Rev John Paraskcvopoulos
On the 15th
October 1994, fourteen overseas candidates received initial ordination
or Jokiido as Jodoshinshu priests at the Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto.
This was only the second time that an ordination programme had been
conducted specifically for Western ministerial aspirants (the first
was in 1989). It is expected that such a programme will be available
every live years. On this occasion, the candidates hailed from seven
countries across four continents. namely, Germany, Austria, Belgium,
the United States, Canada, Brazil and
Those wishing to become Jodo Shinsimu Hongwanji priests must receive
their tokudo at the Honzan or mother temple. This once - in -a -lifetime
rite is conducted at the Goei-do (Founders Hall) before the image
of Shinran. The rite consists of adorations, recitation of the Three
Refuges and the Creed of Jodoshinsliu, tonsure (shaving of the head),
and the receiving of kesa (ceremonial robe) docho (ordination certificate)
and a homyo (Buddhist name). The ceremony is conducted in utmost
I am often asked why Jodoslminshu, being a non-monastic Buddhist
path, should still insist on tonsure. Historically, the tonsture
rite was performed by Shakyamumi Buddha, as well as being mentioned
in the Larger Sukhavaltvyuha Sutra. Since then, it has traditionally
been regarded as a ritualised physical act of personal commitment
to the teachings of Buddhism. For Shin Buddhists, the tonsure rite
(which, incidentally, is not obligatory for female candidates) is
not only a symbolic physical act of commitment through shaving of
the head, but is also a conscious affirmation of becoming an ordained
priest of the Hongwanji and of living the life of Nembutsu.
Tokudo literally means, to cross from this shore of birth-and-death
to the other shore of Nirvana. When Gautama embarked upon
the Way, he shaved his tresses and said; In cutting off my
hair, may I, together with all beings, be freed from evil passions
and hindrances. Receiving a set of robes from a hunter, he
continued, Even as these clothes cover me, may I enfold all
beings in compassion and free them from evil passions. It
is in accordance with this rite as established by Shakyamuni, that
tokuido comprises a tonsure, the wearing of robes and the recitation
of the Three Refuges. Tokudo is a solemn promise to rise above all
temptations, to refrain from egotism and to diligently pursue the
way of the Buddha.
The tokudo programme
comprised of eleven seventeen-hour days of study and training which
included lectures by prominent Buddhist scholars (in English), three
services a day (including 6am Jinjo service at the Honzan), and
individual study sessions. The lectures, given by such eminent academics
as Rev Prof. Hisao Inagaki and Rev Dennis Hirota, covered topics
such as: Jodoshinshu and its Hisiory; Outline of the Triple Sutra
of Pure Land Buddlusin; Liturgy and Rituals; and Dharma Talk Methodology.
Tokudo, as mentioned earlier, is considered to be only initial ordination.
It entitles you to take certain services such as funerals, lead
chanting sessions, disseminate the teachings and, depending on which
country you are in, give formal dharma-talks. In order, however,
to become a full-time temple master with pastoral responsibility
for a entire congregation, one needs to obtain Kyoshi or full ordination
which comprises another retreat similar to tokudo, and, usually,
a course of formal university study in Buddhism. Tokudo, which must
precede kyoshi, is primarily a religious rite, whereas kyoshi is
more akin to an academic and pastoral qualilication (tonsure is
not taken again). It is envisaged that a kyoshi programme for Westerners
will be offered for the first at time in the next year or so and
then approximately every ten years after that.
for me, an extraordinary experience as well as a very great privilege.
Apart from deepening my ties with the Shin tradition in a more formal
way, it allowed me to enjoy the profound fellowship of other way-farers
from around the world who were similarly treading the path of Amidas
Dharrna. This was especially wonderful for those of us from Australia
for whom isolation from the larger Shin sanghas has been the norm.
The tokudo retreat also exposed us to some excellent teachers of
Buddha-dharma who provided us with the unusual luxury of instruction
in English. Of course, the whole experience of receiving ordination
in Kyoto at the home of Shin Buddhism was also
an experience to be treasured for a lifetime. One can only remain
deeply grateful for the causes and conditions that led
each of us on a pilgrimage from far-flung corners of the earth to
an enriching experience, spiritual, ritual and emotional - immersed
at the heart of the mystery that is the Primal Vow of Amida
first appeared, with the Author's permission, in PLN 6, March 1996.
Republished here in agreement with the compiler/editor of the inaugurate
hard copy Journal. The Author, any person or any organisation credited,
quoted or connected with this article are cordially invited to contact
me with any comments, amendments, fresh contributions or complaints.