Dharma Rain - Dharma School Manual
Jukai — Three Refuges and Two Promises
In Zen Buddhism, an adult formally becomes a Buddhist in the ceremony of
Jukai. Jukai is the “taking of the precepts,” in which someone
vows to live by the moral and ethical guidelines of Buddhism. For adults
in Soto Zen — both lay and ordained — there are 16
The first three “precepts” are taking refuge in the buddha,
dharma and sangha. The next three precepts are cease from evil, do only
good, and do good for others. The remaining ten “grave” precepts
are (more or less) do not kill, do not steal, do not misuse sexuality,
do not lie, do not become intoxicated, do not dwell on past mistakes,
do not praise self or blame others, do not be stingy with dharma or wealth,
do not indulge anger, and do not defame the three treasures (buddha, dharma
and sangha). After receiving Jukai, in formal practice environments an
adult usually wears a wagessa (a strip of cloth tied with a decorative
knot) or, in some traditions, a rakusu (something like a cloth bib) around
his or her neck. Our annual Jukai ceremony happens in March.
The kids are not asked to make such a serious commitment to Buddhism.
In fact, our minimum age for Jukai is sixteen. However, Thich Nhat Hanh
come up with three refuges and two promises that the kids seem to feel
very comfortable making. The vows emphasize the dual intention of a bodhisattva,
or enlightening being: to benefit themselves and others, but also to cultivate
the wisdom that will allow them to do this wholeheartedly and effectively.
Dharma school Jukai allows the children and youth to make a gesture that
indicates the value they place on their spiritual or religious life, and
gives them a rite of passage when they start to feel like they really
at the Zen Center, and that the Zen Center really belongs to them. During
the ceremony, everyone present recites the refuges and promises together,
repeating each line after the chant leader:
I take refuge in the buddha, the one who shows me the way in this life.
I take refuge in the dharma, the way of understanding and love.
I take refuge in the sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness.
I vow to develop my compassion in order to love and protect life: the lives
of people, of animals and of plants.
I vow to develop understanding in order to be able to love and to live in
harmony with people, animals and plants.
Just as in adult Jukai, even those who have taken Jukai before participate
in the ceremony, because it never hurts to restate one’s vows. After
the recitation, the priest asks if any of the children present are taking
Jukai for the first time. Any of those who qualify — if they want
to do so — come forward and select a mala (a Buddhist string of prayer
beads) from an assortment of colorful and durable ones laid out on a tray.
The priest then takes the new young Buddhists over to the adult zendo and
briefly interrupts the dharma talk to introduce and congratulate the youth.
Although this presentation is daunting to the kids, they generally come
back proud and beaming.