Authorization, Ordination, and Transmission:
Spiritual Leadership Within the Boundless Way Zen Community
The Zen way is about awakening.
The shape and various disciplines of the Zen way are all upaya(skillful means), helping us to see through self and other and to find lives of liberation for ourselves and for all beings.
The Zen school has developed some powerful means to assist us on our way toward awakening. With endless bows to our teachers and ancestors along this ancient path, the Boundless Way project is focused on how best to bring forward the Zen that we’ve inherited into this time and in this place, allowing the transmission to find its most useful expressions, as best we see it.
Traditionally, authority within Zen has been binary, on or off, all or nothing. A person has a great realization, is confirmed by the teacher, and then teaches. Everyone else is a student. Of course this is a myth, in all senses of that word. Among the shadows within Zen as it has come West has been a lack of clarity about what awakening and leadership really are. In fact people train for many years, following a variety of paths encompassed within Zen’s disciplines, have many small and large openings, and offer what they have found in a variety of ways. The Boundless Way project is committed to encouraging people on this path, or more accurately, on these paths, and at various places to hold up the gifts that are being offered, while at the same time fostering and transmitting the traditional forms of authority.
There are many reasons for opening our understanding of who is offering wisdom and guidance. Sadly, one consequence of the binary understanding of enlightened/unenlightened has been that people have felt that “graduation,” fully manifesting the path, necessarily means becoming a teacher. This has been reinforced by the literature, which in large part was carried forward through stories specifically focused on the awakening of our ancestral teachers. We want to underscore that teaching is a particular function within the Great Way, and that in reality people who do not go on to teach in any formal sense may in fact be the wisest and most integrated among us.
We’ve found that teaching and ordination are each particular “callings” within the Zen way, manifestations of personality and inclination as well as insight, training, and disposition. They are a manifestation of the mysterious workings of karma, the interplay of numberless causes and conditions. And they are simply part of the larger web of relationships that make up our Way.
So, within the Boundless Way we have also felt it important to acknowledge teaching as teaching even when in the hands of people who have not received Dharma transmission. In the document that follows we acknowledge a number of such teaching responsibilities and what they mean, as well as how we understand the basic requirements for the more traditional forms of authority.
Another binary distinction that has historically been present in the Buddhist tradition, including Zen in its Chinese form, has been between renunciate practitioners and their nonpracticing lay supporters. The renunciates, monastics adhering to the hundreds of strictures in the Vinaya code, constituted the ordained sangha—and for many centuries it was the Vinaya-ordained sangha that was the principle means through which the Buddhist tradition was maintained and transmitted. In Japan, an additional mode of ordination emerged—one involving a much smaller number of precepts, held compassionately in the service of all beings. Notably absent from this form of ordination was a vow of celibacy. This mode can be called Bodhisattva ordination—and is the form of ordination maintained in Boundless Way and much if not all of the other Japanese-derived Zen lineages. The shifts in focus from Vinaya ordination to Bodhisattva ordination reflects our vision of the fullness of the Zen way. This document will also spell out what Bodhisattva ordination means in the context of Boundless Way Zen.
FORMAL TEACHING AUTHORITY WITHIN BOUNDLESS WAY ZEN
The following teaching authorizations are given in trust to individuals through the Guiding Teachers Council: Practice Leader, Dharma Teacher, and Senior Dharma Teacher. The latter two titles are borrowed from the Kwan Um School of Zen. There is some ongoing concern that the titles are inflated. And they are. For instance, Dharma Teacher and Senior Dharma Teacher are nearly the same titles given to very senior teachers within one of the largest convert Zen communities in the West: the San Francisco Zen Center. But for now we feel that the need to hold up the importance of non-transmitted teaching has trumped any concern with confusion about titles. We spell out the restrictions here. These teaching authorizations do not represent Dharma transmission in the sense used normatively in the Zen world. These appointed positions may be rescinded by the Guiding Teachers Council. The authority granted is strictly derivative, held only as long as the Guiding Teachers Council or the individuals themselves feel it helpful for the individual leader and the community.
