Sunday, October 28, 2007

Segaki Ceremony

Every year as part of our liturgical calendar we have the Segaki retreat and ceremonies. Retreat participants look at past karma appearing in the present, and pay homage to those that have died. In our Soto Zen tradition, this calling up of karma stews in people for up to a week, culminating in two cathartic ceremonies. On the morning of the last day of the retreat we invite the gakis, or hungry ghosts, into the temple. We cover the images of the Buddha, and prepare the altar with enticing goodies, especially donuts.

[Photos courtesy of Faddah Yuetsu Wolfe]
Chants include dharanis that have some shamanic influences. The gakis are with us through the day, and in the evening the ghosts are laid to rest and let go in the fire of Segaki Toro.
After the adults have invited the hungry ghosts in the morning, the children enter the hall and have their own Segaki ceremony. This year our priest told them the story of Moggallana and his mother in hell. (See above link.) Then we began singing a portion of the ceremony. It is while we sing that actual gakis enter the ceremony hall. Our gakis are high school students in costume. They do a fine job.

The gakis are pretty clueless about ways to act in the hall, and they can't seem to get the food in their mouths.
It is the job of the kids in this ceremony to help the gakis learn how to act in a Buddhist temple, and help them be able to eat.

It is our job as teachers to prepare the kids for the ceremony. We inform or remind them about what is going to happen, and we figure out ways together that we can help the gakis. At the grade school level, some of the kids are aware that the gakis are the high school students in costume. At this age, part of their role in the ceremony is to help the younger ones participate in the ceremony. This year, just what the gakis could learn was clarified so we could give more direction to the kids.

We made sure they knew to help the gakis with these four things: 1) taking their shoes off; 2) eating - slowly and delicately rather than shoving the food in or keeping the wrapper on; 3) sharing - with each other; 4) bowing

Since bowing was one of the tasks, I made bowing our meditative activity, and gave a small lesson on the form of a full bow.

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