February 23, 2021
Receiving the Precepts Mid-Pandemic

By Tova Green

On a cool afternoon in mid-February, Green Gulch Farm held San Francisco Zen Center’s first Lay Initiation ceremony since the Covid-19 pandemic began nearly a year ago. The ceremony took place outdoors, on a large lawn near the zendo. The participants wore masks and were physically distanced, as were the sangha members who came to witness and support the ceremony.

The day before the ceremony Eijun Linda Cutts spoke about the meaning of Jukai in her Sunday Dharma talk. She referred to it as a Bodhisattva initiation and described the mind of a person entering an initiation as open and receptive, like the mind of the Buddha.

During the ceremony the initiates receive the rakusu (miniature Buddha’s Robe) they have sewn, a new name, and a lineage document showing their connection to Buddhist ancestors, beginning with their teachers and going back to Shakyamuni Buddha. They vow to follow the sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts and to live their lives for the benefit of all beings.

The two preceptors, Green Gulch Farm Abiding Abbess Fu Schroeder, and Tanto (head of practice) Jiryu Rutschman-Byler, each ordained two students, all residents of  Green Gulch Farm. Fu’s students are Tee Peng and Jenny Mok; Jiryu’s students are Tsubasa Ohkawa and Nidia Gil.

Tee Peng was given the dharma name Shugyo Shishin / Cultivating Practice, Lion’s Heart. She wrote about her experience sewing her rakusu and about the ceremony itself: “When I was sewing my rakusu, I wanted to finish it fast and at times felt frustrated. Later I realized that the slow progress was good for my practice and was a necessary one, for it not only taught me to be patient but taught me to quiet my mind and taught me to truly understand what receiving the precepts means. By the time I finished my last stitch, I felt that I was already wearing a robe within me and the rakusu was just a formality.

“During the Jukai Ceremony, it dawned on me that the robe in me will always be guiding me on how to live by the precepts, and the rakusu is an expression of accountability for my body, speech, and mind.

“I asked my teacher if I could have the word, Gyo(行)  for my dharma name as it is my favorite Chinese word and it encompasses the vow  —  my practice to be of service to others  —  I aspire to live by. The way I understand my whole Dharma name, Shugyo Shishin (修行獅心), is practicing wisdom. Without wisdom, to be of service to others will be a meaningless mantra, for wisdom and compassion are the wings of a bird. I feel this is a teaching my teacher has bestowed on me. A teaching for life! My head is getting dizzy just thinking about it and I haven’t had the courage to tell the community to call me by my Dharma name.”

Jenny Mok’s dharma name is Kogetsu Shojun / Bright Moon, Pure-Hearted Truth. She wrote, “I’m honored and filled with gratitude to my teacher, Fu, my Dharma brothers and sisters, and the world-wide Sangha that loves and supports me. The Dharma name fits well. I feel seen! And, at last, there is a deep sense of refuge that fills me with joy, respect, responsibility, and love for the incredible vows we get to live and be sustained by. Deep bows and infinite gratitude!”

Nidia Gil, whose new name is Engyoku Eiji / Whole Jewel, Reflecting Compassion, said, “We beautifully entered the Buddhist path in a fully open zendo, embraced by nature. I begin this path with the name Engyoku Eiji that reminds me of the practice of realizing the whole jewel we are, this all-inclusive luminous mind, reflecting the compassion of Buddha’s heart.”

Tsubasa Ohkawa received the name Yuryu Chogo / Gentle Stream, Leaping Awake. He wrote: “An opportunity to publicly express something from the deeper regions of my body, that place that really doesn’t know who or what Buddha, or Dharma, or Sangha is. How could I take refuge in something I can’t see?

“But as we four ‘baby Bodhisattvas’ made our way to the lawn-turned-pandemic zendo, I could see it clearly — my dear Dharma friends and teachers seated, awaiting our arrival, the California quail calling out under muted sunlight, the three treasures appear! I take refuge in this! In what? Joyfully, I answer ‘I don’t know!'”

Jiryu Rutschman-Byler commented after the ceremony, “These four Bodhisattvas were shouting from the rooftops. They’re choosing life, inexhaustible love, committing to express it for the rest of their lives, even after Buddhahood. That’s what I thought they were doing. It’s an ongoing choice in each moment, not a one-time event.” And Eijun Cutts ended her Dharma talk with words from the ceremony, “This virtue cannot be denied.”

Congratulations to all!

[Photo credit: Stephanie Blank]