Practice Leader: A Practice Leader holds responsibility for a Boundless Way group or a part of a larger Boundless Way center or temple. They are familiar with the forms of practice in Boundless Way Zen, and may give basic practice instruction. They are people with a stable meditation practice and some basic understanding of the Dharma and the Boundless Way sangha.
Dharma Teacher: A Dharma Teacher is a mature practitioner who has been given permission to give talks within the community. In general, five years of practice and substantial sesshin experience are expected of anyone advanced to this position.
Senior Dharma Teacher: A Senior Dharma Teacher may give talks, and may meet individually with students in private interviews (dokusan/sanzen). Within parameters set by their Shoken teachers, Senior Dharma Teachers may also work with students on koans. In general eight to ten years of practice and extensive sesshin training are expected of anyone advanced to this position.
Dharma transmission teaching authorizations are given by one of the Guiding Teachers through the authority of her/his own transmission, in consultation with the Guiding Teachers Council.
Boundless Way transmits three traditional Zen lineages. We transmit the Korean derived Linji lineage received by George Bowman from Seung Sahn. We transmit the reformed Japanese derived Soto lineage, emphasizing koans, received by John Tarrant from Robert Aitken. And we transmit the Japanese-derived Soto priestly transmission received by Jiyu Kennett from Chisan Koho. All our priests are ordained within the Kennett transmission, and are registered as clergy with the Soto Zen Buddhist Association.
Dharma Entrustment (for lay practitioners) or Denkai (for priests)
This is the beginning of formal Dharma transmission, the acknowledgment of deep insight into great matter of Zen in alignment with one’s teacher. The formal title is Dharma Holder and for priests, also Osho.
A Dharma holder may give the precepts and receive formal students through the rite of shoken. For priests this is full ordination, and an Osho may ordain others up to and through this rank. A Dharma holder may not transmit their own successors.
Among other expectations a Dharma holder is usually expected to have sat for a minimum of two hundred days of sesshin or zazenkai. If a koan practitioner, a Dharma holder is expected to have advanced significantly through the Harada Yasutani curriculum.
As acknowledgment of Precepts transmission, the first of the San Motsu documents passed on in Japanese Soto Zen, the kechimiyakuis given. Priests will also receive the kiragami. There is a private ceremony followed by a public acknowledgement where the new teacher is given a kotsu, a lay teacher will also receive a colored rakusu and a priest a colored kesa.
A Dharma holder is eligible to join the American Zen Teachers Association. A priest is eligible to join the Soto Zen Buddhists Association, a lay teacher the Lay Zen Teachers Association.
(also Denbo, also Inka Shomei)
This is full transmission, acknowledgement of mastery on the Zen way. The title for a Dharma successor is Sensei.
A sensei is free to function as a Zen teacher in any way they find appropriate.
Among other expectations a sensei is usually expected to have sat for a minimum of three hundred days of sesshin or zazenkai. If a koan practitioner, a sensei is usually expected to have completed the Harada Yasutani curriculum.
As recognition of Dharma transmission, a Dharma successor is given the other two San Matsu documents in a private ceremony, followed by a public ceremony where another lineage document is presented.
A sensei is eligible to be elected to the Boundless Way Zen Guiding Teachers Council, upon nomination by a guiding teacher and election by the Leadership council.
Five years from Dharma transmission there will be a public ceremony where a teacher’s seniority is acknowledged and after which they may use the title roshi.
Shoken: The Primary Student-Teacher Relationship
Within Boundless Way Zen, we encourage committed students to do interviews (dokusan) with all of the teachers. At some point it is wise to enter into a primary relationship with one teacher. This primary teacher-student relationship is traditionally called shoken, which literally means "seeing one another." The shoken relationship in Boundless Way is not meant to be exclusive. We encourage shoken students to continue to study with all our teachers.
In Boundless Way shoken is formalized in a private ceremony between you and your primary transmitted teacher. If you are considering shoken, the first step is to speak with one of the teachers. If the teacher agrees to proceed, the next steps will be explained then.