Welcome to the future: Zen priest ordination performed simultaneously on three continents

Taigu and I (Jundo) are very content to announce that, last Thursday, our Treeleaf Sangha ordained three new novice Soto Zen priests in the traditional manner.

What was not so traditional, however — and rather groundbreaking and somewhat controversial — is that it was, we believe, the first time that a Buddhist Ordination has been performed simultaneously on three continents (with the preceptors, Taigu and Jundo, in Japan, and our three ordainees in Canada, Germany and Sweden) all linked by audio-visual media via the internet.

Well, welcome to the future… which is just the present all along! [Click through to read more and view video of the ceremony.]

Oh, some small changes to tradition had to be made, and customs adapted, such as that bestowal of the Buddhist robes and head shaving occurring at the hands of a friend or loved one who “served as our hands across the world, and the hands of the Buddha across time.”

Some of the more conservative folks in the Buddhist world may have trouble with that fact, and we have heard some critical voices raised about the nature and effect of the ceremony. It is surprising to me that so many Buddhist folks, though all about dropping artificial categories like “distance and space,” and who regularly invite all the ancient Buddhas and long dead Ancestors into their ceremonies, seem to reject that a ceremony of ordination can be done “long distance via the internet.”

Our reason for choosing to conduct the ceremony this way is simply keeping with the entire spirit of our TREELEAF SANGHA as an an online practice place for Zen practitioners who cannot easily commute to a Zen Center due to health concerns, living in remote areas, or childcare and family needs, and our seeking to provide Zazen sittings, retreats, discussion, interaction with a teacher, and all other activities of a Zen Buddhist Sangha, all fully online. As we approach our fifth year, we believe we have succeeded, and the ceremony is another symbol of that and the strength of our community. What is more, beyond any ceremony, the real test and responsibility will be the training and education as clergy, ministers and teachers that it is our responsibility to now provide these novice priests. In order to do so, we are about to embark on a road which will take years of hard and sincere effort, also combining traditional ways and some very new, innovative ways of education. If anyone wishes to download and read a very long and detailed statement of the ‘goalless goals’ of training that these three are expected to follow and come to embody … HERE IT IS (33 pages, PDF) based, as closely as we can, upon guidelines for priest training established by the The Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) of North America.

The video of the ceremony is in three parts (about 40 minutes). Here is the first part; Be sure to toggle to “FULL SCREEN” for the full effect. (That’s the little button on the lower right of the YouTube screen.)

Here are links to PART 2 and PART 3:

This is an important moment for any Buddhist Sangha, and a time for celebration. Congratulations to the three Ordainees as they undertake training!

To view all of Jundo and Taigu’s SunSpace posts, click here.

To subscribe to the RSS for the “sit-a-longs,” and be notified of new postings, click here.

10 Comments

  1. Posted August 22, 2010 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    Hi.

    It's all good practice.
    Thank you for your practice.

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen

  2. Posted August 22, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Reader comments via Facebook:

    Fidela C:
    This is Awesome!!! Namaste.

    Connie S.N:
    I love it!

    Bob Levinsky Wishing them all peace.

  3. hipbone
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Hello, Jundo:

    I'm interested in what you might call "sacramental consciousness" and its relationship with "virtual reality" — and wonder if in your view and practice there are any stages or events along the road to mind-to-mind transmission and beyond which *must* take place person-to-person in direct physical proximity?

    You might be interested to follow (and perhaps comment on) the discussion of parallel issues now running on the game designer group blog Terra Nova.

  4. Josh
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations to the newly ordained! Thanks for sharing the training document, very interesting reading.

  5. hipbone
    Posted August 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Hello again, Jundo:

    I was interested to note the following discussion, describing the responses of Coptic (orthodox) and Catholic authorities to the idea of making, hearing and absolving confessions by telephone… in an article from a couple of years back.

    *

    Egypt's Coptic Pope Shenouda III bans phone confessions
    Posted on Fri Dec 26 2008
    http://directionstoorthodoxy.org/n/egypts_coptic_

    CAIRO (AFP) – Egypt's Coptic pope has banned the faithful from confessing their sins to priests over the telephone because intelligence agents might be listening in, a newspaper reported on Friday. Confessions over the telephone are forbidden, because there is a chance the telephones are monitored and the confessions will reach state security," the independent Al-Masri Al-Yom quoted Pope Shenouda III as saying. The leader of the Coptic minority also said confessions over the Internet were invalid because they might be read by web surfers. "A confession over the Internet does not count as a confession, because everybody can look at it and it won't be secret," he said.

    Priests are strictly bound to respect the privacy of confession, even in the face of threatened punishment, and many countries' legal systems specifically protect the "seal of the confessional."

    Coptic Patriarch Anba Morcos told AFP that people have begun to phone in their confessions. "It's a new thing; it's been happening for the past four or five years," he said.

    [ ... ] The Vatican does not recognise confessions by telephone or over the Internet. Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, has said "confession requires the physical presence of the priest and the penitent. "Privacy is absolutely not guaranteed on Internet, and there is no certainty as to the identity of the two parties to the communication. You can't have confession by e-mail, any more than you can have it by telephone or letter."

    *

    The recent ordinations by the TreeLeaf Sangha are touching on some fascinating issues with far-reaching implications for many religious traditions.

    I'd be very interested to read any further thoughts on the topic.

  6. Posted August 31, 2010 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    I think everyone should stop trying to out-Zen each other by judging other people and how they think Zen practice ought to look. Everything is constantly changing, the Internet has changed this world and how we interact in it. It stands to reason that this form of ordination would come around. If the intention of Jundo and the newly ordained priests is sincere, that's all that matters. Everyone should just calm down.

  7. Jennifer G P
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    What's that old saying? "Those who say it cannot be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it."

  8. Yan
    Posted December 21, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Ordaining i dream about it .. But there is a certain shame in my heart then i truly consider. I feel it would be like playing a game. Somebody else feel this way?

    I know ! it would be like been cut again playing with the toys of my sister.

  9. Koyo
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    I would like to have the text of the ordination ceremony.
    I thank you in advance
    Koyo

  10. Simon
    Posted April 4, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    An excellent demonstration of interdependance in action. We are all linked so a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world via the internet can be seen and felt just as if we were all present. The lotus sutra is the idea of expediant means and surelly for the modern world this is that. Buddhism in practice

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