In June last year, my father passed away. An and Jay, two of the Jikijitsus or timekeepers of our Zen meditation sessions offered to hold a Kanzeon for him. I am a Filipino Catholic, but I have been practising Zen meditation since 2005.
Lydia Sensei explained to me that, “Kanzeon is a ritual to send off somebody who passed away." Using chant, we praise Bodhisattva Avalokeiteshvera, or the ‘goddess’ of mercy and compassion, or she with the many eyes and arms that sees and acts compassionately according to the situation. Together with the chanting, a wooden implement is rhythmically sounded.
Sitting around the altar with my sangha, a community of Zen meditators, we begin to chant. One by one, the members of the sangha light an incense stick in front of the altar, plant it on an incense holder, and take a deep bow. The chanting continues until everyone takes their turn. The words repeat over and over in my head, filling my body with a profound sense of peace. I take my turn, give thanks to my father wherever he may be, and take the most heart-felt deep bow to honour his spirit. As the Tibetan singing bowl reverberates one last time to end the Kanzeon, the frequency of the sound oddly lifts my spirits consoling my grief-ridden body. It was a fitting send off to a man I dearly loved.
I took my turn, gave thanks to my father wherever he may be, and took the most heart-felt deep bow to honour his spirit.
During the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, there are no goodbyes for the dearly departed. No wakes. No funerals. Usually, it is a cremation with no rituals. There is no send-off for the deceased. Each sheltered in our own homes, our sangha is forced to forego sitting together physically. Instead of being together in one room, a virtual zendo is born in Viber in mid-March. We meditate together but apart connected by technology. Filled with uncertainty, fear, and grief, we come together to hold a virtual Kanzeon. We pay our final respects to those who passed away from COVID-19 related diseases, many who died and were cremated without family near them.
Starting with a 25 minute meditation followed by chanting, we were one in breath. Each lighting a candle to remember the departed. As the chant played on my phone, I scrolled down my phone reading each name slowly. It began with the five doctors who had passed away. One was my father’s colleague in the hospital. We prayed too for four friends who passed away from natural causes during this time. As I read their names, and my finger touched the screen of my phone, I remembered them with tears rolling down my eyes. The Jikikitsu, the timekeeper leading our meditation, ended with the words: “May the light of the thousand suns illuminate their path as they cross to the eternal city. May their grieving families be comforted and find relief in their great loss.”
As I read their names, and my finger touched the screen of my phone, I remembered them with tears rolling down my eyes.
With the Kanzeon, a simple touching Zen Buddhist ritual, I am reminded they are not merely numbers. They are not just names. They are souls and loved ones. It was an honour and a gift to send them off from my own meditation cushion.
A few months after my father’s death, at the Kanzeon of another Zen practitioner, I felt my father's spirit. As we chanted and bowed in a garden, a breeze came out of nowhere. The wind chimes gently sounded. I knew he was there. In a moment, I distinctly felt a sense of joy knowing that he was at peace.
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