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Newsette 1-31-2022

We have begun the Winter Practice Period at City Center, with a number of new residents and our largest in-person one-day sit since Covid, with about 40 participants. Christina Lehnherr and Paul Haller are leading the practice period on the theme “Taking and Creating Refuge.” We are still observing Covid protocols, such as masking in common spaces, and we’re still not open to the wider community.

While the first camellias are blossoming in the City Center courtyard and the temperature is in the high 50’s it’s good to be reminded that it’s still mid-winter in most parts of the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

Taigen Leighton at Ancient Dragon Zen Gate writes: “In Chicago we are in the midst of winter with its cold, snowy stillness. We still sit amid uncertainty about the COVID pandemic. We look forward to resuming in-person zazen when our Board deems it safe…Our practice supports us to find steadiness and healing amid deep concerns for our world now.”

Taigen will be offering an online seminar on  HONGZHI AND CULTIVATING THE EMPTY FIELD
on Saturday, February 19, 2022 @ 1:00pm – 4:30pm.
“Chan/Zen Master Hongzhi (1091-1157) was the most prominent Caodong/Sōtō master of his time, known for his eloquent and incisive teachings. We will discuss Hongzhi’s historical background and his importance in the Sōtō lineage, and discuss some of his teachings in Cultivating the Empty Field, translated by Taigen.” 1-4:30 PM CST. To register, click the link above. For more information, contact

Beginning Sunday, February 13, Houston Zen Center is offering the third segment of Entering the Path of Practice (EPP), an 8-week program for advanced meditators who want to enter Zen deeply, to investigate the mind of daily life. EPP includes guided exploration, study and training. 

As part of their Winter Practice Intensive, Chapel Hill Zen Center is offering a four-week precepts study group beginning February 15 from 6:45 to 8 p.m. EST, reading Katagiri Roshi’s Returning to Silence.

Kotatsu John Bailes, founding teacher of One Heart Zen in Somerville, MA is offering an online practice on the topic Earth, Air, Fire, Water, The Body as Crucible of Transformation on February 6 from 10 a.m. to noon, EST.

Also at Ancient Dragon Zen Gate, Gyoshin Laurel Ross will be leading an in-person HAIKU NATURE WALK on Saturday, February 12, 2022 @ 9:00am – 10:30am. She writes: “Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry that is drawn from direct experience with nature.  It is an ancient spiritual practice that is now a worldwide phenomenon. We will walk in relative silence enjoying whatever Mother Nature has to offer that morning—possibly rain of course. We will carry note pads or sketch pads or cameras and not write poetry as we walk but make notes or sketches of our experiences.  Participants will be invited to write haiku afterwards and share them with the rest of us if they wish.”

If you are excited by Laurel’s offering and don’t live in or near Chicago, you may want to adapt this practice in your own corner of the world.

Brooklyn Zen Center (NYC) writes, “We’re excited to be hiring a full-time Administrative Director to implement and support the many projects and plans at Brooklyn Zen Center (BZC). We’re looking for someone who can embody BZC‘s mission to cultivate intimate, ethical, and just relationships with ourselves and all beings.

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Newsette 1-24-2022

On Saturday at San Francisco Zen Center we began the day with a memorial service for beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh after ringing the densho bell 108 times the night before. Since last Friday, January 21st, many sanghas have shared words and images of Thich Nhat Hanh in their newsletters. Here are five expressions of gratitude for his teachings and presence in the world.

The words and image below were offered by Ryumon Sensei, co-guiding teacher of Two Streams Zen in Western MA.:

The Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh 

Beloved Teacher, Buddhist Monk, Activist, Embodiment of Peace,

Plunged into the Ocean of Buddha Midnight today at the age of 95.

(11 October 1926 – 22 January 2022)

A person holding a lit candle

Description automatically generated with low confidence

In body no more

Walking gently into light

A mystery now

Houston Zen Center’s Abbot Gaelyn Godwin shared the Plum Village announcement of Thich Nhat Han’s death with these words: “A great teacher, one of the most important of our time, has passed away. The early roots of Houston Zen Community flourished in a group founded by followers of Thay. May our vibrant and flourishing Center continue his deep teachings of compassion and wisdom.”
Hakusho Ostlund of Brattleboro Zen Center in Vermont wrote: “The remarkable Buddhist teacher, peace activist, poet Thich Nhat Hanh passed away last Friday. As I was scheduled to give a talk at Santa Barbara Zen Center the following day, I tried to capture some of my deep appreciation for Thay’s teachings, the support I found within them as a young student of Buddhism, and how he himself seemed to embody them with every step he took. The video recording of my talk can be found here.

“Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing? We must be aware of the real problems of the world. Then, with mindfulness, we will know what to do and what not to do to be of help. If we maintain awareness of our breathing and continue to practice mindfulness, even in difficult situations, many people, animals, and plants will benefit from our way of doing things. Are you massaging our Mother Earth every time your foot touches her? Are you planting seeds of joy and peace? I try to do exactly that with every step, and I know that our Mother Earth is most appreciative. Peace is every step. Shall we continue our journey?Then, with mindfulness, we will know what to do and what not to do to be of help. … Are you planting seeds of joy and peace? I try to do that with every step. Peace is every step. Shall we continue the journey? 
-Thich Nhat Hanh

Chapel Hill Zen Center in North Carolina sent a message to their sangha, saying “We invite our global spiritual family to take a few moments to be still, to come back to our mindful breathing, as we together hold Thay in our hearts in peace and loving gratitude for all he has offered the world.”

