In December 2002, I boarded the Aer Lingus flight to San Francisco for my ordination as a Zen practitioner. I remember the excitement on landing in San Fran and being met by my friend, teacher and brother Ryushin Paul Haller, Abbot of the prestigious San Francisco Zen centre.

What a privilege and honour to be accepted into the heart of a wondrous Westie from West Belfast who went West to the West coast of America.

We drove to the Zen centre over by Haight Ashbury which was the home of the hippies back in the Woodstock days and filled with love and peace back when the Filmore hall hosted Cream, Hendrix, the Who, Rolling Stones and many more greats. Now I was entering into the Zen centre to be introduced to an ancient tradition based on the original hippy the Buddha, who discovered the way to love and peace via an inside journey from the head to the heart.

The reason for this visit for me was to sew my rakasu aka the Buddha's robe. The rakasu is a bib-like garment that Zen priests and some lay practitioners wear around their necks.

Called a rakusu, it’s a miniature version of the Buddha’s monastic robe. Since the Buddha’s robe was said to be a patchwork of discarded fabrics, rakusus are made of different fabrics sewn together in a patchwork pattern that resembles a brick wall. Typically practitioners sew their own rakusus as part of their preparation to take the Zen precepts.

The colour of the rakusu varies according to tradition and temple. Commonly in the West, novice priests wear black while fully ordained priests wear brown. The back of the rakusu is white, and often the student’s dharma name, their teacher’s name, the date and place of the precept ceremony, and some words of wisdom from the teacher are written there. On the back of the collar there is a stitch that denotes the sect of Zen to which the practitioner belongs.

I was blessed by the support of the students and priests of the Zen centre who supported me in my sewing. I was allowed to choose the colour of the thread that I would sew my pieces together and for me there was no doubt that my colour would be green for Ireland as this was the first of many rakasus to be sewn for the Belfast Blackmountain Zen Centre.

I spent morning, noon and evening sewing my rakasu and at least once or twice a day I presented my Rakusu to the Abbot Paul and he would decide if it was right or rip it up for me to start again. This in itself is a wonderful teaching that like life we can always start over agin. I also remembered as I sat sewing the rakasu how my grandfather the tailor in me shone through.

The day before my departure my rakasu was complete and I left it with Paul for my ordination ceremony. Paul inscribed on the back of my rakasu my dharma or Zen name which is Genzan Zenan, which translates into Inconceivable beginningless mountain, total ease.

BLACK MOUNTAIN BUDDHISTS: RyushinPaul Haller, actor Michael O'Keefe and Frank sporting their 'flak jackets'

BLACK MOUNTAIN BUDDHISTS: RyushinPaul Haller, actor Michael O'Keefe and Frank sporting their 'flak jackets'

I remember with great joy the ceremony as I was committing myself to the path of Zen — even though, on my return to Belfast, a friend commented, “ it looks like a bullet proof jacket”.