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Buddhist Initiation Ritual

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Dennis Genpo Merzel Jukai (Shasui)

In this version of the ceremony, students receive an empowerment called "Shassui" (or Shasui). Dennis Genpo Merzel is holding a pine twig. The water he sprinkles signifies an awakening of innate wisdom, purifying body and mind.

(Jukai (受戒?), shòu jiè in Chinese; sugye (수계) in Korean) is a public ordination ceremony wherein a lay student of Zen Buddhism receives certain Buddhist precepts, "a rite in which they publicly avow allegiance to 'The Three Refuges' of Buddhist practice: The Buddha, the dharma and the sangha."[1]


The particulars of the ceremony differ widely by country and by school.


In Japan, the ritual is called jukai.

Soto School

In the Soto school, as well as the White Plum Asanga, students take refuge in the Three Jewels (or Three Refuges), the Three Pure Precepts ("to do no evil, to do good, and to do good for others") and the Ten Grave Precepts.[2] Students must undergo a period of study for their jukai ceremony.

South Korea

In South Korea, the ritual, called sugye (수계), involves formally taking refuge in the The Three Jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and accepting the five precepts. During the ritual, the initiate is touched with a burning incense stick. This is to leave a permanent mark which serves to remind the initiate of his promise to uphold the five precepts. During (or right after) the ceremony, the initiate is given a Buddhist name.[3]


In China, the ritual, is called shòu jiè (受戒). The character 受 means "receive," while 戒 means "precepts." Taken together, the characters translate as "initiated" or "ordained," (according to Google Translate).

Many people believe in Buddhism but do not go through any initiation ceremonies. Such Buddhists make up the overwhelming majority. Only a small part of Buddhists have gone through the ceremony which makes the recipient an upasaka or upasika and accepted the five commandments. They are formal Buddhists.[4]

Lewis Hodus, in his 1920 book Buddhism and Buddhists in China remarks on the Chinese ceremony as well, after recording an initiation ceremony for both those entering monastic life and they laity: "Less private was the initiation of the lay brethren and sisters, more lightly branded on the right wrist, while all about intoned “Na Mah Pen Shih Shih Chia Mou Ni Fo.” (I put my trust in my original Teacher, Säkyamuni, Buddha.)"[5]


In the United States, "jukai is a formal rite of passage that marks entrance into the Buddhist community. At that time, a student is given a dharma name, such as Chozen in Jan Chozen Bays. He or she also makes a commitment to the precepts, which are interpreted a bit differently in various communities."[2]

Diamond Sangha

In the Diamond Sangha, established by Robert Baker Aitken, jukai is "commonly practiced" though some members never undergo the ceremony because they are members of another religion which prohibits such initiations. Therefore, some would say, they are not Buddhist by definition.[6]

Rochester Zen Center

At the Rochester Zen Center and its affiliated centers, the jukai ceremony involves taking the same precepts as in the Soto and White Plum traditions; however, from school to school or lineage to lineage, interpretation and translation of precepts can vary.[7] During their ordination, "The Zen teacher individually [anoints] each participant with sanctified water (shasui). In this ritual a special wand tipped with pine needles is dipped in sanctified water and then touched to the head of the initiate, thereby establishing a physical bond between the initiate, the Zen teacher, and the teacher's spiritual lineage."[8] Following their ceremony a student receives a rakusu, which is, "[a] rectangular piece of fabric worn around the neck."[9] According to the late Houn Jiyu-Kennett, "This is the most important set of ceremonies in the life of a [Zen Buddhist] layman, and no person may become a [monastic] trainee unless he has undergone the week of training that these ceremonies occupy, either before his ordination or within a year of entering a training temple."[10]

See also


  1. Johnson, 55
  2. 2.0 2.1 Seager, 109
  3. Hellmann, web
  4. Ling, 184
  5. Hodus, 13
  6. Spuler, 67-68
  7. Chodron, 124-125
  8. Bodiford, 182
  9. Spuler, xiii
  10. Olson, 5-6


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