There are several significant traditional Buddhist rituals we perform throughout the year. Although many of us are not so familiar with these ceremonies in the West, their influence is subtle and of great value to a life of practice. As we become more familiar with their meaning, these annual ritual enactments become touchstones for practitioners marking the seasons. They both celebrate and directly express the teachings through our bodies through gesture, action and voice. By participating in these rituals, we come to understand practice in a more immediate and holistic way if we’re open to their language. Contemporary adaptations have reinvigorated these rituals and are intended to foster more participation and depth of understanding based in modern culture.
Rohatsu (December): This is the most intensive sesshin (retreat) that celebrates the Buddha’s enlightenment under the bodhi tree, thought to have taken place on December 8th. The retreat is characterized by extensive sitting and some practitioners choose to sit through the night on the last evening.
Wesak (April): This ceremony commemorates the Buddha’s birthday. At Zen West, stories of the Buddha’s life are read during zazen. A special altar is created with a baby Buddha over which flowers and sweet tea are poured.
Fusatsu (Quarterly on full moon): This is a ceremony for atonement and the renewal of vows. All are welcome, even if you have not formally received precepts. Participants begin sharing areas of life where they did not align with their values and affirm the intention to realign with their commitment to practice.
Segaki (October): This ceremony is called “Feeding the Hungry Ghosts.” The lively ritual opens with noisemakers and offerings of sweets are made to “hungry ghosts” thought of as all unresolved karma. We end the evening burning slips of paper upon which we write things we wish to release. During the close, all of the merit lists from the previous year are also burnt symbolizing a kind of purification. A day long retreat is often scheduled leading up to this celebratory event.
Jukai (Scheduled as Needed): This ceremony is called “giving and receiving the precepts” – the Buddhist ethical vows of practice. The community supports those interested in becoming Buddhists and witnesses their vows that include atonement, taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and upholding the three pure precepts and the ten grave precepts.
Zaike Tokudo (Scheduled as Needed): This ceremony is for those who are becoming formal students in the Dharma Cloud lineage and taking Seido as their teacher. Zaike Tokudo translates as “accomplishing the Way while remaining at home” reflecting the vow of committed lay practitioners to awaken in the circumstances of life as parents, teachers, partners, and activists. The formal student renews their precept vows and takes on extra vows of commitment to the sangha and the teacher/student relationship.
Founders (September): This ceremony commemorates the teachers who came before and offered their lives to the dharma. September marks the passing of our founder, Kyogen Carlson, former abbott of Dharma Rain Zen Center, who died in 2014.
Memorials: Simple memorials are held when a sangha member has passed. These memorials include a picture upon the altar, chanting and bows, and words on the nature of life and death.