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Sewing a Rakusu

I spent last weekend sewing a bib. I’ve never sewn in my life, why the sudden attention, and why a bib?  Well, a bib isn’t quite the right word, I was actually sewing what is called a rakusu at a workshop at the Crestone Mountain Zen Center.

The rakusu symbolically represents the garments (robe) that the Buddha put together to wear after he left his palace to seek enlightenment. According to Buddhist scripture, Siddhartha left the palace where he was a prince, collected rags from trash heaps, funeral pyres, and various other places in order to construct his robe. When Buddhism came to China, the living conditions led the Chinese monks to engage in physical labor to grow their food and maintain their temples and monasteries, and on occasion to do public works like road maintenance, so the outer robe was worn only on ceremonial occasions. The legend is that during the Tang Dynasty, when the Chinese emperors forbid the wearing of robes, then Buddhist monks created a miniature version of their robe to be worn secretly around the neck underneath their regular lay clothing. Today this tradition survives in Japan and the West, and the rakusu is a traditionally Japanese garment worn around the neck of Zen Buddhists who have taken the precepts.

Once the rakusu is completed ( I still have a long way to go!), I will officially be ordained with my teacher, Baker-roshi, in a formal ceremony called Jukai(receiving the precepts) which is in a sense a formal rite of passage that marks entrance into the Buddhist community.

For several years I have been considering this process and at some point during my 6-month stay at the monastery I formally requested the precepts from my teacher. What does this actually mean beyond sewing some fabric together and being initiated by my teacher?

Ultimately receiving the precepts are about one’s relationship to oneself and the world:

When we maintain the precepts and the spirit of the precepts in how we walk, how we sit, how we eat, how we talk, and how we relate to one another and to our environment, their constant presence brings light to our lives. The precepts transform us and bring us real freedom. Therefore, far from being a list of rules that restrict or deaden our lives, the true precepts are life giving, each one expressing our true nature, and that’s their real meaning.

Below is the list of precepts received in an ordination ceremony. Soon I’ll explore in more detail my relationship with these statements and what it means for me to live an intentional life.

 

Path of the Precepts of the Three Treasures

     I take refuge in the Buddha

     I take refuge in the Dharma

     I take refuge in the Sangha

Three Purifying Precepts

     I vow to avoid all harmful actions

     I vow to act beneficially in all things

     I vow to live for the benefit of all sentient beings

Ten Prohibitory Precepts

     A Disciple of the Buddha does not kill

          I am aware of the preciousness of each existence

     A Disciple of the Buddha does not take what is not given

          I am aware of the independence of each thing

     A Disciple of the Buddha is not involved in sexual misconduct

          I am aware of my Actions

     A Disciple of the Buddha does not lie

          I am aware of the effect of my speech

     A Disciple of the Buddha does not delude others

         I am aware of the effect of my conduct

     A Disciple of the Buddha does not slander others

         I am aware that each person is seed of Buddhahood

     A Disciple of the Buddha does not praise self

         I am aware of the interdependence of all things

     A Disciple of the Buddha is not possessive of others, of wealth, or of the   Teaching

         I am aware of the truth of the Dharma

     A Disciple of the Buddha does not harbor ill-will

         I am aware of the consequences of anger and hatred

     A Disciple of the Buddha does not abuse the Three Treasures

          I am aware that Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha include all things

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