You see, I don’t see myself as a minister in the Protestant mold or a priest in the Catholic/Anglican mold either. Neither molds approximate the Zen mold.
Seems to me that in American Zen we’re desperate for an English word that labels what we do but haven’t found a good one yet. In grasping for a fitting cultural paradigm for those who’ve undertaken homeleaving, we resort to minister and priest speak.
Maybe we have some belonging needs that we hope to meet by fitting into the Christian culture or want to present as professionals to legitimize what we do. Meanwhile the culture hops along in another direction – nonwhite with almost 30% of young people identifying as “none” (no religious affiliation).
Now if you follow this blog, you know that this is a regular peeve of mine. But today I’m not just fussily bitching. I actually have a proposal … which I’ll get to in a minute but first I want to say a bit more about why the minister/priest words don’t fit.
A minister is someone who ministers to somebody or some group of somebodies – that’s not what Zen practice is about. A priest is into being a “mediatory agent between humans and God” and when it comes to God, imv, you’re on your own, buddy.
My training has been in the old ways of Dogen Zen as practiced by Katagiri Roshi, including how to eat, walk, sit, intone the sutras, etc. Reflecting deeply on human life was especially important for Roshi. Which really led me to koan Zen. None of which has led me to minister or mediate.
So what should we call people who have undertaken homeleaving (aka, priest ordination)?
A Zen guy I respect who lives in Japan and speaks the old tongue tells me that he and those he hangs out with call themselves sōryo (僧侶) or “companion of monks” (i.e., those who’ve undergone homeleaving).
I like that. It’s humble – I just hang out with homeleavers. It leaves whether I’m a homeleaver or not up to others, and because moment by moment we’re all prone to enlightened, free, homeleaving action or incredibly attached stupidity, it fits reality quite nicely.
As such, sōryo also suggests something that isn’t fixed. It’s about intimate relationship rather than ministering or mediating.
Now, sōryo is a “foreign” word – like Zen, zazen, and spaghetti – so some Roshis might not like it (warning: previous comment intended to be ironic).
And, btw, from the point of view of those who hang with homeleavers, I’m guessing that everybody is always leaving home (even in our stupidity) so we’re all included.
Like Keizan’s poem:
A solitary boat is making its way without oars in the dim moonlight.
Turning the head, one can see waterweed motionless on the old bank.