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Thread: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

  1. #1
    Senior Member Shujin's Avatar
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    The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Hey y'all. I have the opportunity, thanks to my very patient wife, to sit a day-long zazenkai with the local zen group in town. I haven't been able to sit with them before due to scheduling conflicts, not any great ideological differences. They are affiliated with Atlanta Soto Zen Center which, from the little bit of research I've done on their website, does not seem to have the same traditions in sewing as Treeleaf. For example, those undertaking Jukai seem to receive the hangesa rather than sew a rakusu.

    This brings me to my question. Is it reasonable to ask to wear my rakusu when sitting with the group? Clearly, I could just ask the leader of the group and wait for a reaction. I would like to be polite, however, and avoid a rakusu ruckus.

    gassho,
    Shujin

  2. #2

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Shujin
    Hey y'all. I have the opportunity, thanks to my very patient wife, to sit a day-long zazenkai with the local zen group in town. I haven't been able to sit with them before due to scheduling conflicts, not any great ideological differences. They are affiliated with Atlanta Soto Zen Center which, from the little bit of research I've done on their website, does not seem to have the same traditions in sewing as Treeleaf. For example, those undertaking Jukai seem to receive the hangesa rather than sew a rakusu.

    This brings me to my question. Is it reasonable to ask to wear my rakusu when sitting with the group? Clearly, I could just ask the leader of the group and wait for a reaction. I would like to be polite, however, and avoid a rakusu ruckus.

    gassho,
    Shujin
    Hi Shujin,

    Yes, it is typical and completely welcome in almost any Zen group I know. When I was in China recently, I wore mine under my Chinese style top robe because it is not the custom there (they were even curious to see my Rakusu, a Japanese innovation )

    viewtopic.php?p=67457#p67457

    However, if visiting another Soto Zen group like the Atlanta center, I would not even ask the teacher for permission ... it is so expected.

    The only case I heard recently was that a San Francisco Zen Center affiliated group noted to someone who had been sitting there for a time that "brown color Rakusu is reserved for teachers", and asked the person to wear another color! That's fine, because "when in Rome" ... however, I informed the person that such "brown color" rule is completely an innovation of San Francisco, and in Japan lay folks wear "brown Rakusu" all the time. A similar rule I encountered in Europe when wearing a Rakusu with a white ring before I was Ordained (our Nyohoe Rakusu do not have rings, but other styles of lay Rakusu do) is that "in the Deshimaru Lineage, only teachers can wear rings". That, again, is not the rule in Japan.

    So ... when in Rome.

    However, when visiting a Soto Zen center anywhere in the world, I would not even ask. I would just naturally recite the Verse of the Kesa when putting on one's sitting clothes and wear it! If anyone even blinks an eye ... I will be very surprised.

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3
    Treeleaf Unsui rculver's Avatar
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    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Shujin,

    Please let us know how it goes!

    Ron

  4. #4

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by rculver
    Please let us know how it goes!
    Yes please. Enjoy the opportunity
    _()_
    Myoku

  5. #5

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Definitely want to hear how it goes. I'm planning (if I can ever get the scheduling to fit!) to sit a long session with a not-too-distant Kwan Um group, and had similar questions about how I might be received. Especially given their blending of Pure Land practices.

    P.S. "Rakusu Ruckus" would make an awesome band name :mrgreen:

  6. #6

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin
    Definitely want to hear how it goes. I'm planning (if I can ever get the scheduling to fit!) to sit a long session with a not-too-distant Kwan Um group, and had similar questions about how I might be received. Especially given their blending of Pure Land practices.

    P.S. "Rakusu Ruckus" would make an awesome band name :mrgreen:
    I am not sure what "blending with Pure Land practices" has to do with the matter though.

    In Japan, Rakusu are not usually worn outside of Zen circles by Buddhists of other flavors, Pure Land, Shingon, etc. However, I doubt it would be offensive to anyone if worn at such a temple. I have taken Zen friends to visit such temples, and when my friends placed on their Rakusu, it was met with curiousity more than anything.

    I intentionally have not worn my Rakusu as well when attending funerals at Zen temples in which I am just a relative or guest of the family (unless specifically asked to attend in some priestly function). I am just a guest or participant, so I do not wish to impose in any way on the family.

    If you are just visiting a Kwan Um temple, and wore a Soto Rakusu, I would be very surprised if anyone had any objection in any way. I could see that, eventually, if one was a regular member of a Kwan Um or other Zen group for a very long time, there might be some feeling that one should eventually consider to undertake Jukai in their way too, and wear a Rakusu (or not) however they do so.

    When in Rome or Tokyo or Seoul ...

    Gassho, J

  7. #7

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin
    I'm planning (if I can ever get the scheduling to fit!) to sit a long session with a not-too-distant Kwan Um group, and had similar questions about how I might be received. Especially given their blending of Pure Land practices.
    Other than some of our chants that include homages to a few Bodhisattvas, I don't think you'll really feel a big Pure Land influence. Certainly nothing like you'd see, for example, at a temple in Sheng Yeng's lineage of Ch'an Buddhism where on certain days of the week formal evening practice consists of chanting Amita Buddha's name.

  8. #8

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by SonofRage
    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin
    I'm planning (if I can ever get the scheduling to fit!) to sit a long session with a not-too-distant Kwan Um group, and had similar questions about how I might be received. Especially given their blending of Pure Land practices.
    Other than some of our chants that include homages to a few Bodhisattvas, I don't think you'll really feel a big Pure Land influence. Certainly nothing like you'd see, for example, at a temple in Sheng Yeng's lineage of Ch'an Buddhism where on certain days of the week formal evening practice consists of chanting Amita Buddha's name.
    Isn't nembutsu practice a big part of their daily practice though? From what I've read/seen of Seung Sahn Sunim's lineage (of which this group is a part), chanting of "Kwan Seum Bosal" is part of the practice, as is daily 108 prostrations.

    Jundo--sorry I was mixing concerns. My concern about the Kwan Um visit wasn't about the rakusu so much as concerns about the above differences in liturgy (nembutsu, extensive prostrations).

  9. #9

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin

    Jundo--sorry I was mixing concerns. My concern about the Kwan Um visit wasn't about the rakusu so much as concerns about the above differences in liturgy (nembutsu, extensive prostrations).
    Nothing to be concerned about either. When in Rome, chant Nembutsu and prostrate like the Romans do!

    Gassho, J

  10. #10

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin

    Jundo--sorry I was mixing concerns. My concern about the Kwan Um visit wasn't about the rakusu so much as concerns about the above differences in liturgy (nembutsu, extensive prostrations).
    Nothing to be concerned about either. When in Rome, chant Nembutsu and prostrate like the Romans do!

    Gassho, J
    Gotcha! :wink:

  11. #11

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin
    Isn't nembutsu practice a big part of their daily practice though? From what I've read/seen of Seung Sahn Sunim's lineage (of which this group is a part), chanting of "Kwan Seum Bosal" is part of the practice, as is daily 108 prostrations.
    I've been practicing with the Kwan Um School for almost three years and the only time we've ever done Kwan Seum Bosal chanting was at a 100 day ceremony for a newborn baby (the baby was approximately 100 days old, it's a Korean tradition if I'm not mistaken). Kwan Seum Bosal is the Korean name for Avalokitesvara.

    Daily "formal" practice breaks down like this:

    [*]Morning Bell Chant if morning, Evening Bell Chant if evening.[*]Homage to the Three Jewels (there are many prostrations during this chant).[*]Heart Sutra in Korean.[*]Heart Sutra in English.[*]Great Dharani[*]Sitting period (20 or 30 minutes).

    Morning practice does include 108 prostrations. Some of the history of the Morning Bell Chant is available here and talks about the Pure Land influence. All the chants in general are available on the website as well.

  12. #12

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin
    Isn't nembutsu practice a big part of their daily practice though? From what I've read/seen of Seung Sahn Sunim's lineage (of which this group is a part), chanting of "Kwan Seum Bosal" is part of the practice, as is daily 108 prostrations.
    As was stated already, aside from special cermonies, you probably won't chant Kwan Seum Bosal as a group.

    But teachers do sometimes give this mantra to students to incorporate as a part of one's personal mediation practice.

  13. #13

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Seiryu
    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin
    Isn't nembutsu practice a big part of their daily practice though? From what I've read/seen of Seung Sahn Sunim's lineage (of which this group is a part), chanting of "Kwan Seum Bosal" is part of the practice, as is daily 108 prostrations.
    As was stated already, aside from special cermonies, you probably won't chant Kwan Seum Bosal as a group.

    But teachers do sometimes give this mantra to students to incorporate as a part of one's personal mediation practice.

    Are you still sitting Shikantaza Zazen each day in the flavor we teach around here? If so, no matter what one chants or bows. There is no obstacle at all if, together with one's Shikantaza practice, someone also chants Kwan Seum Bosal or prostrates daily if sometimes sitting with a group which does so.

    We also chant the ENMEI JUKKU KANNON GYO (Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra) during our annual Rohatsu Retreat:


    Kan Ze On
    Na Mu Butsu
    Yo Butsu U In
    Yo Butsu U En
    Bup Po So En
    Jo Raku Ga Jo Cho Nen
    Kan Ze On Bo Nen
    Kan Ze On Nen Nen
    Ju Shin Ki Nen Nen
    Fu Ri Shin


    Kanzeon!
    At one with Buddha
    Directly Buddha
    Also indirectly Buddha
    And indirectly Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.
    Joyful pure eternal being!
    Morning mind is Kanzeon.
    Evening mind is Kanzeon.
    Nen, nen arises from Mind
    Nen, Nen is not separate from Mind.

    Gassho, Jundo

  14. #14

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin
    Definitely want to hear how it goes. I'm planning (if I can ever get the scheduling to fit!) to sit a long session with a not-too-distant Kwan Um group, and had similar questions about how I might be received. Especially given their blending of Pure Land practices.

    P.S. "Rakusu Ruckus" would make an awesome band name :mrgreen:
    I have been sitting regularly with a Kwan Um group for some time. There is ( at least in this group) nothing radically different than what is taught here. We begin with chanting the refuges, then the Heart Sutra in Korean and English, then end with the Great Dharani.
    There is little talk, and no one tells me how to practice. Unless someone is working on a Hwadu, the practice is generally Just Sitting and "making nothing". I definitely relate to how practice is described and put forward here more. Unfortunately the regular weekly venue where we were meeting at is no longer available (a zendo shared with Dharma Drum) but we still meet once a month or so for a one day mini Yong Maeng Jong Jin.

    I am a due paying member of the Kwan Um school, but have not entered the culture of the school beyond the local group and have no interest in doing so. I have met a Zen Master who was very direct and clear, but have also met "Dharma teachers" who are not Zen Masters and IMO should probably not be teaching .

    ... there are some pure land elements in the Kwan Um school, it comes up in mailings. At first I saw it as a species of Metta practice, but it does seem to be chanting for stuff around... health, financial woes etc.. It is not part of my world view, I do not engage it.

  15. #15

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    Are you still sitting Shikantaza Zazen each day in the flavor we teach around here? If so, no matter what one chants or bows. There is no obstacle at all if, together with one's Shikantaza practice, someone also chants Kwan Seum Bosal or prostrates daily if sometimes sitting with a group which does so.

    We also chant the ENMEI JUKKU KANNON GYO (Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra) during our annual Rohatsu Retreat:
    Thank you, Jundo. I can see there is no conflict. I actually have found myself repeatedly chanting the EJKG to myself throughout the day, has become something of a habit. Does not interfere with my main sitting practice. Not sure if it enhances it either, but I am drawn to it nonetheless. Maybe because the Japanese has such a nice sound/flow to it.

    Thanks to those who shared experiences with Kwan Um groups. Sounds like it's pretty similar. I look forward to being able to sit with them at some point!

  16. #16

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaishin

    Thank you, Jundo. I can see there is no conflict.
    Hi Kaishin,

    Yes. I linked to this old post today on another thread, but it fits here too ... If you would like to read a bit more about Mantra and short Chanting, please see this link ...

    Well, I would say that this all depends how one defines a Mantra in one's heart. In much of Buddhism and related religions of India (although something very similar can be found in about all religions really ... e.g., like "God Is Great/Allahu al-Akbar" in Islam, an orthodox Jew's reciting the sacred letters of Torah, or "Praise Jesus" in some corners of Christianity), it is a sound, word or words that create transformation in some way.

    ...

    Nichiren Buddhism (my wife's family are Nichiren Buddhists) is a school of Buddhism which developed in Japan hundreds of years ago centered on the power of the Lotus Sutra ... on the power of faith and recital even in just the name of the Lotus Sutra. Thus, they recite "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" (Hail the Wonderful Law of the Lotus Flower Sutra). Many Tibetans chant "Om mani padme hum" (Om! Hail the Jewel in the Lotus!). Another school of Buddhism in Asia is the Jodo (Pure Land) school(s), who worship or rely upon Amida Buddha, and thus chant "Namu Amida Butsu" (or its equivalent in Chinese etc., Homage to Amida, Buddha of Infinite Light).

    ...

    In my opinion, of course, seated Zazen is "complete, whole, the only thing needed to do" in that moment of sitting. When we sit, it is very very vital to sit with the attitude sunk deep in one's bones that " there is no other place to be, nothing lacking, not one more thing to do" than this. (We do so because in daily life, running here and there and always feeling some lacks or discontents in life, we rarely if ever undertake one action with total heart and completeness in such way! Thus we call this "non-doing".)

    However, rising from the cushion ... one must come to express Zazen all through daily life. All of daily life is also "Zazen" in its wider meaning. So, if a particular person wished to also chant "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" or "Namu Amida Butsu" or "Allahu al-Akbar" or "Kwan Seum Bosal" or the Torah or "Praise Jesus" (or "Praise Richard Dawkins" for our atheist members 8) ) ... that is fine. Up to each person in their heart. All Zazen in its wider meaning, as is everything from changing the baby to cooking dinner to sewing a Kesa.

    viewtopic.php?p=63283#p63283

  17. #17

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Hi everyone!

    I'm very happy to have learned more about some of our members "last practices or groups"!

