The Chicago Zen Center offers a full range of Buddhist ceremonies and devotions. They skillfully help turn us in the direction of practice by providing occasions to awaken aspiration, to express gratitude, and to acknowledge change, transformation and loss. The yearly cycle of ceremonies and celebrations is thus an integral part of temple life at the Center.
TEMPLE NIGHT & JUKAI
Once a year, the main indoor areas of the Center are transformed into temple settings where richly decorated altars are set up. These will generally have the figure of a bodhisattva prominently displayed, and flowers and incense fill the rooms with fragrance. The Kannon altar also serves as our Memorial Altar, where pictures of our sangha's deceased and other loved ones are set in remembrance.
At the start of the evening the lights are dimmed and the candles lit. Persons may do zazen, offer incense, or do prostrations. A chanting service is held halfway through the evening, and those who have sewn rakusus receive them in a short private ceremony.
The evening concludes with everyone present gathering in the Buddha Hall for Jukai. Together we recite the Repentance Gatha acknowledging our lapses in body, speech and mind, then we take together the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts, thereby entering into, or reaffirming our belonging in, the family of the Buddha.
In the height of spring the Center joins the whole of the Buddhist world in the celebration of Vesak, the commemoration of the Buddha's birth.
We start the commemoration by taking turns pouring sweet tea over the Baby Buddha. Our attention is then brought to the import of the birth narrative as part of our own story as men and women on the path to awakening.
We then wrap up the celebration with a pot-luck buffet of sangha members' delicious cooking.
CEREMONY OF GRATITUDE
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving we celebrate what Philip Kapleau called "the most Buddhist" of American holidays by gathering to recall all that we are grateful for. This is a family event, and the children sometimes become the teachers as they express thanks for things we adults often overlook.
After a short chanting service and a talk, particular points of gratitude written on slips of paper by the participants are read aloud. Then those present may, if they wish, voice further expressions of gratitude.
After the ceremony, we enjoy a potluck of foods members have prepared.
NEW YEAR'S CEREMONIES
At the dawn of the new year we take stock of our lives, acknowledge our past unskillfulness, and rededicate the temple and ourselves to further practice in the year ahead.
We begin with a repentance ceremony in the Buddha Hall. We then follow the abbot as he makes his way from altar to altar throughout the Center, purifying them to the accompaniment of the priests' shakujos and the sangha's chanting. Then, ourselves and the temple renewed, we gather to share a meal and renew our ties with one another.
It was never part of the task of the first Buddhist monks and nuns to perform marriage ceremonies, and Buddhism has by and large considered marriage a civil, rather than a religious, affair. Nevertheless, one of the signs of Buddhism's adaptation to American culture has been the expectation that one may marry at a temple with a monk or priest officiating.
The Chicago Zen Center is happy to be part of that adaptation. In recent years weddings have been held at the Center for members and non-members alike. Priests may also be called upon to officiate at ceremonies in the wider community.
FUNERALS & MEMORIAL SERVICES
The Buddha squarely faced the utter inevitability of sickness, old age, and death, and our sangha has experienced its own losses. We come together at such times to recall the person's life and to commend him or her to the loving and compassionate care of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as he or she makes the journey on. We offer incense and food, chant sutras and dharani in the sure expectation that our friend will one day find his or her True Home.
Priests at the Center have also been called on to conduct Memorial Services in the community.