Ceremonies and Celebrations
Matariki Jukai
Jukai is the Mahayana Taking-the-Precepts Ceremony, in which students receive the Sixteen Precepts, and commit to putting them into practice to the best of their ability. The ceremony is held on a Sunday afternoon, with the Centre open from 3:30 p.m. for informal zazen and the ceremony starting at 4:30 sharp. All are welcome. The ceremony opens with making offerings and chanting the Heart Sutra, then we recite a repentance gatha (verse) as a means of purification prior to receiving the sixteen precepts: The Three Refuges, the Three General Resolutions and the Ten Cardinal Precepts, each repeated three times. After the ceremony, we generally gather for a celebratory meal; details will be sent annually.

Great Jukai, celebrated periodically, was observed for the first time in July 2013. It is a more elaborate celebration and features a visual journey through the Six Realms of Unenlightened Existence. In Autumn 2013, the Centre offered a series of study groups on the Six Realms as part of the preparation for Great Jukai. Notes on the material covered in the group are at the bottom of this page.

Kannon Day
Each year we pay our respects to the Bodhisattva of Compassion with a ceremony and an opportunity to relieve suffering (more details here). The Sunday sitting begins at the usual time (8:30), followed by the ceremony, which includes the ceremonial chanting of the Ten-Verse Kannon Sutra 108 times. We do prostrations for part of the chanting, and there is also an opportunity to make a pledge of a monetary donation at the altar if you wish, to Amnesty International. In addition, Sensei gives a short talk about Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and reads the 25th Chapter of the Lotus Sutra on the powers of Avalokitesvara (Kannon). The sitting is then followed by morning tea and letter-writing for prisoners of conscience. If you have a Kannon figure at home, bring it for the altar.

Bodhidharma Day
Each October we celebrate the Death Day of the founder of Zen, Bodhidharma. The sitting starts at the usual time and will include two rounds of zazen, followed by a special ceremony. Sent by his teacher Prajnatara, Bodhidharma made the long and dangerous journey from Southern India to China in the 5th Century C.E., where he sat facing a wall for nine years. He is regarded with great reverence and affection by Zen followers everywhere.

Buddha's Enlightenment Ceremony
Celebrated each year in early December, this beautiful ceremony commemorates "the reopening of the Way" by Shakyamuni, the Buddha of our world cycle. The evening sitting starts at the usual time with zazen, then Sensei tells the story of the Buddha's Great Enlightenment, and passages from the sutras are read aloud as everyone chants. Following the ceremony a special dessert of sweetened milk-rice (kheer) is served; this is the first nourishment that the Buddha took to gain strength after his period of extreme ascetic practice and before accomplishing anuttara samyak sambodhi (complete, perfect enlightenment).

Cleaning the Temple
As a precursor to our New Year's Eve celebrations we give the whole Centre a thorough clean in December, getting into all the nooks and crannies, inside and out, that are usually overlooked. Sitting as usual 8.30-10.30 a.m. then a hearty morning tea before the work begins. Finished by 1 p.m.  

New Year's Eve Ceremonies
Each December 31 we bring in the New Year with a rich evening of sitting and ceremonies. The evening begins at 8:00 with zazen, followed by a release and renewal ceremony, designed to help us let go of painful habits and start the new year on a positive note. There's tea around 9:45, a good time to join in if you can't make it earlier. The break is followed by more zazen, and more ceremonies close to midnight, again on the theme of clearing out negative energies. Bring a noisemaker for this if you have one. Then, at midnight, we take the 16 precepts and a special new year prayer is read out. 
Give some thought to what resolution (spoken or written or both) you'd like to make for the upcoming year. Bring a dish of festive vegetarian food to share at the end of the night.

Parinirvana Day
Celebrated each year in February, this ceremony honours the Buddha's Parinirvana, the day of his death or final entry into nirvana. The evening, starting at the usual time, ends with chanting and a reading from the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. 

Earth Day
The Zen Centre marks Earth Day each autumn with a ceremony and an action in honour of our blue planet. Following an hour of zazen, our ceremony includes chanting, prostrations, and a monetary offering to be passed on to an environmental cause chosen each year. After the ceremony we generally take on a community project, such as tree-planting, gardening, or clean-up. More about our Earth Day celebrations here

Founder's Day
Each May we mark the death day of Roshi Philip Zentetsu Kapleau (1912-2004), the founder of our lineage. Following the usual sitting there is a special chanting service and a short talk about his life and contribution to Western Zen.

Vesak (Buddha's Birthday)
Celebrated each year on a Sunday in May, this festival honouring the birth of the Buddha is enjoyed by all ages and especially by children. Vesak is our most popular family event of the year, and can be an enjoyable way to introduce children to the story of the Buddha. 

WHEN: Sitting begins at 8:30 a.m. in the zendo as usual but just for an hour. Most people with children arrive about 9:20 a.m. and festivities begin at 9:30 a.m. We finish about 11:30 a.m.  

WHAT: We start with an activity as people arrive (from about 9:20 a.m.), then go into the zendo for the story of the Buddha's birth, followed by a short chanting service and the ceremonial bathing of the Baby Buddha (see photos here). Next, we see if we can wake up the Sleeping Sage. If we can, he tells us a Jataka Tale (a legend about one the Buddha's previous lives). Finally there is birthday cake (and healthy snacks), and origami, face painting and other fun activities for children.

BRING: The whole family. Food (vegetarian) to share if you wish. The Centre will provide cake and drinks.

Chanting is an important part of most ceremonies at the Centre. For the wording of the chants, see below for a PDF of the Rochester Zen Center chant booklet. (Chant books are used at the Centre, and are available for purchase from our small bookshop).

Amala Wrightson,
13 Mar 2014, 18:48
Kathryn Argetsinger,
2 May 2013, 14:41
Amala Wrightson,
27 Jan 2021, 17:45