On Saturday, May 31, 2014, Unyo (Priscilla) Brown received full ordination as a Soto Zen monk from Sokuzan who presided over the ceremony. Through the offering of incense, the reciting of the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts, receiving her hand-sewn Okesa, and the cutting of hair as a symbol of her deeper commitment to this path, Unyo remarks at how “heavy”–and unavoidable–this step in her practice and training feels.
“The actual weight of the Okesa on my head during the Takkesage (robe chant) is a tactile reminder of the burden of suffering in the world. I am extremely happy that I have lived long enough to come to this new beginning in my life and am deeply indebted to my Teacher, Sokuzan, for hisunconditional love, generosity, and willingness to share the Buddha’s teachings so freely to all who ask. May I, too, serve others in that way.”
Mountains and Rivers: This is a regular practice at SokukoJi where Sokuzan responds to questions related to practice and study. This is from a session where the questions were about the sense of a solid, continuous reference point:
Student:….“I can see how the eyes (reference point) always switch….you can be a completely different person… but it seems that there are just a couple of reference points within me that have never changed as far as I can remember….”
Sokuzan: “…See, that’s awareness. Now let me ask you–first though best thought– what’s aware of that?”
Student: (long pause) “I have no idea.”
Sokuzan: “Ahhhh…….bingo. No idea. So the reference point is only seen. That which sees cannot be seen. No self. No self in the skandhas. No self in the forms, no self anywhere, there’s no self. So what is this?
Self centeredness doesn’t want to make the leap into nowhere. So that very thing that you said when I asked “what’s aware of that” and you said “I have no idea”…that’s usually bonded to an idea of a self. But when you start to step away and look at the reference points like you just did and I asked who sees that…and it’s like “I don’t know who sees that”….you can’t actually go and get that, you can only be that. Once you be that, that means, you could say, you basically trust yourself. You trust everything that comes out of your mouth. You trust everything that comes out of everyone else’s mouth. That’s why I say there’s nothing to correct. There’s just suffering, that’s what the Buddha said, the First Noble Truth: Life is suffering…and it is. Intensely.
Sokuzan talks about how wisdom and skillful means work together using various images. He emphasizes the sitting practice of meditation or shikantanza and encourages people to not miss their life and be with whatever arises including negativity. He also talks about different ways of working with negativity sometimes personified as demons using the example of Milarepa and his upaya with his own demons.
Zen student Unyo Priscilla Brown puts the finishing touches on her hand-sewn okesa, or monk’s robe. With each stitch, the student recites the three refuges: “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha.”
Brown will receive ordination in a ceremony at SokukoJi Saturday May 31, at 3:00 p.m