Jukai is the Japanese word for the zen ceremony of “taking the precepts”. Basically you vow to take sixteen precepts seriously in your life after some time meditating with each of them. And on the surface they're kind of weird and dumb. Do not kill. Do not lie. Do good. Why would anyone care to devote so much time and energy to these basic and obviously good things and what does that have to do with zen?
Central to my commitment and enjoyment of zen is the notion that there's nowhere to run, nowhere to actually escape the demands, responsibilities, and bullshit of life. Meditation is meant to bring you here--in all its complexity and regardless of circumstances. Bowing and chanting too. Part of jukai is sewing a complicated bib, called a rakusu, by hand. There’s you and you’re sewing a rakusu. For hours. You don’t pay anyone else to do it, no prayers will whisk away your frustration at your lack of skill, and sewing it drunk will not make it more fun.
So taking up these confusing and vague statements during meditation is a great way to watch yourself squirm under moral imperatives. Should we do good? Of course! How do we do good? That’s a much messier, much uglier answer.
Zen is also constantly pointing to the deep intimacy of our relationship to everything. Taking the precept of not stealing reminds us that we're on stolen land. Taking the precept of not misusing sex reminds us of all the terrible violence against women only now coming to the mainstream. Taking the precept of not killing reminds us that the apparent agency and safety of some relies on the exploitation and murder of brown and black bodies. Whether we like it or not we're deeply implicated in all of this.
So taking these vows and being part of a community that is dedicated to both exploring and holding others accountable to these precepts is a great privilege. Let's get to work.