This calling to be ordained – to give myself completely to the dharma – has been present for thirty-two years, or, maybe, it has always been so. Long ago in India, I stood outside a small room in the jungle, listening to the chanting of those taking the vows of sannyasa, monkhood in the yogic tradition. I cried, knowing that I could not take vows of celibacy. [And if I had, I never would be married to the kind and gentle seeker of the truth – Brad, my life companion and friend and husband.]
Due to the love and grace of Hoka Chris Fortin, I was given permission to sew an okesa, Buddha’s robe. She said, “I see your shining priest heart.” So began a year of the joyful, but arduous path of sewing an okesa, a rakusu, and a bowing mat. Each stitch taking refuge in the Buddha. The robe itself became the Buddha, the offering of myself to the dharma. It was literally a year of blood, sweat, and tears: doing a long row of stitching, only to discover that I had sewed the wrong side of a panel to the border, having to remove the stitches, and sew the row all over again.
When I contemplated being a priest, I had one fear: that I would think I had become someone special. Humility is the essence of priesthood, along with seeing the Buddha in everyone, and a desire to serve all beings. I just didn’t – and don’t – want to take myself too seriously, while taking the vows themselves very seriously.
The day before the ordination, several friends helped me and Mary Ann shave our heads. I had an overwhelming sense of disorientation and a kind of confusion. I didn’t know who I was. Deep in my heart, I knew that I didn’t really know anything. Such a gift: beginner’s mind – immeasurably deep and profound, as the ordination ceremony says. The fear that I would take myself too seriously lessened.
The night before the ordination, I had a remarkable dream. I was a passenger in a Ford Explorer. We were on a road, stopped at a river. The river looked deep and flowing. I knew we had to proceed through the river, but I was scared. I knew that I had to trust the driver.
During the ordination ceremony, I was in a state of deep concentration and inward focus. It felt like a powerful form of zazen. I felt still and quiet. It was a backward step, an inner deep return to myself. During the entire ceremony, I was never aware of the large number of people attending. I saw and heard only what was right in front of me.
I saw Chris’s radiant smile as we bowed to each other, and she offered me my name, a sitting robe, a rakusu, a bowing mat, and finally the okesa. Every time I received a gift, our fingers intertwined as she released it to me. So tender and beautiful!
Apparently I kept sitting down on my robe, and every time I stood up, it would pull apart. Three times I stood up and turned to Arobin, who tucked it back in again. The third time, Jeff Bickner whispered to me, “Don’t sit on your robe.” To credit the robe itself, I remained quiet and still as my robe was put back on. [Norman had spoken to me a few years ago about wearing the robe with the quiet dignity of a buddha.] I was embarrassed, though, and I am sure my face was flushed. But this is good! So much for taking myself too seriously! Hard to do, when your robe keeps falling off!
The language of the ordination ceremony is a great promise of freedom from karmic bonds. It is a promise of liberation and enlightenment. We vow to live a life of enlightenment. I think, “What if this is true? What if I am really freed from my karmic formations?” Now, a few days later, I think it is not that the seeds of karma are exterminated; it is that we can see them through a new lens. My relationship to them could change. May it be so!
More than this, I vow to act and speak from the ground of the precepts. I vow to have love for others and service to others, as my only desire.
Gratitude to the ancestors and lineage of teachers, handing the dharma to me this day.