Valley Streams Zen Sangha in Sacramento, CA posted a tribute to Thich Nhat Hanh on Saturday, with images and words focusing on his lifelong work for peace. Jim Hare, the guiding teacher, writes: “Now he has left us, but as he reminded us in his book “No Death, No Fear:”

“This body is not me; I am not caught in this body, I am life without boundaries, I have never been born and I have never died. Over there the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies All manifests from the basis of consciousness. Since beginningless time I have always been free. Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out. Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek. So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We shall always be meeting again at the true source, Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.”

Jim continues, “In Thich Nhat Han’s book “Living Buddha, Living Christ,” he explains that to truly

follow the Buddha or Christ, one must live exactly as they did. And this holds true for those of us who strive to carry on Thay’s work: engage wholeheartedly with the suffering we encounter in our daily lives, and meet it with love, compassion, and peace.”

May we all carry on Thay’s work, remembering that peace is every step.

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Newsette – January 12, 2022

As January unfolds, with the spike in Covid cases due to the omicron variant, more sanghas are returning to or continuing on Zoom and planning outdoor activities.

An example is an in-person winter walk offered by Zen Center North Shore in Beverly, MA. Here is their lovely invitation: “Join us for quiet contemplation and engagement with the natural world as we hike together at Lynn Woods. We’ll refrain from speaking in order to open wide the sense gates to the sights, smells and tangibles of this beautiful, protected space.”

Richmond Zen Center (in Virginia) offers a weekly Saturday morning “Boundless Meditation” at a local park: “Practice zazen together outside. Pines and clouds, eagles and riffles, breezes and crickets will illuminate your true nature. Following a 40 minute period of meditation, we enjoy walking meditation around the lake.” In addition, sangha leader Eden Kevin Heffernan is leading a walking meditation this week with Virginia Interfaith Power and Light. Virginia IPL works to engage faith communities in action on climate and environmental justice. Learn more about their efforts here >>.

In last week’s Newsette I mentioned a SFZC class on eco-activism, Finding Your Path to Eco-Activism, beginning January 11. In addition, Tassajara will be offering a retreat for environmental activists May 15-22. Dojin Sarah Emerson of Stone Creek Zen Center in Sebastopol Ca, one of the retreat leaders, wrote: “There are two spots open in the retreat. This retreat is sponsored by a generous foundation, so people can attend by donation, which we hope makes it accessible to a wider range of activists.” A flyer about the retreat, with contact information, is attached.

Some Online Classes and Book Discussions:

Houston Zen Center is offering Realizing Your Life, a five-week class on the Genjo Koan, from February 7 to March 7 from 6:30 to 8:30 CST. “Genjokoan distills many of Dōgen’s most important teachings into a single profound essay. This class will use Realizing Genjokoan, by a living Zen Master, Shohaku Okumura, as a gate to Master Dōgen’s unique and expansive vision of reality” and will be taught by Koun Matt Brownlie.

Richmond Zen Center’s Eden Kevin Heffernan is offering An Incomplete History of Zen Buddhism. The class begins Monday, January 10, and meets online every two weeks through March from 7 – 8:30 pm EST: “Eden will offer an introduction to histories, texts, and stories of Zen Ancestors and other vital figures important in the development of our tradition.” The primary text will be The Circle of the Way, by Barbara O’Brien.

Kannon Do Zen Meditation Center in Mountain View, CA offers a weekly book discussion of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness. on Wednesdays from 7:55 to 9 p.m. PST: Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness Online Book DiscussionKannon Do.

May you stay healthy and find joy in the midst of winter.

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Newsette – January 4, 2022

In reading your newsletters I have seen that many of you welcomed the New Year on December 31st with outdoor fire ceremonies, zazen by Zoom, and/or ringing a bell 108 times. At City Center we greeted January 1st with a service in the Buddha Hall and a jundo to all the altars, offering light, fragrance and bows, ending on the roof where we chanted the refuges in Pali and toasted the New Year.

May this year bring us closer together as we continue to face the climate crisis, the Covid pandemic, racial injustice and economic inequality, and so many other huge issues.

As we head into 2022 with the uncertainties we are facing, we are still planning to hold an in-person Branching Streams Conference sponsored by Austin Zen Center from April 25 to 28 at Ancient Yoga Center, half an hour from Austin. The theme is Healing Relationships (with ourselves, one another, in our sanghas, and with our planet). The program includes a morning with poet Naomi Shihab Nye and a day-long workshop with Stephanie Kaza on The Work that Reconnects. Please save the dates!

The schedule for this summer’s Tassajara Branching Streams Sangha Weeks is nearly full. There is one 3-night stay in June (June 3-5) that just opened up, and several 3 and 4-night openings: August 8-11, 12-14, 15-18, and September 9-11. Please let me know in the next two weeks if your sangha would like one of those spaces. Anna Malo, from Tassajara Reservations, will be sending a letter to the sanghas that have signed up. She and the Tassajara Reservations team will handle all Sangha Week questions from that point on.

In this Newsette I will focus only on two programs in response to the climate crisis. More news about classes, dharma talks, and other sangha offerings will appear in next week’s Newsette.

Brattleboro Zen Center (in Vermont) is planning weekly in-person meditations outdoors, as a way to engage as a sangha around the climate emergency. Founding teacher Hakusho Ostlund writes, “While meditation isn’t the solution to all the world’s problems and sitting for a specific cause should never be an excuse to abstain from more overt ways of social engagement, I believe there is great power in ritual action.”

San Francisco Zen center is offering a six-week class, beginning January 11,  Finding Your Path to Eco-Activism. “This class series is designed to educate, inspire, empower, and activate deeper and more effective Earth activism among its participants.” Each class will include presentations by Tim Ream, a longtime Zen student and eco-activist, and a guest presenter. “Love for the Earth is a prerequisite. No activist experience required.” As this new year begins, may you stay healthy, warm, and nourished by Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha