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January 12, 2021 Newsette

The year 2021 has begun with a mix of celebration and grieving.

I began writing this Newsette early last week and as the week went on it grew increasingly more difficult to write. There’s much to share with you.

At San Francisco Zen Center’s City Center we processed to all the alters on the morning of January 1stt and held our first in-person service since the pandemic began on the roof of 300 Page Street. Six days later, we rang the bonsho bell 108 times after we learned that Sojun Mel Weitsman had just died.

I offer my condolences to those of you who are dharma heirs or dharma grandchildren of Sojun Roshi, as well as to all of us who were encouraged by his presence and teaching. Barbara Wenger (photographer, community organizer and wife of Dairyu Michael Wenger, who leads Dragons Leap sangha in San Francisco) created a beautiful photo tribute to Sojun. Barbara is happy to share it with you. Here’s the link.

Last Wednesday we learned the results of the senate races in Georgia, in which the first African-American senator was elected in that state, a victory that was the result of much hard work to get out the vote. You may have participated in letter writing, online phone banking, or donating funds to turn the two senate seats from red to blue.

That same day, a mob who believed the presidential election had been stolen stormed the Capitol while the House and Senate were beginning the process of affirming electoral college votes to finalize the election of Biden and Harris. The light touch afforded the mob as they desecrated the Capitol differed painfully from the severe response to Black Lives Matters protesters last summer.

As teachers and sangha leaders how have you addressed these events with sangha members? Please let me know if you’ve had community discussions, offered dharma talks, written statements, participated in interfaith vigils or taken other actions that you’d like other sanghas to know about.

San Francisco Zen Center and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association are both preparing statements.

On another note, last week I received newsletters from many sanghas summing up the challenges and positive aspects of 2020. Here are a few quotes:

Abbot Gaelyn Godwin of Houston Zen Center looked back at 2020 “with appreciation and gratitude for the ways in which the sangha met the pandemic, racial injustice, continued offering teachings virtually, created ceremonies that were safe, and celebrated the births of three children of sangha members.”

Eden Heffernan, guiding teacher of Richmond VA Zen Center wrote: “In responding to the changes demanded by an invisible pathogen, and at times all too visible sociopathology, the Richmond Zen sangha has been an inspiration and support. Together, and with others, we created new ways to practice together in Zoom, at Byrd Park, and in the Ekoji garden. We have maintained our community and even welcomed new members. Via Zoom, we were fortunate to join in with others across the country and around the world to hear teachings of Dogen Zenji illuminated by Shohaku Okumura Roshi. We also participated in study groups led by Chapel Hill. We engaged in an exploration of race, privilege, and bias with many other Branching Streams sangha members. We found that “virtual” can still be intimate; although distanced we can connect.”

Taigen Leighton noted, “Ancient Dragon Zen Gate enters the New Year cast loose from our storefront home in North Center Chicago. Now we are a homeless sangha floating among Dharma realms in the adventure of how to express the awakening way and help to respond appropriately to suffering in our new-normal world. Vaccines pose hope for an end to the Covid pandemic sometime this year. Our society still faces the pandemics of systemic racism and a failed justice system, economic distress for many, as well as climate breakdown. We continue to sit upright amid the complexities and stresses of our world and our own lives.” 

Someone recently said to Joan Amaral, guiding teacher of Zen Center North Shore, “In this year of isolation, I’m amazed at how close I’ve come to feel with members of ZCNS. Thank you for helping to override the limited dimensions of a Zoom screen to break through to humanity!”

Laura O’Loughlin, co-guiding teacher of Brooklyn Zen Center comments: “In this year of change, loss and profound reckoning, we emerge as a community intact, resilient, and more committed than ever to our Bodhisattva vow of living from the wisdom of love and all that it requests of us.”

Website and Zoom news: As we head into 2021 Branching Streams webmaster Jon Voss and I are redesigning and restructuring the website. We will welcome your feedback when its further along.

Jon Voss will be offering a Zoom Clinic for those newer to Zoom on Wednesday, January 27th, from 11 to 12 PST and an intermediate-advanced Zoom clinic on Wednesday, February 4th at the same time. Here’s the Zoom link: Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143 or

I look forward to connecting with you in as many ways as possible as 2021 unfolds.

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