IN September I traveled to Mt. Hiei, the Tendai monastic complex located near Kyoto in Japan, to receive Nyuudan Kanjo and Endon-kai (a specific form of jukai or receiving the precepts). Th ese two events are traditional milestones for Japanese Tendai monks. There are several other ceremonies that a Japanese monk may participate in during his or her lifetime of service to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. From the monk’s perspective they are part of her or his spiritual development. From society’s perspective they ensure that the teacher or master has undergone adequate training and has been authorized to teach by the Tendai authorities. Kanjo and jukai are old as old as Buddhism’s origins.

Kanjo literally means sprinkling of water on one’s head. The term kanjo is abisheka in Sanskrit. It is a ceremony of conferral of a particular status upon the individual. When a monk is ordained, or takes priest’s vows, tokudo in Japanese, the person is now responsible to conduct his life in a particular way and is expected to give her life in service to others. It is also a beginning of the learning process for a person. Among other things such a person is permitted to study and practice esoteric teachings with a legitimate teacher. Tokudo itself is not a permit to teach, except exoteric materials if qualified. However, a person who has received tokudo can perform non-esoteric ceremonies, such as weddings and funerals, as well as lead meditations and assist in directing sangha. These ceremonies are a direct connection to the origins of the first sangha, through Nagarjuna, Chih-i, Dengyo Daishi (Saicho) down to one’s immediate teachers.

Nyuudan Kanjo is the first phase of a two-part kanjo. The second phase is called Kaidan Kanjo. The Nyuudan kanjo is a series of learning and testing practices along with the actual conferral of status. A year or more later the practitioner participates in additional advanced practices that result in conferral of the status ajari (Skt. Acharaya), teacher or master. Taken together these kanjo are called Dembo Kanjo.

In the Kanjo-in, the temple in which the kanjo ceremony takes place, there are cloths covering the walls and windows of the room so that the instructions that takes place there-in are not seen by anyone except those participating in the ritual. This is an intimate, smoky, dimly lit space that conveys continuity, responsibility, a profound sense of awakening. Even the water that is used for the anointment is drawn at dawn by all the participants in a ritual from an ancient cistern well on the mountain.

Endon-kai denotes the “Perfect and Immediate Enlightenment” precepts proposed by Dengyo Daishi (Saicho) and established in 822. The Endon-kai precepts are given to those preparing for more advanced conferrals, such as Kaidan Kanjo.

After the morning service is performed at Dengyo Daishi’s tomb, the Jukai service and reading of the precepts for all the participants is performed in the adjacent temple with a sense of solemnity that conveys the nature of these advanced vows. This is followed by a mediation service and then formal visits to the various temples on the summit of Hiei-zan as a form of gratitude and devotion.

The ceremonies I attended on Hiei-zan are difficult to express with words. When discussing rites such as these we often communicate information about the austerities and more visually impressive aspects of the rituals; the hours of sitting seiza, the long periods of mudra and mantra, or the esteemed leaders of the rituals. In a sense this is misleading because it focuses on the corporeal aspects rather than the spiritual. I have been guilty of this myself because of the difficulty of relating one’s inner experience. I was not participating in these kanjo and jukai ceremonies as an anthropologist conducting participant observation of a cultural event. In fact, as a scientist and a Tendai monk I find it necessary to turn off that critical discriminating portion of my intellect and suspend any doubt in the mystical if the kanjo and jukai are to be reified through my experience.

To be able to participate in these ceremonies is a privilege. I enter into these ancient rites with a sense of gratitude, humility and wonder. In the end, participation is for the benefit of all sentient beings.