April 29, 2020
Join in Chanting for the Well-Being and Healing of All Those Affected by the Pandemic

For decades, the San Francisco Zen Center has performed a weekly Well-Being Ceremony, chanting for the health and safety of loved ones suffering from physical and psychological distress. This past Saturday, the ceremony moved online to Zoom and included a prayer for the well-being of those affected by the current pandemic.

A Well-Being Ceremony will now be taking place every Saturday at 7:00 am, immediately following the 6:30 am period of zazen of the Online Zendo. All are invited to send the names of loved ones in need of support for inclusion in the ceremony to the Ino, head of the meditation hall, at ccino@sfzc.org. You are welcome to participate in this short yet powerful ceremony.

The Well-Being Ceremony is one of the many ceremonies transmitted by SFZC founder Suzuki Roshi and other early teachers and included among the formal rituals and ceremonies that are practiced at Zen monasteries in Japan. It begins with the doshi leading the assembly in three bows to the Buddha, followed by the traditional offering of fragrance. The assembly then chants the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo in unison. The chant is repeated seven times, with the speed, intensity and energy of the chanting building up during the recitation. The kokyo, or chant leader, then offers an eko, or closing dedication.

In the online adaptation of this traditional ceremony, the names of those for whom we are chanting are shown on the screen during the recitation of the eko. The assembly is invited to share in this time by reading these names, offering wishes for well-being, and during a pause, giving voice to the names not included in writing. The ceremony concludes with three more bows, followed by a closing verse. The totality of the ceremony takes place with participant mics muted so all participants may hear the dedication and instrumental soundscape of the ceremony.

The Enmei Jukku Kanon Gyo — in English, The Ten-Verse Compassion Sutra for Protecting Life – is an invocation to Kanzeon. Kanzeon is the Japanese name given to the Chinese goddess of mercy and compassion, Kuan Yin. She originated from the Bodhisattva AvalokiteÅ›vara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The sutra, chanted in sino-japanese, is translated below.

namu butsu
yo butsu u in
yo butsu u en
buppo so en
jo raku ga jo
cho nen kanzeon
bo nen kanzeo
nen nen ju shin ki
nen nen fu ri shin

We venerate Buddha!
All are one with Buddha,
All awake to Buddha –
Buddha, Dharma, Sangha –
Eternal, joyous, selfless, pure.
Throughout the day Compassion,
Throughout the night Compassion.
This moment springs from Mind
This moment itself is Mind

While the usual eko is dedicated to all those lacking shelter, food and safety; suffering from physical and mental illness; or exposed to violence, the eko for the online ceremony has been adapted to this current moment in time:

“May all awakened beings manifest through the Three Treasures their luminous mirror wisdom; having chanted the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo for protecting life, we dedicate this merit and virtue to: the well-being, comfort and recovery of our dear friends, and to all those suffering from the physical, emotional and financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and from policies which make some lives more vulnerable than others; all those being asked to choose between their livelihoods and the safety of themselves and their families, including health care workers, janitors, delivery people, grocery workers, warehouse staff, farm workers, sanitation workers, police officers, firefighters and all others; along with those making heroic efforts to offer their skills to care for those who are suffering. May they be deeply supported in the Dharma, peaceful and free from suffering, and may they, together with all beings realize Buddhaâ’s Way.”

How this ceremony serves to heal all beings can be at once mysterious and palpable. In the words of the City Center Ino, Kodo Conlin, “Engaging in a communal ceremony, to me, counterbalances any sense of isolation. As we in the Bay Area continue to shelter in place, it’s timely. To call to mind the names of our dear ones, along with a wish for well-being connects me to a deep well of support. Invoking the beautiful qualities of compassion, kindness and well-being opens my heart — it’s of mutual benefit.”

Please join this opening of our hearts to the suffering of the current time, participate in sending wishes of well-being to all those impacted by the pandemic, and come benefit from the deep well of support generated when we engage together in ceremony.