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Beth Joshi Mulligan - Dharma Combat Ceremony

December 04, 2015 by Jokai

David Blackwell Rev. David Jokai Blackwell
Yokoji Zen Mountain Center

Beth Joshi Mulligan - Dharma Combat Ceremony

In preparing for the my Dharma Combat ceremony, I found that the word ceremony has its origins from the Latin ‘caeromonia’ which is related to the word cura or cure, the act of healing or being healed. All over the world, ceremonies are taking place to heal every form of ailment. In the United States, perhaps what ails us most is our feeling of separation from each other. The Dharma Combat ceremony, the culmination of the fall training period, brought together many people who are really important to me and even people I don’t know very well. As we prepared for it, I was in awe of the energy and time all kind of folks put in to “making the day shine” as Jokai Sensei encouraged us to. We came together for a shared vision.

The opportunity to participate in a ceremony; (in this case a rite of passage to senior Zen student), in our modern world is quite rare. For me I found it to be more meaningful and valuable in ways I could never have imagined. That being said, the last ten days of the training period were quite intense physically and mentally/emotionally. Roshi told me from the beginning that one function of the training period was to make me stretch and to “fill up all the space.” I can tell you, it did. In addition to the expected intense schedule of sesshin, we had rehearsals for the ceremony in what would usually be “rest time”. Now understand these rehearsals, meant many, many full bows for moi. During the rare moments when I was on my own, (mostly the wee hours of the morning), I was going over my talk, memorizing my lines and reviewing the order of the ceremony. And OK, I was stressing a bit. Not sleeping much. And I could barely walk by Sunday. But I will tell you this. I felt completely alive and focused. I felt how much I wanted to do a really good job, for myself, and to honor my teacher and all those who put so much time into it.

Jokai Sensei drove ten hours to Sacramento on Friday and made it back by 2:00 PM on Saturday for the dress rehearsal and patiently ran the rehearsal and told me to stop dragging my Zagu on the floor - over and over again. Wayu spent a full hour with me practicing how to turn the ceremonial stand or sanbo on which my koan would be placed. Jonen (Bruce), walked back and forth about 100 times from the Buddha hall to the Zendo to make sure everything was in place. Susan Yushin, continuously encouraged me while helping me to learn to unfold and fold my zagu now with a fan in my left hand (Geez!). Jikan, who was cooking three meals a day for us, took what little time she had to be at all the rehearsals until we got the verse and the bowing just right. There were times I felt so clumsy and overwhelmed I wanted to hide. But seeing the efforts of all these people (and there are many I haven’t mentioned, like Melissa, taking time away from the kids and Roshi to be with me…and Ron and Aaron… see what I mean? ) was both inspiring and moving and humbling. If they can do it I can do it I told myself. And of course Roshi giving tirelessly of his time and care to all of us, both in teaching the Dharma in traditional ways (talks and dokusan) and in less traditional ways, like making the entrance to the Zendo more accessible and beautiful.

In the end it was a beautiful day. My friends and family came from all over, the Yokoji Sangha showed up, and it was remarkably warm and sunny. I was incredibly nervous as we made the procession from the Zendo to the Buddha hall and back. As the taiko drum started pounding, and the Inkins Ching Chonged and the clappers clapped, I felt a thrill go through my body. When I stepped over the threshold of the Zendo with the fan in my hand and everyone I love around me, I felt as if I were stepping on the earth for the very first time, in a way I never had before. I felt a sense of dignity and grace I never felt before. I gave my talk; I answered the questions as best I could. But in the end what stayed with me is how loved and deeply respected and cared for I felt.

What the ceremony “cured” and healed for me, was an old feeling of being worthless and wounded. I felt whole, just as the Buddha said I (and all beings) am. As days have passed I find myself wishing that everyone who ever felt disenfranchised, or alone, or unsure of themselves could have some kind of public ceremony that gave them this feeling: “Welcome to the world Joshi, Welcome to the family of all sentient beings.”

Thank you everyone, thank you.


  • Sharon Porter:

    20 Dec 2015 15:28:11

    I feel great joy for Beth and hope for the world as I read this!

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