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Ordination and training as a Zen priest

The priest’s robe is the Buddha body, the Buddha mind, it is the clothing of emancipation, the robe beyond form, the unsurpassable robe, the robe of patience, the robe of great love and compassion and the robe of unsurpassable, complete enlightenment.
—Dogen Zenji

The ability to give the whole of one’s life to realizing Enlightenment, to widening one’s heart, and to serving the Dharma is a rare and auspicious opportunity.

Great Vow Zen Monastery offers ordination and full time residential training as a Soto Zen Buddhist priest. The first step of this program begins with living at the monastery as a resident for one to two years, experiencing the full spectrum of attitudes, joys, and challenges that arise in community Zen training.

The subsequent steps of the ordination path are:

  • Receiving the Five Precepts
  • Taking Jukai, formally becoming a Zen Buddhist and receiving the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts.
  • Postulancy, a minimum one year period of intensified training in which the ordained sangha and the postulant discern together whether ordination is appropriate. During this time the Postulant resolves outside commitments, obligations, and debts.
  • Novice priest ordination, a five year commitment to continuous training at Great Vow.
  • After the five year training period, it may be appropriate to continue ordination training, becoming a full Zen Priest.

The five year period can be broken down into three training categories:

1.  Zazen

Zazen, seated meditation, is our central practice. Life at Great Vow is an opportunity to immerse oneself in zazen, explore the depths of the heart-mind and see into the essential matter of life and death. In one year, residential trainees at Great Vow do twelve sesshin, as well as other weekend and week-long meditation retreats. The daily schedule includes three to four hours of zazen six days a week.

2.  Stability and service

  • The development of a firm foundation of ethical conduct and personal integrity by practicing the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts.
  • Cultivating a willingness to serve by supporting the many workshops and retreats of the Zen Community of Oregon.
  • Serving for at least a year in the pivotal roles of Jisha, teacher’s attendant; Shuso, head of the meditation hall; Benji, assistant to the Shuso; and Tenzo, head cook and kitchen manager.

3.  Buddhist study and character work

  • Attending weekly classes covering a comprehensive range of Buddhist principles including the sutras and teachings of the Zen masters.
  • Private Dharma encounter, sanzen, with both Chozen Bays, Roshi and Hogen Bays, Roshi. Sanzen is a time when students receive personal guidance and an occasion for the student to bring her/his insight to life in non-conceptual, embodied expression. The inevitable challenge of sanzen practice is a key part of the character work and body-and-mind study that mature the ordained priest over the years of training.
  • Leading classes on occasion to build experience in communicating the Dharma.

The Zen Community of Oregon takes care of the essential needs of the ordained including a small stipend and, as the economic climate allows, health insurance.