the world, and the hands of the Buddha across time.”
Some of the more conservative folks in the Buddhist world may have trouble with that fact, and we have heard some critical voices raised about the nature and effect of the ceremony. It is surprising to me that so many Buddhist folks, though all about dropping artificial categories like “distance and space,” and who regularly invite all the ancient Buddhas and long dead Ancestors into their ceremonies, seem to reject that a ceremony of ordination can be done “long distance via the internet.”
Our reason for choosing to conduct the ceremony this way is simply keeping with the entire spirit of our Treelife Sangha as an an online practice place for Zen practitioners who cannot easily commute to a Zen Center due to health concerns, living in remote areas, or childcare and family needs, and our seeking to provide Zazen sittings, retreats, discussion, interaction with a teacher, and all other activities of a Zen Buddhist Sangha, all fully online. As we approach our fifth year, we believe we have succeeded, and the ceremony is another symbol of that and the strength of our community. What is more, beyond any ceremony, the real test and responsibility will be the training and education as clergy, ministers and teachers that it is our responsibility to now provide these novice priests. In order to do so, we are about to embark on a road which will take years of hard and sincere effort, also combining traditional ways and some very new, innovative ways of education. If anyone wishes to download and read a very long and detailed statement of the ‘goalless goals’ of training that these three are expected to follow and come to embody … Here it is (33 pages, PDF) based, as closely as we can, upon guidelines for priest training established by the The Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) of North America.
The video of the ceremony is in three parts (about 40 minutes). Here is the first part; Be sure to toggle to “FULL SCREEN” for the full effect. (That’s the little button on the lower right of the YouTube screen.)
This is an important moment for any Buddhist Sangha, and a time for celebration. Congratulations to the three Ordainees as they undertake training!