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I’m writing on the day of the Winter Solstice, feeling hope. Now the days grow longer and the nights shorten. The coming year will bring greater availability of Covid-19 vaccines, and the inauguration of new leaders in the United States.

In this time of holidays for people of many faith traditions, some sanghas are having online holiday parties, solstice ceremonies, or New Year’s zazen and bell-ringing. We may be feeling both grief and gratitude as this year comes to an end.

Berkeley Zen Center’s beloved Founding Teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman, has been receiving hospice care at home for about a week. You can get updates and leave messages for him on the Caringbridge website (you may have to set up an account in order to do so).  

And, at this time, Berkeley Zen Center sangha members are preparing for the Mountain Seat Ceremony of Alan Senauke on December 28th (now postponed, please stay tuned for updates).

I’m ending this Newsette with great appreciation for each of you, for all the ways you have faced the difficulties of this year and supported and nourished your sanghas.

My next Newsette will be sent early in January, 2021.

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I returned to work on Monday after City Center’s Rohatsu Sesshin feeling grounded and refreshed. The sesshin marked the end of our Fall Practice Period led by Abbots Tenzen David Zimmerman and Rinso Ed Sattizahn, with Shuso Sozan Diego Miglioli. We had SFZC’s first online Buddha’s Enlightenment ceremony on Saturday morning. I was amazed at the joy I felt during the ceremony even though only our Abbot David was circumambulating the Buddha Hall to the sound of the taiko drum and chanting of the maka hannya haramitta shin gyo (prerecorded). That afternoon we had our first online Shuso ceremony I was happy to see several Branching Streams teachers among the former Shusos who attended the ceremony.

Many Branching Streams sanghas sat sesshin last week for one, three, five, or seven days, celebrating Buddha’s enlightenment. Hartford Street Zen Center in San Francisco had a Metta service/practice led by their Abbot Myō Lahey during their three-day Winter Light retreat. They wrote, “It has been a turbulent year for many in 2020 and this is a great opportunity to hold the world in our hearts and generate loving kindness for all.”

Two Streams Zen in western Massachusetts, whose guiding teachers are Ryūmon H Baldoquín and Catherine Anraku Hondorp, sat Rohatsu virtually every morning from December 1st to 8th. On the last night, as is traditional, they kept the online zendo open through the night for informal sitting.

Looking forward to the solstice and New Year’s, Zen Center North Shore in Beverly, MA, whose guiding teacher is Joan Amaral, will have an online Winter Solstice Art and Music Party: In celebration of the year turning toward the light again. Their invitation is: “Come gather on ZenZoom Sunday, December 20th, from 4 to 6 PM ET, for our online Winter Solstice Art & Music Party! We anticipate a beautiful evening of poetry readings, stories, musical performances, artistic gestures, and anything (nearly anything) else that can be shared on Zoom.”

Brooklyn Zen Center will have their 14th annual New Year’s Eve Celebration and Sit Thursday, December 31, 10 pm – Friday, January 1, 12:30 am EST. They write: “Please join us for this intimate celebration of community and collective practice, in what is the longest running BZC celebration – we have been doing it since 2005! This year, the New Year’s Eve Celebration and Sit will be offered online and with a reduced schedule.”

There will be a virtual Jukai ceremony at Zen Center North Shore this Saturday December 12th at 2 p.m. ET for two sangha members. One of the ordinands, Emily Dashowitz, writes, “We will each accept the 16 bodhisattva precepts as our chosen way of life. These precepts will be given to us by our guiding teacher, as hers were given to her. Together we will take refuge in the Three Treasures and acknowledge the full line of ancestors who have brought us here, sustaining us along the way with their wisdom and care.
“It has been a unique challenge to plan for this intimate ceremony, in this particular year. Like a river, there have been so many twists, juts, jagged edges, depths and shallows. Yet a river never loses its course and never has to worry about whether it will reach the sea. Our ceremony may be hosted virtually, but the heart of awakening, moral and ethical conduct, and care for all beings will be transmitted. That it is occurring is the true gift.”

There are many true gifts of this season, despite the loss of in-person meetings and ceremonies many of us are feeling.

Warmest greetings to each and all of you. Please cherish yourselves.