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Zen institutions have an elaborate system of ranks and hierarchy, which determine one's position in the institution. Within this system, novices train to become a Zen priest, or a trainer of new novices.
From its beginnings, Sōtō Zen has placed a strong emphasis on lineage and dharma transmission. In time, dharma transmission became synonymous with the transmission of temple ownership. This was changed by Manzan Dokahu (1636–1714), a Sōtō reformer, who...
[P]ropagated the view that Dharma transmission was dependent on personal initiation between a Master and disciple rather than on the disciple's enlightenment. He maintained this view in the face of strong opposition, citing as authority the towering figure of Japanese Zen, Dogen [...] This became and continues to this day to be the official Sōtō Zen view. 
Sōtō-Zen has two ranking systems, hōkai (four dharma ranks) and sōkai (eight priest ranks).[web 1]
The dharma ranks (法階) point to the stages in the training to become an Oshō, priest or "technologist of the spirit".[web 2] To become a dai-Oshō, priest of a Zen-temple, one has to follow the training in an officially recognized training centre, sōdō-ango (僧堂安居).[web 1]
Becoming a Sōtō-Zen priest starts with shukke tokudo (出家得度).[web 3] In this ceremony, the novice receives his outfit ("inner and outer robes, belts, o-kesa, rakusu, kechimyaku (transmission chart) and eating bowls"[web 3]) and takes the precepts. One is then an Unsui, a training monk. This gives the rank of jōza, except for children under ten years old, who are called sami.[web 3]
The next step,after one has been a monk for at least three years, is risshin (立身) and hossen-shiki (Dharma combat ceremony), while acting as a shuso (首座), headmonk, during a retreat. Risshin is "To raise one's body into a standing position":
It means to gain physical stability. Confidence in oneself and one's role as a monk. The ability to express oneself and share a wider perspective, not restricted to one's own needs only. He starts to function like a pillar that supports the sangha.[web 3]
Hossenshiki is a ceremony in which questions and answers are exchanged. After this ceremony, one is promoted to the rank of zagen.[web 3]
...the recognition of the transmission that took place long before the ceremony itself. In fact, it has nothing to do at all with the paper, with philosophy or with mystical experience. The 24 hours of the daily life shared by teacher and student are the content of the transmission, and nothing else [...] In Antai-ji, when you receive shihō after, say, eight or nine years, you will have sat for 15,000 hours of zazen with your teacher. Not only that, you also shared many thousands of meals with him, worked together in the fields for thousands of hours, spread manure, cut grass and wood together, side by side, you sweat together in the summer and froze together in the winter. You cooked for him and filled the bath tub for him, you know how he likes the temperature both of his soup and the bathing water. You also shared many drinks, probably. In each of these activities, the dharma is transmitted. None should be left out.[web 4]
Shihō is done "one-to-one in the abbot's quarters (hojo)".[web 4] Three handwritten documents certify the dharma transmission;
a) Shisho (the scripture of transmission, the names of the ancestors arranged in a circle - the dharma has passed on from to Shakyamuni to yourself, and now you give it back to Shakyamuni. There is a small piece of paper, probably originally written by Sawaki Roshi, with some comments. This paper is also copied by the student when doing dharma transmission at Antai-ji.)
b) Daiji (the great matter, a cryptic symbolization of the content of the teaching. Again, there is a small extra sheet of paper that explains about the meaning of the symbols.) c) Kechimyaku (the blood lineage, looks quite similar to the blood line transmission that you already wrote at the time of ordination) d) Actually, in the lineage of Sawaki Roshi (and maybe other lineages as well) a student is told to write a fourth document on an extra sheet of paper, which is called Hisho (the secret document, which is encoded, but the code for deciphering is on the same paper, so once you hold it in your hands it is not so "secret" anymore.)[web 4]
The procedure has to take place only once in one's life, and binds the student to the teacher forever:
Dharma transmission can happen once, and only once, or never at all. Multiple dharma transmission is nonsense. If you receive dharma transmission from one teacher, from then on that is your one and only teacher, your real teacher (jap. hon-shi). The multiple lineage holders that you hear of in the West are bullshit. Therefore it is important that both sides, but especially the student, make sure that this is the right time for them to make this important step.[web 4]
If a student does not have the feeling he wants to be tied to this teacher for the rest of his life, he may refuse to take dharma transmission from this particular teacher.[web 4] Since the time of Manzan Dokahu (1636–1714), multiple dharma transmissions are impossible in Sōtō Zen.[web 4]
In contrast to the status that dharma transmission has acquired in the west, in Japanese Sōtō it has a relatively low status:
[D]harma transmission provides access to only a relatively low grade. It is listed as a requirement for the very lowest ecclesiastical status, that of an instructor third class (santō kyōshi). Thus, in present day Sōtō Zen, Dharma transmission constitutes a preliminary step, after which one's real development begins [...] Today, the key authority conferred by Dharma transmission is that it qualifies a priest to manage an ordinary (jun hōchi) local temple. These temples are not ascetic training but of ceremonial services on behalf of lay patrons.
