Zen Priesting


As I mentioned in my last post, I’m now a Zen priest in a Korean-derived Zen lineage. Technically, in the way we’ve organized things, I’m formally a “Dharma Priest” and hold the 16 precepts. My teacher, along with being formally recognized as a teacher, is a Bodhisattva Priest who holds the same precepts as me plus all of the Bodhisattva precepts. This is following the tradition of practice organized by Seung Sahn for the Kwan Um School of Zen. Seung Sahn taught and practiced in Japan for a number of years and our ordination system is very similar to what you see in the Japanese Zen traditions. There is definitely a Rinzai influence in the way that we do things.

So the question becomes, for me, “Now that you’re a Zen priest, what does that really mean and what are you going to do?” In the most succinct sense, it doesn’t change anything for me other than formalizing and furthering my commitment to the Dharma and making my relationship to Zen, as a practice and a philosophy, much more immediate. My practice is largely the same. We’re gradually deciding (“we” being the teachers, not me) how we want to organize daily and other practices in the Five Mountain Sangha as a new organization.

I certainly don’t expect to try to run off and start a Dharma Center or any such. I’m not a formal teacher and I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that anyway. I am happy with the idea of supporting and working with teachers within my sangha to develop and maintain sitting groups and in furthering my own practice. In the longer term, I see myself as a scholar-practitioner more than as a teacher. Teaching, for many, can become or be inspired by ego clinging behavior. “Oooh, look at me, I’m a teacher!” and I would like to avoid feeding into the potential for that sort of thing. I’m entering my doctoral program this Fall and will be focusing on Buddhist for my PhD work. I expect to try to find ways for my doctoral study, my personal study, and my practice to not be in separate boxes but to be interrelated with one another. Because GTU is a union of nine seminaries, it isn’t an institution where I need to be “in the closet” about being a practitioner and that being part of my motivation.

My primary motivation within Buddhism has been as a practitioner wanting to make sense of the hole in the world that I subjectively feel, the dis-ease of things, both for myself but also for others. Other spiritual paths did not solve this issue for me, which drove me further on. As a Mahayana practitioner, I am also dedicated to helping others as well. I see my path, at least at this point, through doing that as a scholar more than as learning to teach the Dharma in a one on one manner. That may change over time, as the decades pass, but that is where I am at this point.

Now, all of this being said, the Five Mountain Sangha does expect to develop a center in an organic manner here in the Bay Area. There is a Bodhisattva Priest here already and at least one other student of Rev. Lynch in the area. I also have at least one friend who has expressed an interest in sitting and studying with us. We’ll have to see how things go over time. In the meantime, I have sessions to sit, practices to do, and koans to ponder (and ponder and ponder).