Simplicity Zen Practice Paths

The following are the ceremonies and practice milestones that are available to Zen students who participate in the Simplicity Zen training programs. The Zen lineage being passed down is that of Dogen Zenji who was the founder of the Japanese Soto Zen school. This lineage was handed down to us through the Japanese Soto Zen priest Sōyū Matsuoka Roshi and then through the Clear Mind West Zen School. Through this lineage, we implement four ceremonial Zen practice milestones: Talking Refuge, Bodhisattva Precepts Initiation, Clouds and Water Initiation and Dharma Transmission. We have added an additional milestone between Clouds and Water Initiation and Dharma Transmission that is specific to the Simplicity Zen training programs: Assistant Zen Teacher Certification.

Taking Refuge Ceremony

In this ceremony, a student takes refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha is the Awakened mind inherent in all sentient beings. Dharma is the totality of Buddhist teachings and practice techniques available to us. Sangha is the practice community that walks the awakening path with us. In this ceremony, the student asserts that the Buddhist path is one that resonates with them and one that they wish to follow. In this ceremony the student receives a new Buddhist name. This ceremony is not a commitment of the student to a particular teacher, but rather a commitment to the Buddha way itself.


  • An established daily meditation practice.
  • Completion of the Simplicity Zen “Buddhism 101” Course

Bodhisattva Precepts Initiation Ceremony

In this ceremony, the student receives the Bodhisattva precepts and vows to live life as a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is someone who makes an effort to live their life with right conduct, reduce the harm they cause and to help all beings in whatever way is appropriate. This ceremony also includes avowing past harmful actions. In this ceremony the student receives a rakusu (which is a small bib-like representation of Buddha’s robe) and a “bloodline” document that shows the precept lineage that they are receiving. In some lineages, equivalents of this ceremony are given only to those with considerable practice experience, but we feel that it can be helpful and useful to engage in precept practice fairly early on the Zen path.


  • A continuing daily meditation practice
  • Completion of the “Taking Refuge” ceremony
  • Completion of the Simplicity Zen “Precept Inquiry” course.
  • Completion of a at least one full day Zen meditation retreat.
  • Sew or purchase a rakusu (There can be a discussion on which is more appropriate for a particular student).
  • Acquisition of a Soto-style “Oryoki” eating bowl set.

Clouds and Water Renunciation Ceremony

This ceremony takes it’s name from the Japanese term “unsui”. In Japanese Zen, an Unsui (literally “Cloud Water”) is someone who renounces family life and any sort of “normal” career to fully engage fully in Zen practice and Bodhisattva activity. Having renounced family and career it is said go through life like clouds floating in the sky or water flowing down hill.

Student’s who participate in Simplicity Zen’s Cloud and Waters Runcination Ceremony are obviously not expected to renounce and leave their homes and careers, rather its a public vow of runcination of an approach to life that is overly focused on chasing pleasure and avoiding discomfort at almost any costs. It is a vow of simplicity.

Its is also a deepening and broadening of the vows made in the Bodhisattva initiation ceremony. It is a declaration of an emerging commitment to helping facilitate Zen practice for others.

In line with Sōyū Matsuoka Roshi’s commitment to householder practice, there are no residential training requirements for this or any other Simplicity Zen ceremony. And similarly to the Bodhisattva Initiation Ceremony, we believe it can helpful for someone to take this path relatively early on in their training if they and their teacher feel they are ready for a service-oriented orientation in practice.

Upon completion of this ceremony, the student becomes a “formal student” of the teacher who performs the ceremony for them.

Students who participate in the Clouds and Water Renunciation Ceremony are expected in engage in at least one “dharma service project”. The nature of this activity will depend on the causes and conditions of each student. Examples might be:

  • Starting a local sitting group
  • Being a chaplain in a prison, hospital or hospice center.
  • Offering a mindfulness program at work or in a community
  • Engaging in formal practice and leadership roles in an existing Zen sitting group, center or temple


  • Completion of the “Bodhisattva Precepts Initiation” Ceremony or equivalent.
  • Completion of at least 12 full Zen retreat Days
  • Completion of the Simplicity Zen “Buddhism 101”, “Precepts Inquiry” and “Who am I?” training programs


Students who complete this ceremony receive a “Simplicity Zen Mindfulness Instructor” certificate as a credential to help facilitate their engagement with their chosen dharma service project(s).

Assistant Zen Teacher Certification Ceremony

This ceremony represents a step where the student has matured in their practice to the point where they they can begin to function as an assistant Zen teacher. This ceremony is not a formal milestone in the lineage we have received through Sōyū Matsuoka Roshi, but rather is specific to the Simplicity Zen training program. It empowers the student to:

  • Teach the Simplicity Zen “Buddhism 101”, “Precepts Inquiry” and “Who am I?” training programs.
  • Meet privately one-on-one with students (via phone, the Internet or in-person)
  • Perform the “Clouds and Water” Ceremony for their own students.


  • Clear evidence of Awakened Mind manifesting in the student’s daily life
  • Completion of at least 36 full Zen retreat Days
  • Successful engagement in the their dharma service project(s)
  • Working knowledge of traditional Zen forms and ceremonies
  • Completion of the Simplicity Zen Assistant Zen Teacher training curriculum

Dharma Transmission Ceremony

In this ceremony the student becomes a lineage holder in the Zen lineage passed through Dogen Zenji and Sōyū Matsuoka Roshi. Upon completion of this ceremony, they are empowered to function as independent Zen teachers and can in turn transmit the dharma to the next generation.


  • Deep integration of Awakened Mind into the student’s daily life
  • Completion of at least 75 full Zen retreat Days
  • Proven competence as an Assistant Zen Teacher
  • Completion of the entire Simplicity Zen training curriculum