Dharma transmission is not seen then as the end of the road; instead, it marks the beginning of deeper learning:
Dharma transmission is not the last and final step in a student's practice. Quite the opposite, one might call it the real first step on the way of practice. The way has just begun, but now the student has decided which exact way he wants to follow to the end. But all the real hardships still lay ahead of him. To use the example of boy-meets-girl again: At this point of time they have decided that they are made for each other, so to speak, they want to get married and have kids. Hopefully, that does not mean that the romance is over. It just means that both are prepared for the real struggle to begin.[web 4][a]
To become an oshō, teacher, two more steps are to be taken, ten-e and zuise.[web 1]
Ten-e means "to turn the robe":[web 1]
Unsui (training monks) are allowed to wear only black robes and black o-kesa [...] [T]en-e is the point in the carrier [sic] of a Sōtō monk when you are finally allowed to wear a yellow-brown robe.[web 1]
The literal meaning of Zuise is as follows:
Zui means "auspicious", se is "the world". Originally, it seems that it meant the same as shusse, i.e. to get promoted to an office, to make a carrier step. Maybe it can also be interpreted as "to make an auspicious announcement to the whole world" or something along those lines.[web 5]
Zuise is also called ichiya-no-jūshoku(一夜住職), "abbot for one night". In this ceremony, one is literally abbot for one night.[web 5]
The ceremony originates in the medieval organisation of the Sōtō-shū, when rotation of abbotship was the norm. Dharma transmission at a branch temple obliged one to serve at least one term as abbot at the main temple. Abbotship gave severe duties, and financial burdens, for which reason many tried to avoid the responsibility of abbotship:
Tsūgen, Baisan and Jochū each demanded that future generations excommunicate any Zen teacher who failed to fulfill his obligation to serve as abbot of a head temple. Baisan decreed that the obedient Zen successors should seize defiant ones and then burn the offender's succession's certificate (shisho) before his eyes. Note the remarkable inversion that has occurred here. Instead of dharma transmission being a qualification for becoming an abbot, successful service as abbot has become a requirement for being allowed to retain one's dharma tranbsmission.
The ceremony has to be done at both Eihei-ji and Sōji-ji, the main temples of the Sōtō-shū, within the time span of one month.[web 5] This originates in the rivalry between Eihei-ji and Sōji-ji. Eihei-ji's attempts to gain dominance were met with resistance from Sōji-ji. Several times in history Sōji-ji "has issued proclamations that anyone who received honors at Eihei-ji would never be allowed back at a temple affiliated with Sōji-ji". Since Sōji-ji has by far the largest network of temples, this was an effective mean to limit the influence of Eihei-ji.
After zuise one becomes an Oshō, i.e. "priest" or "teacher".
After having become oshō one may become a dai-oshō, resident priest in a Zen-temple. It takes further training in a sōdō-ango, an officially recognized Sōtō-shū training centre.[web 6]
A prerequisite to become dai-oshō is to do ango, "to stay in peace" or "safe shelter".[web 6] It is derived from ancient Indian Buddhism, when monks retreated into shelter during the rain-season. Ango is a period of 90 or 100 days of intensive practice. There is no fixed stage on the training-path when ango has to be done, but ordination as a monk is necessary, and it has to be done in a sōdō-ango.[web 6] The aspirant dai-oshō has to spend at least six months there, but one or two years is the usual span of time.[web 6] Ango is necessary because it "grinds" the future dai-oshō:
The point of ango is: Sessa-takuma. I used this term a number of times in the past. It consists of four Chinese characters: 切磋琢磨 The first means to cut (a bone or elephant tusk), the second to rub, the third to crush (a stone or gem), the fourth to polish. As a whole, it describes how various hard materials grind each others and during this process are all refined [...] Ango is important exactly because it can be a pain in the ass to live with others who go on our nerves, occupy our space and demand our time, have different habits and different vies, different outlooks on life etc. They often show us a mirror because life in the monastery forces them to do so, when people in the world would just step out off our way.[web 6]
Ango(安居) helps to become a mature person:
[T]hat is the real meaning of ango. Sharing all of your time and space and energy. Does it help to balance your nerves? In my case: Not always so. But it certainly helps to mature, and in my view, practice has something to do with being an adult.[web 6]
After ango one can start to work in a temple. The newly acquired status is confirmed in the kyōshi-honin ceremony. There-after follows the first practice-period in one's own temple, with the aid of a susho (head monk). This is followed by the Jūshoku-himei ceremony, which confirms one's status as dai-oshō.[web 6]
To supervise the training of monks, further qualification is necessary:
The relatively low status of dharma transmission means that in and of itself it does not qualify one to accept students or to train disciples. According to the regulations, Zen students should be supervised only by a teacher who has attained supervisory certification (i.e. sanzen dōjō shike status), that is, someone who in the popular literature might be called a Zen master. To attain supervisory certification requires not just high ecclesiastical grades and dharma seniority but also at least three years' experience as an assistant supervisor at a specially designated training hall (tokubetsu sōdō), during which time one undergoes an apprenticeship.
