Kennyo’s ordination culminated after a week of silent sitting in the crystal ice palace of Pari-Nirvana Sesshin — as residents and retreatants let go into the snow’s silent embrace, letting the silence permeate the heart/mind and teach us about the fundamental silence of our own being.
Touching into the Silence is one of the functions of the monastery/monastic container — to provide a space for people to come & enter the silent flow of their lives, to touch the clear bright mind and tender heart in themselves and to align/re-align with the spiritual dimension.
Zen Buddhism teaches that our true nature — the essence of our hearts is goodness, clarity and love. This is true of every human being. And practice gives us the method and support to realize and live from our basic goodness.
The path of Zen is wide. Anyone with the aspiration to clarify the Heart and to intimately know themselves can walk this path of practice, and mature and open through it.
Some of us are called to be monastics, to ordain, to become Zen priests. And as it is in our country, we are the minority. Yet is it true that the ordained are the pivot by which the monastery turns?
Before my ordination I curiously asked everyone who was ordained (at the time there were seven)—what is ordination? And of course, I got seven very different answers. From seven people who took the same exact ordination vows. Why we enter this form is so deeply intimate and personal, mysterious and evolving.
Chozen Roshi’s answer stands out, for it was at once so simple and direct, without hesitation she looked me in the eye and said, “SERVICE!”
I have watched her embody this for the past eight years, watched the free-functioning of Awakened Heart, expressing through her selfless service, through her pure offering. We sometimes use the expression the ability to ‘turn on a dime.’ Or simply to say “YES!” to life. It is such an ingrained habit of the human heart to resist, to close down to new and unexpected changes.
We start the practice of YES, by saying yes to seemingly impossible vows. In ordination we vow to become enlightened and simultaneously to put the Awakening of every other being before our own, to serve the whole world as Sangha. Much like marriage vows, the vow to love one another unconditionally — we enter the vow knowing that we will not be able to keep it all of the time, that we will inevitably rub up against our very human minds, that close, that labor anger or jealousy or fear. Yet we also know that it is in this rubbing and continuing, in aspiring towards ideals, towards impossible vows, where spiritual maturation is found. Our vows help us find the places in the heart that are closed, and beckons us to open and expand.
Novice Ordination in our tradition is a 5 year commitment to live/train at the monastery, to serve the monastic Sangha and to study under our teachers Chozen, Roshi and Hogen, Roshi. It is a formational time, where the commitment to the Sangha and the discipleship with the Sangha can allow a deep refinement of character. Wearing the robes and following the Zen forms teach us to embody dignity, presence, uprightness and love.
I also think of this period as a PhD program in becoming fully human, in the contemplative arts of meditation, in the teachings of Zen and in living a compassionate, ethical life. We receive professional development in the skills of pastoral care, leading ceremonies that commemorate life transitions and teaching meditation. And lastly, this is a five year commitment to the community, we entrust ourselves to the Sangha, and in turn the Sangha can rely on us as a trustworthy, stable and continuous presence.
Kennyo has already been living a monastic life for 4 year and in a lot of ways is already functioning as an ordained person. We have come to appreciate him as a stable, serene presence, someone who is oriented towards serving others, and is always attentive to the needs of those around him. It has been a privilege to watch him open, soften and allow his natural radiance to pour forth — the Sangha is fortunate to have such an able candidate for ordination, please support him in his vows as we mature our Awakening together.