Six remaining students are now entering the fourth and final year of formal daojin training. If we decide to continue and are approved to move forward by the teachers and Monastic Council, we will take daojin vows early next year in an ordination ceremony. A new group will come together this year to explore the daojin path for themselves and will begin their formal enrollment in 2012.

A daojin is someone closely connected with a monastery but not a monastic. This way of practice emerged as Daido Roshi saw a need to respond to lay practitioners who were searching for a way to deepen their relationship with and service to the Order. It seems to resonate with those who are drawn strongly to the monastic vows. Daojin, like monastics, take up their vows as a personal area of commitment and study, not as a requirement or a code of conduct. They build on the vows to uphold the precepts taken in the jukai ceremony, a pre-requisite for daojin training, and the Four Bodhisattva Vows taken up by all practitioners. And while the daojin vows are not identical to monastic vows, they run in parallel lines, reflecting engagement in Buddhist practice within the commitments and complexities of work, family, community and service.

There is a historic precedent in Chinese Zen Buddhism for this kind of path. Contemporary models include the “oblate” path offered in Catholic monasteries, in which lay men and women make an offering of their service to particular practice communities at the same time that they ask to be accountable to them.

When the daojin program began, there were some skeptics within the MRO. Is this just a new label, they asked, a new piece of clothing, an additional ranking system? Why do we need a third track? Don’t we just need more monastics? But those of us drawn to the experiential process of trying out the path and stretching ourselves managed along the way to feel its effects. Making choices to allow for a simpler life in order to be of service to others is a radical undertaking that subtly affects the entire fabric of one’s life and the priorities we might take for granted. For those who have been able to continue, the practice commitment feels right.

But beyond the vows, how is the daojin path different from the lay student track which is already quite rigorous and demanding? One difference is the amount of time that daojin are asked to commit to the Monastery and the Temple in service of the sangha. As Ryushin Sensei often points out, daojin practice asks us to see how far we can take our practice in the world while maintaining connection and accountability to the Monastery and the Temple. While many students give of themselves in service and feel the curiosity to see how deeply they can bring the details of their practice and vows into their lives, they may not all enter this exploration as a formal commitment. Within its clearly defined structure, daojin practice does not negate the rigors of lay practice in the MRO; it does not overlook the dana which is offered by other students, nor does it compromise the monastic path. In Ryushin Sensei’s words, it is the expression of an individual’s intention to seriously and deeply practice. It acknowledges that we all are different, but discerns and honors our individuality.