There are two grades for training supervisor, namely shike and jun shike. Appointment as shike is done by cooptation:
There are about 50 or so of these in Soto (the Rinzai roshis can also be addressed as "shike"). One big difference between the rinzai roshi and the Soto shike is that the shike transmission [...] is not vertical at all. That means that even if your teacher is a shike, he can not appoint you as a shike. So who does appoint a shike? In fact, there is a kind of committee, called the "shike-kai", consisting of all Japanese Soto shike. There is no foreign shike, as far as I know. The shike-kai can appoint anyone as a shike whom they consider their equal, i.e. who has done genuine training and study, cultivated himself and reached whatever understanding that might be considered enlightened enough to match the enlightenment of the other shike. So shike appointment can be called horizontal in a way.[web 7]
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At Myōshin-ji, two kinds of ranking systems are being used to rank sōryo ("a member of the educated clergy, a priest, as opposed to a monk", namely the hokai (dharma rank) and the Tokyū-class system.
The hōkai (dharma rank) system is used to denote ranks in the Buddhist clerical career hierarchy. It has fourteen ranks and titles, starting with the shami rank. A central, but temporary phase in this career is the stay in a monastery for a few years. Half of the jūshoku (priests) connected to Myōshin-ji stayed there less than two years, and 10% even shorter than one year. The stay at the monastery is meant to learn the skills and social role necessary to function as a priest:
[T]he goal of Zen is not simply an inner state of tranquility but the social reconstruction of the self"
Ordination, called tokudo-shiki, usually takes place at a young age, between 6 and 20. Most of the ordained are temple sons, and often no special value is given to the ceremony. The time since ordination is the hōrō seniority, which is one of the factors in obtaining Tokyū-grades.
The suiji-shiki ceremony is performed when one has finished the formal training period and is ready to start as assistant-priest, "often one's father temple". hereby one gains the rank of oshō, priest.
In the Rinzai-school, a difference is made between acknowledgement of insight and succession in the organisation:
From the Rinzai perspective, true realization (jisshō) and succession to a master (shijō) are two different stages in the course of practice，the latter implying a comprehensive integration of awakening in the activities of everyday life.
The most common form of transmission in Rinzai Zen is the acknowledgement that one has stayed in the monastery for a certain amount of time, and may later become a temple priest.
After finishing the koan-study, further practice is necessary:
[I]t would take 10 years to solve all the kōans [...] in the sōdō. After the student has solved all koans, he can leave the sôdô and live on his own, but he is still not considered a roshi. For this he has to complete another ten years of training, called "go-go-no-shugyō" in Japanese. Literally, this means "practice after satori/enlightenment", but Fukushima preferred the translation "special practice". Fukushima would explain that the student builds up a "religious personality" during this decade. I would say it is a kind of period that functions to test if the student is actually able to live in regular society and apply his koan understanding to daily life, after he has lived in an environment that can be quite surreal and detached from the lives of the rest of humanity. Usually, the student lives in small parish temple during this decade, not in a formal training monastery.[web 7]
According to roshi Sokun Tsushimoto, the title of shike is equivalent to Zen master and roshi:
The shike has received inka-shōmei or dharma transmission. Inka-shōmei is used for the transmission of the "true lineage" of the masters (shike) of the training halls. There are only about fifty[web 7] to eighty[web 10] of such inka-shōmei bearers in Japan:
In Rinzai Zen, it is relatively easy to say who is a rōshi and who is not. Anyone who is authorized by another roshi (i.e. his teacher) is a rōshi. This authorization (officially the "inka-shōmei" document) is documented on a piece of paper, that is why it is also called colloquially "ichi-mai", that is "one sheet (of paper)". The transmission is totally vertical from teacher to student, no peer control is involved. That means that the Rinzai sect has no means to control who is made a rōshi and who is not. In spite of that, the number of Rinzai rōshi is relatively low, maybe around 50 or so.[web 7][d]
Inka is usually attested by a written document:
[T]he full recognition conferred by a master upon a disciple whom he intends to make his successor [...] sometimes takes the form of written certification (inka)，but there have been cases of true acknowledgement in which no document has been bestowed.
