Reflections on the Gate of Sweet Nectar

During our recent summer ango, we performed the Gate of Sweet Nectar ceremony. Called the Kan Ro Mon in Japanese, this service is an important annual event for us at GPZC. (Click here to read a wonderful talk by Eve Myonen Marko on the background of this service in the White Plum lineage.) Some of our members offer these reflections on this moving event...

Reflections on the Kan Ro Mon: An Admission

Our last 7-Day sesshin was the third occasion on which I have participated in the Gate of Sweet Nectar ceremony. This ritual invites the Buddha families to be present at a feeding of the Hungry Ghosts and “evil spirits” in our lives. From the golden dusk-lit gate of the temple, where Roshi offered incense, our procession strolled, two-by-two, along a chain of lanterns, or candelaria, up the hill to the Jizo statue. We chanted out of breath as we climbed the rise, the inkin bell’s glistening sound drifting over the meadow of Queen Anne’s Lace and still, tall grasses.

In theory, the evil ones follow the same lighted path, seeking the relief of dharma nourishment in the zendo, where we conducted the main part of the ritual. Roshi, with her sleeves obscuring the secret hand gestures that beckon the suffering demons into our midst, was choked with emotion as she called out to them. As doan, I was concentrating on the bells. It doesn’t take much to realize that a mis-timed strike is instantly redeemed by the Buddha’s voice. Gradually, I relaxed a bit, listening to the others’ chanting and the Ino’s long and moving dedication and recitation of the names of the dead. It was then that I too was swept by emotion, as I visualized the numbers of dead from war and famine and natural disasters. I found myself recalling a koan (Daizui’s Kalpa Fire) about the end of time, when fire rages through the universe, destroying everything.

For me, the Gate of Sweet Nectar is an opportunity to reach out to the hungry ghosts within us, to give them quarter, feed them, and relieve them. Unless we acknowledge their reality, born of our own greed, anger, and ignorance, we fail to complete our vows. It is in the spirit of the word of “admission”, both as a “gate of admittance” and as an honest acknowledgment of our frailties that I participate in, and appreciate, this beautiful and moving ceremony.

— Gendo

Impressions of the Gate of Sweet Nectar Ceremony

During rehearsal, Roshi provided an in-depth understanding of the foundation of the Gate of Sweet Nectar ceremony: Ananda's psychic connection with his mother, his suffering over her suffering after physical death, and his having gone to the Buddha asking if there was anything he could do. The Gate of Sweet Nectar was the Buddha's response. With that background, the ceremony itself was incredibly moving, and I have replayed it many times over in my head. It was solemn and celebratory. It was a passionate plea that goes to the root of Buddhism itself...to save all sentient beings from the standpoint that we are all the Buddha...not one of the "Buddhas", but the Buddha. And our interconnectedness was made with such clarity in this ceremony that it deepened my practice and my urgency to awaken. It was the most moving and impressionable ceremony I have ever been involved with in any spiritual tradition. Thank you, Roshi, for your instruction, leadership, and heart in leading us through the Gate of Sweet Nectar.

— Kaiun

Many thoughts on the Gate of Sweet Nectar ceremony; the careful delineation of roles mirrored our entire weekend, each piece of action treasured, mindful and whole. Remembering names of the deceased asking for their peaceful transformation reminded me of how life is just one part of the dharma wheel, circling with death in a cycle of rebirth and good karma.

— Annie

During sesshin everyone contributes to and supports the other participants efforts to more fully embody the Dharma. At these longer sesshin a strong group resonance develops. The Gate of Sweet Nectar ceremony takes place at the end of the sesshin when this group spirit is at its strongest. The ceremony was a capping expression of the group's resonance: it had palpable force and great beauty, everyone contributed with great heart. For me it was truly very wonderful to have been able to contribute and partake of it, a rare experience.

— Seishin