Dear Sangha Community,
After a period of mutual discussion and reflection between us, and discussion together with the other Priests and Priest-Novices at Treeleaf, Allison Baxter (formerly "Shinkai") has decided to step away from Priest Training, return her Robes and Bowls, and re-enter an exclusively Lay Practice as the "Al" we have known for years in this Sangha. We thank Al for this heartfelt decision. The time, energy and Calling necessary for Priest Training turned out to be too much in life now. She has explained that she could not sustain the commitment of time and energy required while being overwhelmed with the rest of her life.
Ordination is a Lifetime Vow and Commitment, even in a Sangha such as ours meant for working and family people. But sometimes even a lifetime Vow cannot be sustained (marriage is perhaps the closest worldly example). It happens. It happens in perhaps all Sangha during and since the Buddha's time. Peoples' hearts change or things are not as first thought. Sometimes it is best for the commitment to end, and for things to return to as they were before.
Our "Treeleaf Sangha Guidelines for Training Soto Zen Buddhist Clergy" state ...
The purpose of priest training is to prepare individuals for a life dedicated to exemplifying the Dharma with integrity via empowering them to extend Buddhist teachings and Soto Zen practice out in the world, all in keeping with the traditional teachings of Soto Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of our Lineage.
Priest training encourages the continuing unfolding of the Bodhisattva ideal characterized by the Six Paramitas of giving, ethical conduct, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom. Yet the heart and flowering of our way is always Shikantaza, sitting and moving in stillness without grasping or rejecting any of the constantly arising and changing phenomena of life as-they-are, the life practice of the Buddhas and Ancestors manifesting and realizing the Genjô-kôan, the fundamental point actualized through this life-practice.
In our Lineage and Sangha, as in most Soto Zen lineages in the West, priest training – the development and maturing of skills and attributes over time – begins before Novice Ordination (shukke tokudo). This training begins with lay practice without thought then being given to any goal of future ordination. However, if at a certain time after years of lay practice, a person manifests the character, calling, insight and sensitivity in Zen Practice to indicate a potential to serve as a vessel for the continuance and furthering of our traditions, then teacher and student may begin to discuss the possibility of Novice Ordination. However, in all cases, the decision to undertake Novice Ordination must be voluntary on the part of the student, and made only after deep consideration is paid to its meaning, burdens, methods and other ramifications upon heartfelt discussions between student and teacher. ...
The period of formation that follows upon novice ordination (shukke tokudo) may continue for any number of years prior to possible (although never inevitable) Dharma Transmission, but truly continues as a lifelong endeavor that will sustain individuals dedicated to exemplifying the Dharma and the Bodhisattva ideal. Completing formal priest training will mean that an individual has internalized the tradition, is capable of transmitting it, and vows to devote her or himself to a life of continuous practice and service.
Of course, undertaking Novice Ordination and walking the path of training is in no way meant to guaranty that eventual Dharma Transmission is assured or even likely. Although training is undertaken with the goal that the student eventually be qualified as a teacher and minister, and he or she first appears to carry the seeds for that eventual ripening, there is no sure promise as to where this path will lead, and when or if there will be any particular outcome from one’s efforts. We practice and train without goal or expectation. Novice priest ordination may result in Dharma Transmission, empowering the fully ordained priest to extend Buddhist teachings and Soto Zen practice in the West. However, priest training does not always conclude with Dharma Transmission. For any number of reasons, novices may transition back to an exclusively lay life, leaving training altogether.
This is such a case of returning to an exclusively lay life, leaving training. However, please think of it as just another life transition too, and a time for CELEBRATION! Although she will no longer be "Shinkai" around here, and will go again by the lovely name of "Al" ... that is the name we knew her by for years, and she remains our friend and an invaluable member of this Sangha as she has for years. Taigu and I, Shohei, Fugen and Mongen, Myozan and Dosho would all like to thank her for being who she is.