According to roshi Sokun Tsushimoto,
Authorization as a Roshi should be done in the most formal and explicit way. In Rinzai tradition a master gives a calligraphy of Inka-certificate to disciple as a proof of authorization. Needless to say authorization must be backed up by the fact that the disciple spent many years in zen training under the master earnestly and continuously.
But according to Mohr,
In the Rinzai school the issue of Dharma transmission is essentially subjective, that is，left to the discretion of the master，and the ambiguity of terms such as “successor in the Dharma” (hassu 法B司) has persisted down to the present. According to the context or the circumstances, it can signify either spiritual recognition or inheritance of a temple lineaee.
The shike is not married. He...
[H]as the prestige and generally owns the respect of being a true Zen master, a living symbol of the Zen monastic tradition, the quintessence of Zen virtues ideally incarnating wisdom, spirituality, strict discipline, individuality, and yet gentle social personality.
The shike is also the head of the sect (subschool of the Rinzai-school, with its own head temple). He appoints and dismisses the priests, and appoints the titles in the ranking system. Yet, "the position as abbot [at Myōshinji] is based on election, each elected period lasting four years".
The Tokyū-class system is a teacher-grade system. Up to the second grade, progressing takes place through taking exams, or through mushiken kentei, authorization without examination. Age, seniority, amount of practice in the sodo, and educational level play a part in this authorization:
For instance, to become a shami one has to be at least five years old, and to get the title of Zenjūshoku one has to be at least forty years old and with a hōrō seniority of thirty years.
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A 'part-time' career program is offered by the ''ange-o-system, aimed at persons wishing to become full-time or part-time temple-priest, who don't have the opportunity to spend the required years in the sōdō.
Besides the official ranking, several honorific titles are being used:
The Sanbo Kyodan mixes Soto and Rinzai-elements. Students in this school follow the Harada-Yasutani koan curriculum, in which great emphasis is placed on kensho, the initial insight into one's true nature. Having attained kensho is publicly acknowledged in a jahai-ceremony. After working through the Harada-Yasutani koan curriculum, which may take as short as five years, the student receives a calligraphy testifying that he or she "has finished the great matter". This is publicly acknowledged in the hasansai-ceremony, giving the status of hasan.
The Sanbo Kyodan has two levels of teaching authority, namely junshike ("associate zen master"), and shōshike ("authentic zen master"). Junshikes can give dokusan, authorize kensho, and supervise part of the koan-study. Shoshikes can supervise the advanced koan-study, and perform religious ceremonies, such as the precept-ceremony and wedding ceremonies.
The process toward gaining these titles has seen some variations within the Sanbo Kyodan. Hasansai may be preparatory to the junshike-title, but may also be the promotion to this title. And promotion to shoshike may be preparatory to dharma transmission, but may also be equivalent to it.
In dharma transmission, the student receives the sanmotsu, akin to the Soto shiho ceremony. This is coupled with the Rinzai notion on inka. In Rinzai, only students who have completed the complete Rinzai koan curriculum and "are eligible to serve as sōdō roshi, that is, master of a training hall, in distinction from a common temple, receive inka. In the Sanbo Kyodan, inka is derived from Harada's Rinzai master Dokutan Sōsan.
This precept-transmission has a long history in Sōtō-shu. Keizan, the fourth Sōtō-patriarch, received transmission of the precepts from Gien, the third (actually fourth) abbot of Eihei-ji, but received dharma transmission from Tettsū Gikai, the disputed third abbot of Enheiji. According to Keizan's Denkoroku, Dogen had received Dharma transmission from Rujing, bur precept transmission via the Rinzai-linegae of Myozen, with whom he first studied.
… once you have transmission then your teacher is sort of watching to see how you’re doing as a teacher – on how you are conducting yourself and, after a period of time, if the teacher has confidence in your understanding and ability to teach (that you are conducting yourself with integrity and clarity) then, at some point, the person will get the final seal of approval – which is what inka is. There is nothing particularly mysterious about it.[web 12]
There are four kinds of teachers in the Kwan Um tradition, all having attained a varying degree of mastery and understanding.
An Abbot serves a Zen center in an administrative capacity, and does not necessarily provide spiritual direction, though several are Soen Sa Nims. These individuals take care of budgets and other such tasks.[web 13]
The hierarchical system of Zen has attracted severe criticism in the west, because of the misconception of the role and degree of awakening of Zen teachers. The term rōshi has been applied to implicate a certified state of awakening, implying impeccable moral behaviour. Actual practice shows that this has not always been the case.
History of Zen