For me, it was a very profound and precious ceremony: I was honored to receive Denkai from Willem Scheepers on December 3, 2022. That day, as we bowed together in a 'full bow', head to head, holding each other's hands strongly, I felt a very powerful presence. As a token, Willem gave me a purple Rakusu and a teacher stick.
Denkai is a transmission of the Bodhisattva Precepts from the Zen master to the student, and it authorizes the student to take on his/her own students (Shoken), to give the Precepts (Jukai) to others and to ordain a monk (Shukke Tokudo). This tradition is rooted in the White Plum Asanga, consisting of Dharma heirs of Taizan Maezumi. Denkai transmission is in advance of full Dharma transmission (Shiho).
This Precepts transmission has a long history in the Sōtō tradition of Zen. Keizan, for example, received transmission of the Precepts from Gien and Tettsū Gikai. In this age old tradition one becomes a 'full priest' when one receives Denkai. It was part of a monastic life.
Today, one's training in Zen takes place as a part of one's general (lay) life, not living in a monastery. However, despite not physically living in one, my training consists of seeing the whole society as one big monastery, with invisible walls. I am grateful to have learned this from my Zen grandmaster Nico Tydeman.
I find Denkai an acknowledgement of something that the Zen master sees in the student, which is not measurable. It is a parent-like gentle push to get the student moving towards a role in the lineage of Zen masters all the way back to Sakyamuni Buddha. The role could be that of a Zen teacher, and later perhaps that of a Zen master. To pass on the Zen tradition to future generations.
Every time I pick up the teacher stick, I am reminded of that lineage. For me, the stick represents Buddha and all his successors. It serves as a reminder that it is not 'me' who is talking.
Grateful for being a part of this lineage!