Sejiki is our annual Soto Zen “Festival of the Hungry Ghosts.” Mythologically, hungry ghosts are beings who have been reborn after death in a “hungry ghost” realm because of their past stingy, selfish, or grasping actions. In the hungry ghost realm they cannot find sustenance, so are constantly thirsty and hungry – and are unable to accept that which would truly satisfy their longing: the truth, or the Dharma.
According to the mythology, there’s only one way hungry ghosts can get a little satisfaction before they free themselves: Spiritual offerings made by the faithful. Therefore, during Sejiki we cover the images of Buddhas and bodhisattvas (they would scare the ghosts away) and put out the kinds of foods we think hungry ghosts would like (generally junk food; hungry ghosts are not known to be very self-disciplined or health conscious!). Our chanting invites the ghosts to come and partake, and then we send them on their way again.
Traditionally, Sejiki is also a time to remember people who have recently passed away, praying that the recently deceased have peace and are not in the hungry ghost realm.
We are also invited to reflect on unresolved karma in our own lives. Karma is the law of causation as it applies to behavior. We all have unresolved karma due to past actions of our own, and the actions of others – regrets, hurts, losses, disappointments, resentments, grief, sadness. These “ghosts” from our past are not quite ready to leave us. In other words, we’re not quite ready to let go and heal, or we don’t yet know how. Sejiki enacts the practice of acknowledging our “ghosts” because it doesn’t help to ignore them or chase them away. We create a safe space, invite the “ghosts” in, and make an appropriate offering to them. Each time we do this, there is a chance for some healing and understanding to occur. Then we set a boundary and send the ghosts away until we call them again.
Participating in the Sejiki Ceremony
Send the names of anyone you would like remembered at Sejiki to jhlnine “at” gmail.com. This can be anyone who has died in the last year, or someone who has never been remembered at Sejiki (human and non-human beings). Someone will read these names aloud while we are chanting.
If you are attending the ceremony in person, you are invited to bring junk food to offer the Gakis (hungry ghosts) on a special altar devoted just to them (arrive a little early), and then during the ceremony we all process to that altar to offer flower petals (instructions will be given). (See here for our current COVID policies before attending in person for the first time.) We enjoy the snacks (no alcohol please) after zazen.
If you are participating from home via our Cloud Zendo:
♦ Click here for a link to the Sejiki Ceremony.
♦ You may want to conduct a version of the ceremony at home:
- Prepare some food and/or drink offerings (your “hungry ghost’s” favorites)
- Cover your Buddha/bodhisattva images so as not to frighten the Gakis away
- Make sure your altar is especially clean and decorated (autumn theme is nice, fresh flowers)
- Print out this memorial tablet (ihai) which says “In Memory of All Dead” (we will have one on the Sejiki altar in the Dirt Zendo), and fold it into a triangular tube so it stands up. Here’s an ihai in English if you prefer.
- After the first couple chants of the ceremony, those in the Dirt Zendo will begin processing slowly around the hall such that each person ends up in front of the Sejiki altar in order to make an offering of lavender petals. At this time, mindfully place your memorial tablet and food/drink offerings on your altar. Then call to mind those in the hungry ghost realm, your own unresolved karma, and anyone who has died.
- Dirt and Cloud Zendos will stand for the closing dedication.
Sejiki Documents and Instructions
Sejiki Festival Full Instructions (for Sacristan, Jisha, Doan, etc.)
Sejiki Festival – Copy for Doan
Join Us In the Dirt Zendo (in person) or the Cloud Zendo (via Zoom)
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Joining us from another time zone?
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