Sejiki Ceremony & Reception

ALL ARE WELCOME to join us for this year’s Sejiki Celebration, a traditional Japanese Zen Buddhist ceremony honoring our ancestors, calling forth the spirits of the untamed wilderness, and giving nourishment and a wish for peace! This is one of the most important Soto Zen Buddhist observances of the year, a time to remember and call forth the spirit realm by making offerings of food and wishes of peace for our departed loved ones, as well as to any ‘hungry ghosts’ (including our own neglected or unsatisfied body-mind states). This powerful ceremony summons forth these restless spirits and pacifies agitation and violence within and without. It involves setting up an elaborate altar (traditionally arranged opposite to the usual altar in the zendo), instruments played to invoke the departed spirits, and the chanting of the “Gate of Sweet Dew,” a series of mantras and wishes for well-being. The names of our departed friends and family are collected beforehand to be strung around the zendo and invoked aloud during the ceremony.

The Buddha recommended in the Ullambana Sutra that this ceremony be performed at the end of the summer practice period. Many Zen Centers hold the Sejiki ceremony around the time of Halloween, which is a time in our culture when we call forth the spirit world. Participants are encouraged to dress in halloween costume and to participate in the brief instrumental portion of the ceremony. Please feel free to bring a small percussion instrument of your choice!

All are invited to participate in this magical ceremony of transformation, as well as to enjoy a delicious vegetarian feast!

Suggested donation for Ceremony & Reception: $20-30/adult; children free

  • Please register early (below) so we know how much food to prepare.
  • To include names of your departed loved ones to be honored in the ceremony, please sign up in the AZC foyer, or else submit names below.
  • Interested in volunteering for this event? Click HERE.
  • Listen to and practice the Kan Ro Mon chant prior to the ceremony HERE.

About Sejiki (Max Scheinin, 2017) – On the evening of November 1, in the year of our lord 2017, a coterie of skeptics and spiritualists — rationalistic Buddhists, mystic initiates and seekers uncommitted to any stance — gathered in the meditation hall at the Austin Zen Center to participate in the ritual appeal to supernatural forces known as Sejiki. (One infant was also present). The space in which the ceremony occurred had been notably reconfigured from its familiar appearance: the floor was cleared of mats and cushions; a second altar, bearing food offerings, stood opposite the Buddha altar, which was obscured from view by traditional Japanese shoji screens; and slips of paper with names of departed friends and family members hung from twine that zig-zagged between sides of the ceiling. Musicians in masks and face paint played pitched and unpitched percussion instruments; a priest formally invited hungry ghosts from all ten directions to converge upon the zendo and be fed, before emitting a blood-curdling shout; and congregants chanted Sanskrit incantations to summon those beings from far and near. Whether this experiment in communing with non-material planes was successful has been subject to some dispute. Some who were present say that walls shook, candles sputtered and the air turned cold — others insist that such claims are exaggerated, if not outright fabrications. Evidence remains inconclusive.

Following the ceremony, a reception was held in the dining room west of the zendo. Finally, names of the departed were burned in an outdoor bonfire.