    Kwam um groups are indeed interesting and in a lot of ways very similar to ours... but also some huge differences, not in the view but in the practices chosen.
    It has more of a cultural thing to me but I understand that, like in Chan, chanting a Buddha's name or making countless bows would seem difficult for some people.
    But the heart of it is the same as the heart of zazen, if you chant the name of a Buddha or bow without wanting anything, a "shikan-recitation" or a "shikan-bowing" it can be an incredible practice! Of allowing what is and forgetting the self.

    I personally practice this kind of practices and share them in my little group... but they need to be well explained personally to each people, and they are clearly not the "Soto way", one must also be clear about that! There are enough wonderful upayas in the Soto school: chanting many sutras and dharanis, sewing, bowing, writing sutras, ... each school there one!

    But it can also be just time spent for nothing, "an infernal practice" like the texts use to say, if you don't dive into it with true sincerity...

    Anyway, it is also very interesting to hear about the hangesa!
    it is the second time I ever heard of it in the West! I remember the Triratna Sangha who used them ... but they are the only ones I knew!
    I find that it can be a good opportunity for people receiving Jukai and with huge difficulties with sewing rakusu (in the case they don't receive one from another member of the sangha or buy one)... not particularly in our Sangha but in general!
    The garment is also quite practical for our modern age... But hasn't the same appeal a rakusu can have.... I mean the first time I saw one I was hypnotize... but that is probably me... And the practice of sewing the rakusu is beautiful, it also supposed a lineage of people sewing point after point from the Buddha's time until now, that is also a beautiful living transmission of the teachings.

    Anyway, sorry for all this, I'm quite out of the subject...
    To be brief, When you explain what garment you where, the fact that you receive it along with receiving the precepts, ... generally there is no problem. Unless, as Jundo said, if you stay in that group for a long time you might feel that it would be better to also take a commitment in this Sangha.

    Have a great great day everyone!
    deep gassho,
    Jinyu

  18. #18
    Senior Member Shujin's Avatar
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    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Kaishin - hope you enjoy your time with the Kwan Um group. A KU group was the first group I ever sat with; I still have good memories of that brief period of time.

    Jinyu - I hadn't thought of the hangesa in that way, but you make some good points. I posted something similar in another thread, but I have an unfortunate tendency to become fixated upon particular traditions.

    gassho!
    Shujin

  19. #19

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Shujin
    Kaishin - hope you enjoy your time with the Kwan Um group. A KU group was the first group I ever sat with; I still have good memories of that brief period of time.
    My wife beat me to it! She went to see a talk by Karen Maezen Miller, which was primarily about her writing career, but also quite about Zen as well. After corresponding with her more via email, my wife was encouraged to visit a zendo, so she went to the nearest one this morning, which is a Kwan Um center.

    Sounded pretty similar to what others have described here. They started with 108 full prostrations, then did various chants in both Korean and English (including the Heart Sutra), followed by 30 minutes of sitting (not sure what they call it in the Korean tradition). Afterwards there was a 10-minute work period (cleaning the zendo, which is in an old house), and a short dharma talk followed by tea and snacks.

    There is no resident teacher there, but apparently the guiding teacher (who lives on the East coast) will be retiring soon and will move there to become the permanent resident abbot. Sounds like the sangha members there are excited, as Kwan Um does involve koan study and they will be able to have that teacher-student exchange.

    Anyway, thought I'd share.

  20. #20

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    One other thing, she said they didn't seem to put too much emphasis on sitting "correctly." She was basically just shown the sitting space. The senior teacher sat seiza, as did another. The rest either sat half lotus or some variant of burmese. No full lotus in sight.

  21. #21
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Hi Kaishin,

    Kudos to your wife for going and checking them out! Any chance this sparked an interest in her to give Treeleaf a visit too??

    Gassho,
    Hoyu

  22. #22
    Senior Member Shujin's Avatar
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    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Hi Kaishin; thanks for sharing! I would like to see the 108 bows done sometime. Since I don't have a KU group close to me, maybe I can pick it up on youtube... The tea and snacks brought back memories; that was one of my favorite parts of sitting with the old group. Silly, I know.

    Hope your sesshin works out; please let us know how it goes.

    gassho,
    Shujin

  23. #23

    Re: The Case of the Traveling Rakusu

    Quote Originally Posted by Kojip
    I am a due paying member of the Kwan Um school, but have not entered the culture of the school beyond the local group and have no interest in doing so. I have met a Zen Master who was very direct and clear, but have also met "Dharma teachers" who are not Zen Masters and IMO should probably not be teaching.
    In the Kwan Um School of Zen, a "Dharma Teacher" is the lay ordination equivalent of a novice monk and aren't really supposed to do any "teaching." They can give short dharma talks, but aren't allowed to answer questions about the dharma. Are these the folks you are referring to?

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