Letter from Gyokuko about Succession

Editor’s Note: Gyokuko sent this letter to the governing councils.

I’d like to give some advance notice to the temple leadership regarding the next step in our sangha’s process of succession. It’s a long and involved process which is part of how we ensure the spiritual vitality, social harmony and institutional longevity of our sangha. We are up to date in the process of succession as outlined in the strategic plan. I am divesting myself of various administrative responsibilities with the prospect of being in “full retirement” by the time I am 72, six years from now. The next phase of this is to put a co-abbot in place to ease into leadership and to be versed in the role in case fate intervenes and “retires” me sooner.

Before any new abbot or co-abbot can be ratified by the sangha, it is a requirement that they go through a pair of ceremonies and successfully guide a shuso through their term. Although this term, called “kessei” is sometimes compressed for practical reasons, we are separating these two ceremonies by 11 months, the length of the 2016 Shuso term. This honors the intent of the kessei term as a test of the prospective abbot’s spiritual, administrative, and social skills.

The first ceremony is “Ascending the Mountain,” which will happen February 7th. This ceremony primarily involves the local sangha, and involves mostly processing, bowing, and making various statements along the way that reflect intention and a request for support. The second ceremony, “Presenting the Teaching” will be the week after Rohatsu and Hossen, December 18th. This is a more involved ceremony that includes a Jodo (fancy mondo) with a broader range of invited guests.

We do have a qualified candidate, from within the sangha, who is willing to serve in this role. This is not all that common in American Zen at this time, so we are fortunate in this regard. Although there are many Zen centers dotting the North American landscape, very few have been able to train and maintain priests to the requisite degree of readiness. Our incoming Benji, Ko’in, will be working with Kakumyo as her abbot, even though he is not her root teacher.

Starting on February 7th, Kakumyo will begin serving as Co-Abbot Pro Tem. After the ceremony in December, if all has gone well, I will nominate him as Co-Abbot to the Board, and if that motion passes the Board’s decision will go to a vote by the entire sangha in order to ratify the decision.

This is a wonderful step in our development as a Sangha, and worthy of celebration. I hope that you on the various councils will come forward with all your questions and concerns about this process, and that you will feel prepared to help others to understand what these changes represent. Kakumyo and I are both available to talk with you about these things, either one-on-one or to address questions in a council setting. Kakumyo began the process of bringing the matter to the larger Sangha in his Dharma Talk on Sunday, but I imagine the communication is going to be an ongoing process for some time to come.

Yours in the Dharma,

Gyokuko