Season of Thanks-and-Giving Celebrations

In the last half of November we usher in the late-fall run of celebrations and ceremonies at the Center. Each of them offers a way to enrich the root of our zazen through some of the more devotional features of traditional Zen practice. All of these celebrations will be streamed for anyone who can’t be here in person. You can find the Thanksgiving & Jukai schedule here.

St. Andrew’s Food Cupboard

In the run-up to Thanksgiving, every year, a large basket is placed in the Center’s Link for food (and other) donations. This year, all donations will go to St. Andrew’s Food Cupboard, a local organization dedicated to the needs of the hungry: you can look here for the non-perishable foods and items that are needed for donation (including toiletries and baby items). Out-of-towners may make financial contributions to St. Andrew’s Food Cupboard here.

Famine Relief Ceremony – Thursday, November 17

Our annual remembrance, a week before feasting, of the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who suffer from hunger every day. You’re invited to fast with Center residents that day to experience in a very small, but visceral, way the hunger that millions of people around the world live with. The ceremony includes the opportunity for participants to offer monetary donations to the Rochester Mutual Aid Network, a local volunteer organization that gives food, medical supplies, and other aid directly to those in need here in Rochester. Donations will be matched by the Center within the limits of the Center’s budget.

Ceremony of Gratitude – Sunday, November 20

Gratitude is the living heart both of our Zen practice and of our American tradition of Thanksgiving. Join us in the zendo at Arnold Park or online to hear personal expressions of gratitude from others and to share your own. The ceremony includes a circumambulation of the zendo with an offering of powdered incense at the altar. In-person participants may stay afterward to enjoy some special light fare in the dining room.

Thanksgiving Dinner – Thursday, November 24

Bring a vegetarian dish, home-made or store-bought, to share with Sangha. There’s a sign-up sheet in the Link, or call the Center (585-473-9180), and we will pencil you in. Dinner begins at 4 pm in the dining room at Arnold Park, but you are welcome to come by earlier in the afternoon (say from 1:00 on) to socialize.

Temple Night – Friday, November 25

For many years, both in the fall and in the spring, we set the Buddha Hall up for free-form and informal devotions and sitting, buoyed by exquisitely appointed altars bathed in soft light. As with all the events of this Thanksgiving weekend, Temple night will be broadcast on Zoom.

Taking the Precepts (Jukai) – Saturday, November 26

Jukai begins at 5 pm in the Buddha Hall. This ceremony, second in importance only to ordination, gives us the opportunity to ground our practice by pledging to do our best to live up to the basic sixteen precepts of Buddhism: the Three Treasures, the Three General Resolutions, and the Ten Cardinal Precepts. Don’t shy away from this ceremony because you think you’re not “ready” for it. Nor will you be held accountable to anyone other than yourself. The power this ceremony has to support our spiritual aspirations is boosted by joining with others who also want to renew theirs. This ceremony is not really about navigating right and wrong, but is about fortifying our natural desire not to cause harm, but to benefit others. We do that by actually voicing these precepts, bringing us closer to embodying them.

Finally, once a year at the Fall Jukai, Sangha members have an opportunity to give a monetary gift of gratitude to John-sensei. Cash is recommended, for reasons of anonymity, and there are envelopes available in the Link on the day of the ceremony. If you do use a check, please make it payable to “John Pulleyn,” not “Rochester Zen Center,” as the offering is a personal gift and not a tax-deductible donation to the Center. You can also use John-sensei’s personal PayPal account (Sensei’s PayPal account is