The practice of Day of Reflection takes place the third Sunday of every month. This 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 over 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, all of which 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.
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 below, which 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 has been developed by the Zen Peacemaker Order. Here is a brief summary of what you will chant:
Gatha of Atonement
In the Gatha of Atonement, we “atone” or acknowledge all that we 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.
Three Refuges (Three Treasures)
We take refuge in our awakened nature (Buddha), in our diversely expressed nature (Dharma), and the interdependence of these two (Sangha).
Three Pure Precepts
These three are about giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and others, being present without judgment, and acting compassionately from this place of “Beginner’s Mind”, clear awareness. When we really bear witness without fixed ideas and prejudices, appropriate compassionate action naturally comes forth.
Ten Grave Precepts (with the Four Commitments)
The last 10 are known as the Ten Grave Precepts. Each of these will be the subject of the second part of this practice, which is the Month of Every Day Precept Practice.
Each month, we will take just one of the Ten Grave precepts and focus on it every day in our busy lives, looking at it from many perspectives and applications.
The Three Refuges, Three Pure Precepts, and Ten Grave Precepts together form the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts.
During the Day
Keep these precepts in mind during the day. It may be helpful to print out the Day of Reflection vow 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.
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day, bring the Day of Reflection to a close by chanting the Transfer of Merit. If you live in the area, you could consider attending Sunday evening sitting at 7 PM at Countryside Church in Palatine, IL.
We recommend that you download our PDF of the Day of Reflection Vow.