Buddhist initiation ritual
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The lay Buddhist ordination (Chinese: 受戒; pinyin: shòu jiè, Japanese: Jukai (受戒?), Korean: sugye (수계) refers to the public ordination ceremony wherein a lay student of Buddhism receives certain Buddhist precepts. The particulars of the ceremony differ widely by country and by school of Buddhism.
In Japan, the ritual is called jukai.
In the Sōtō school 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. Students must undergo a period of study for their Jukai ceremony, which in most Sōtō Zen traditions is at least two years.
According to the late Houn Jiyu-Kennett, founder of Shasta Abbey, "This is the most important set of ceremonies in the life of a [Zen Buddhist] layman [sic], and no person may become a [monastic] trainee unless he [sic] has undergone the week of training that these ceremonies occupy, either before his [sic] ordination or within a year of entering a training temple."
In South Korea, the ritual, called sugye (수계), involves formally taking refuge in 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 their promise to uphold the five precepts. During (or right after) the ceremony, the initiate is given a Buddhist name.
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."
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.
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 the 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.)" In modern notation and Chinese, this would be written "Namo Benshi Shijiamouni-Fo" (南無本師釋迦牟尼佛).
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. He or she also makes a commitment to the precepts, which are interpreted a bit differently in various communities."
In the Diamond Sangha, 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.
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.
The White Plum Asanga follows the same ritual as the Japanese Soto-school.
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