This week my brother and sister-in-law to be were ushered into the formal realm of Zen Buddhist monkhood. The Shukke Tokudo ceremony marked a rite of passage in their spiritual journeys as well as showered those of us present with an 82 generation fold transmission of ancient teachings. Nine practitioners took formal Shukke Tokudo vows, thus inducted into the 83rd generation of a profound spiritual lineage.
Shukke Tokudo marks the “Leaving Home to Take or Enter the Way.” My brother and Brooke thus enter a vast tradition of Zen Buddhist monkhood and priesthood, this moment of ordination marking a deepening on the journey of their chosen path. For months I’ve witnessed their slow stitchings into their hand sewn okesas, black robes representing the Buddha’s robes which they wore for the first time during the ceremony (the layers of robes serve as an ever-present invitation for absolute awareness and mindfulness, lest one becomes tangled and trips!).
Ordination is ultimately (and anciently) an ‘act of conferring holy orders,‘ and reminded me of the gravity of spiritual responsibilities: the intense commitment to integrity, the invitation to let go again and again of clinging and attachment to the Self, the injunction to profoundly serve and support others, and the yoking of oneself to a formal path. This moment marked the most profound gesture of yoking as well as leads me to the older roots of what ‘religion’ points to: the word deriving from religare: to bind fast. (Incidentally, c.1200 the word referred to “a state of life bound by monastic vows”). Similar to the careful stitches sewn into their robes, so too will these vows weave their way through their lives from here forward: A way of life. A gesture of embodiment of sacred teachings. A cloak of ongoing remembrance.
For me, bearing witness to Shukke Tokudo vows was a reminder of my own inherent yoking to the path of parenthood: bouncing my baby while breathing deep, pacing quietly while vows are recited, practicing the art of listening outwards while also tuning in to the regal responsibility of caring for another human being ever-present in my sore arms. Bearing witness also offered the experience of feeling the full circle of spiritual journeying I have been blessed with alongside my dear brother: the seeds of this Buddhist path planted 11 years ago during our first Vipassana Buddhist retreat together in Dharamsala, India: 10 days of introduction leading to a lifetime commitment for him; 10 days setting me too on a path where Buddhism weaves its ancient threads like a soft, subtle braid through my breaths and days. I crack open the old journals and muse at my own varied path: not straight, not one thing. Instead, my whole life opens before me as an infinite and ongoing conversation with what is Divine.
My brother gave me a card just after the ceremony. In it he said:
“If you look Closely enough
you see the Timeless and Infinite Search
HERE, Always here, you Discover yourself.
You know Love and Service are all that you are.”
– Robert Lundin McNamara