Ceremonies and Celebrations
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 you'd like to make for the upcoming year. Bring a dish of festive food to share.
Celebrated each year in early February, this ceremony honours the Buddha's Parinirvana, the day of his death or final nirvana. The evening sitting, starting at the usual time, includes chanting and a reading from the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. There is also an opportunity to remember family and friends who have died -- either recently or in the more distant past. A list will be available before the ceremony near the zendo door, to which you may add any names you would like us to read out.
The Zen Centre marks Earth Day each autumn with a ceremony and an opportunity to help our 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. Details will be sent annually.
Vesak (Buddha's Birthday)
Celebrated each year on the first Sunday in May, this festival honouring the birth of the Buddha is enjoyed by all ages and especially by children. Festivities begin at 9:30 (following the usual 8:30 sitting); if you are bringing family or friends, aim to arrive between 9:20 and 9:30. We start in the zendo with a talk and the story of the Buddha's birth, followed by a short chanting service and the ceremonial bathing of the Baby Buddha. 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.
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.
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 Centre is open from 4:00 p.m. for informal zazen, with the ceremony starting at 5:30. All are welcome. The ceremony begins with a chance for students to offer dana to Sensei. Envelopes are provided and offerings are kept anonymous. Unlike the usual dana given at a sitting, which goes towards the upkeep of the AZC, this offering is to Sensei personally, a token of gratitude for receiving teachings. Following this the Heart Sutra is chanted, 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.
Each year we pay our respects to the Bodhisattva of Compassion with a ceremony and an opportunity to serve others. The Sunday sitting begins at the usual time and 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 monetary offering at the altar if you wish, which will be passed on 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 letter-writing for prisoners of conscience. Please bring stamps or $2.50 per letter to cover postage (usually people write 3-4). We end with a special morning tea. If you have a Kannon figure at home, bring it for the altar.
Each October we celebrate the Death Day of the founder of the Zen Sect, 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 that are usually overlooked. The work is usually preceded or followed by a shared meal.
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).