Great Plains Zen Center
Day of Reflection

Day of Reflection

Day of Reflection


The Day of Reflection is an opportunity to focus on the Buddhist Precepts for one day. Although we may think of the precepts from time to time in our lives, it is important to take time regularly to intentionally renew our vows to follow them. The more clear and focused our vows are, the more power they have to get us through rough times.

We must also be willing to continuously examine and re-examine ourselves for the blind spots, rigid opinions and beliefs, and lack of awareness that create separation from others and ourselves. That willingness to keep looking within, to keep refining our thoughts, words, and actions is truly what the precepts are about. It is that openness and willingness that allows our understanding of the precepts – and our practice in general – to grow and deepen. Precepts are not static rules. They require engagement, continuous attention, and a broad, flexible attitude.

How to Observe the Day of Reflection

At the Great Plains Zen Center, we have set aside the third Sunday each month for the Day of Reflection. Anyone may participate in the Day of Reflection. It is not necessary to be a member of the Great Plains Zen Center or to have formally taken the Buddhist Precepts (jukai). If you miss the specified day of the month, you can pick a different day for your Day of Reflection.  The designated Day of Reflection each month can be found on our Events Calendar.

On the morning of the Day of Reflection, choose a quiet place in your home, perhaps where you have set up an altar or your meditation cushions. If you like, you can light a candle or offer incense. It is a good idea to incorporate zazen (meditation) into the Day of Reflection, at the start, some time during the day, or at the end of the day.

To begin the Day of Reflection, silently or aloud recite the vows, that consist of the Gatha of Atonement and the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts. There are many ways to express these traditional precepts. The particular wording we chant in the Day of Reflection Vows has been developed by the Zen Peacemaker Order.

Gatha of Atonement

“All karma ever caused by me since of old,
On account of my beginningless greed, hatred, and delusion,
Born of my actions, speech, and thought,
Now I atone for it all.”

In the Gatha of Atonement, we atone for or acknowledge all that we have thought, said, or done. Even something we did that was helpful to one person was or will be most likely harmful to someone or something else at some point. So, given that we cannot know all of the effects of what we do, we atone for all of our actions, thoughts, and speech and the ripples that spread out from them endlessly. We further acknowledge that our thoughts, speech and actions are also ripples coming from the cumulative effect of everyone’s thoughts, speech, and actions.

Acknowledging the beginningless nature of our greed, hatred, and delusion is important.  These do not begin or end with us.  They are the result of the interweaving of all systems throughout time and space.  Yet, through our own choices, we can increase or decrease them in the world; tugging at our corner of Indra’s net causes the whole net to shift ever so slightly.  On the other hand, assigning blame to others or attempting to exclude ourselves from collective responsibility only accentuates the delusion of separateness and decreases the possibility of collective healing.

During the Day

Keep these precepts in mind during the day. It may be helpful to print out the Day of Reflection Vows so that you can refresh your memory throughout the day. The object is not judgment of yourself. Instead, the point is just being aware. Noticing what you are doing. Noticing how you feel, for example, when your speech does not accord with the precepts. Noticing how more spacious it feels to be truthful and fair, for example, rather than exaggerate another’s faults. It will be necessary to bring yourself back to this practice many times throughout the day.

You may wish to download a pdf of the Day of Reflection Vows.