In the GBZC community, ordination as a Soto Zen Buddhist priest touches upon the Great Mystery. It is both a point of transition and an acknowledgment of a transition having already taken place. With ordination, everything and nothing is changed.
The non-ordained path embodies a difference only in outward expression and manifestation. Non-ordained teachers and students and their ordained sangha-mates are regarded as every bit equal. Additionally, ordination is not necessary to affirm one’s commitment to the Path, the Precepts, or the Bodhisattva Vows, as this is done within the ceremony of Jukai.
In this community, ordination has a pastoral/ministerial emphasis, rather than a liturgical or monastic one.
We regard ordination as, first and foremost, an affirmation of an already-embodied path of service through the Dharma, in implicit or explicit forms. Moreover, it is an acknowledgment of and affirmation and ongoing commitment to the reality that attending to Zen Buddhist practice and community is the most important guiding and organizing principle of one’s life, the Polestar with which one navigates the rest of the mess of human life and society. These things must be apparent in one’s life at the time of requesting ordination. If this is not so, it is not yet the time to request ordination.
Ordination is an intimate and personal transmission between teacher and ordinand, and as such is not fully governable by any list of nominal requirements, and any ordaining teacher will have additional formal or informal requirements for a specific ordinand.
Nonetheless, as a gate of entry, all candidates for ordination must:
- Be demonstrating and able to express a pastoral/ministerial calling both within and beyond a Zen Buddhist context over a sustained period of time.
- Be active members of the larger GBZC community for a substantial period of time, serving in both leadership and non-leadership capacities across multiple contexts, embodying being committed to and visible within the community.
- Participate actively in many of the practice offerings and community life of the larger GBZC community for a substantial period of time.
- Have an established formal student/teacher relationship (i.e., Shoken) for a substantial period of time with a transmitted teacher within the larger GBZC community, and some kind of engagement with others of the community’s transmitted teachers. If the Shoken relationship is with a lay teacher, the student must also have a substantial ongoing relationship of depth with an ordained teacher in the larger GBZC community.
- Frequently have attended some combination of residential and non-residential sesshins with some portion of the larger GBZC community for a substantial period of time.
Beyond this, candidates for ordination must be locatable along one of the following paths, by:
- Having formally practiced Zen Buddhism for a substantial number of years (approximately 10-20+), with the larger GBZC community or elsewhere—as well as engaging substantially in some kind of pastorally-adjacent or related activities. For example, this might include being a hospice volunteer; training through the New York Center for Contemplative Care or Upaya Zen Center or other related programs; completing several CPE-units (Clinical Pastoral Education) outside of a divinity school degree; leadership, mentoring, and sponsoring in a 12 Step–related program; ministering to the spiritual needs of medical students within a medical teaching context; engaging in earth-ministry from a Zen perspective in leadership capacities; teaching and practicing Zen meditation in prisons; teaching Buddhism or related languages and literature at the secondary or post-secondary level; or
- Having practiced Zen and/or other forms of Buddhism for a substantial number of years, and having done substantial periods of extended residential training in major residential Zen practice center such as Great Vow Zen Monastery, Zen Mountain Monastery, San Francisco Zen Center, or the Zen Center of Los Angeles; or
- Having obtained a divinity school degree (M.Div.) or a related Master’s degree and done several units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) as a Buddhist or interfaith chaplain trainee.
If these criteria are met, a candidate should talk to their Shoken teacher about ordination, or if their Shoken teacher is not an ordained person, to that teacher and an ordained teacher of the larger GBZC community.
You are also welcome to bring up ordination in dokusan with any teacher at any time.