Spiritual Practice for Families
The Zen Center welcomes families and has activities for children of all ages. There are many opportunities for families to include their children in discovering the teachings of the Buddha.
Through ceremonies (see dates at right), special “Dharma Kids” days, and community gatherings, children learn the Buddhist teachings of wisdom and compassion. By participating in these events, children develop close connections with the Zen Center community.
Storytelling, art, music, chanting, and group practice with peers and other families play integral roles in helping children connect with the Dharma.
- At Sangha Entertainment children and their families enjoy performances of all kinds.
- During Temple Nights children and their parents sit before beautifully adorned altars, do prostrations, chant, and offer incense.
- At the Buddha's Birthday all events are geared to children in honor of the Baby Buddha. At the end of the day a small gift is given to each child.
Read more about each ceremony and the activities for children
- Kannon Ceremony – Families are welcome to come and pay homage to Kannon, the Bodhisatttva of Compassion
- Parinirvana Ceremony – A ceremony commemorating the Buddha’s final departure from the realm of life and death, which offers children an opportunity to learn about and honor the life of the Buddha.
- Sangha Entertainment Day – A day of fun and celebration showcasing the talents of Zen Center members and their families. A wonderful opportunity for children to participate in songs, skits, and other performances!
- Temple Nights – A great favorite among Sangha children! The Buddha Hall is filled with beautiful altars dedicated to various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and families are welcome to sit, light incense, and do prostrations in the deeply spiritual ambience.
- Spring Jukai – Jukai, the ceremony of taking the Buddhist precepts, is offered twice a year at the Center, and the Spring ceremony is the “Family Jukai,” at which all family members are welcome.
- Vesak – This celebration of the Buddha’s Birthday is a great opportunity to learn about the life of the Buddha. Activities include a puppet play about the Buddha’s life, a story – and watch for the parade of the elephant!
- Sangha Picnic – A wonderful chance for Sangha members and their families to gather and get to know each other outside the Zen Center.
- Sangha Garden Weekend – An opportunity for Sangha members and their families to work together on the Zen Center grounds, while appreciating the beauty of the gardens. Some periods of child care will be required.
- Bodhidharma Day – A ceremony to honor the founder of Zen, Bodhidharma, famous for his energy and determination.
- Hungry Ghost Ceremony – Another favorite of Sangha Children, the ceremony combines offerings to liberate the “hungry ghosts” within us and beyond, with a Halloween celebration (including trick or treat!).
- Thanksgiving – The Center’s Thanksgiving Ceremony is a beautiful occasion for the whole family to express their gratitude together for family, friends, and sangha.
- New Year’s Eve – Families are welcome to join the Sangha in welcoming in the New Year, with zazen, chanting, repentance, and a prayer for peace. Children can participate in ceremonies, or sleep in bedrooms if they need to.
Through these and many more activities, the principles of the gentle and serene Way of the Buddha are taught by example. See photos gallery of events.
Dharma Kids Days
In addition to regularly scheduled ceremonies and other general Sangha activities, several times during the year there are special days just for Dharma Kids. Activities usually include songs, stories, and crafts organized around a theme, along with an opportunity for chanting and a bit of zazen. Recent themes have included such topics as the paramitas virya (energy or determination) and dhyana (one-pointed concentration), the precept not to kill but to cherish all life, and metta (lovingkindness).
A special email is sent to families about Dharma Kids events. If you would like to receive these notifications, please email Heather Kelman.
Here are descriptions of past Dharma Kids days.
Come join us for Dharma Kids to make Jizo figures with Zen Center potter Kathy Clarke. The morning will begin with music and a story about Jizo bodhisattva, after which we will join Kathy to make Jizo figures. The figures will be used for a children’s altar at Temple Night in April. A snack will be provided, as well as time to play with friends. It is helpful if a parent can attend with their child.
Spring Jukai Dharma Kids
In anticipation of Jukai, the central theme for the day will be the Precepts and morality. We'll have songs, stories, and a craft activity related to the theme, and the kids will have an opportunity to do some chanting and a little bit of zazen. A snack will also be served, and there will be play time as well.
Dharma Egg Hunt
There will be a teisho at the Center that day, so parents are welcome to listen to the teisho while their children are participating in the Dharma Kids program.
If parents would like to attend the sitting and teisho, they should plan to arrive a bit early so that they can change into their robes and get their children settled. Our activities for the day will include songs, stories, and a craft activity, and will be organized around the Dhyana Paramita--one-pointed concentration. And then we will have the Dharma Egg Hunt! A snack will also be served.
About the Dharma Egg Hunt: A supply of plastic eggs will be available at the Center during the week before the hunt. If you are planning to come on Sunday please take 15-20 eggs per child home with you and fill them with appropriate vegetarian candies or small gifts. (Note that many candies contain gelatin, so please be sure to check for this.) Alternatively, you could come early on Sunday and fill some eggs then.
September Dharma Kids
September’s Dharma Kids Day was held in conjunction with the Center’s first Sangha Garden Work Weekend, and it turned out to be a magnificent, sunny day for a celebration of nature. In light of weekend’s efforts to nurture the life of the garden, we decided that the focus of our activities for the day would be the First Precept, "I resolve not to kill but to cherish all life." We started the day off with some wonderful songs led by Nowa, and Dave’s rendition of the classic folk tale "The Brementown Musicians." The story is a lighthearted appreciation of our animal brethren, and was told with such energy and wit that some of the kids were literally rolling on the floor laughing.
Our main activity for the day was a “Life Walk” organized by Kelly Story. We went for a walk on the trail behind the Zen Center, and asked each of the children to find a living being and just watch it for a while, to be with it and learn about it. The kids made some great discoveries, from frogs, to little fish, to water bugs, to insects of various kinds. The most amazing of all was an insect that found us: a praying mantis that landed on one of the adults. The kids had a wonderful time letting it crawl on their hands and looking at its long folded front legs, its wings, and its huge eyes that seemed to be examining us just as intently as we were examining it. Afterward, we had a discussion of the ways in which the creatures we had found were different from us and similar to us. It was an unforgettable, hands-on way of learning about the interconnectedness of all things and the importance of cherishing all life.
After our walk we went inside and did a bit of chanting in the new Kannon Room, and a few minutes of zazen in the new zendo. The kids were intuitively very quiet and respectful in the new spaces. They enjoyed the activities so much that they wanted to do some extra chanting, and a number of the older kids elected to return to the zendo to do a longer round of sitting (10 minutes). Before lunch, the kids joined their parents outside to help for a bit with the weeding and other garden work.
All in all, as one of the adults involved remarked, it was a day with a very special feeling. I couldn’t imagine a more heartfelt way of introducing the first precept.
Who Can Attend & Guidelines
Children of Zen Center members may attend Dharma Kids events. At this time we are not offering programs to children of non- members. However, many of our ceremonies are open to the public. Children are welcome to attend with their parents.
Parents often ask what the expected behavior and guidelines are for bringing children to the Zen Center. Kelly writes that as the mother of two young and very active boys she has found the guidelines surprisingly achievable (while sometimes a work in progress) and is grateful for the opportunity for her sons to learn about sacred spaces .
So, here are a few suggestions that will help you introduce your children to the Center. Read more . . .
Family Practice at the Center
Click on the picture to bring up a photo gallery.