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Newsette – 5-9-2022

I returned from the Branching Streams Conference over a week ago, and it has been difficult to write this Newsette, to convey the richness of the experience of being together with forty of you in person at a spacious retreat center near Austin, Texas. Several people who attended the Conference did write about it in their sangha newsletters and I will quote several of them.

I want to thank Austin Zen Center for hosting the conference, and for the generous and warm-hearted support of spiritual leaders Mako Voelkel and Choro Antonaccio, the AZC staff, residents, board members,  and wider sangha for attending to the myriad details and hosting a reception at Austin Zen Center after the Conference.

During the Conference, SFZC’s City Center Abiding Abbot announced that Mako will become the next City Center Abiding Abbot in spring of 2023. All three of SFZC’s Abbatial leaders will change at that time, as David will move to the position of Central Abbot, Jiryu Rutschman-Byler will become the Green Gulch Farm Abiding Abbot, and Ed Sattizahn and Fu Schroeder will step down after many years of service.

The basic facts: there were 40 participants from 20 Branching Streams sanghas from all corners of the U.S., Vancouver, and Berlin. The Conference theme, Healing Relationships, was intended to provide opportunities to connect with ourselves, one another, and our planet after two challenging years.

Quoting Eden Kevin Heffernan, leader of the Richmond VA Zen Group, “In addition to spending time with old and new friends from other Zen sanghas in our Suzuki Roshi lineage, the program included three powerful workshops: Healing Circles, introduced by Jaune Evans, The Work That Reconnects led by Stephanie Kaza, and From Deep Places, a writing with Naomi Shihab Nye. We learned a lot and were vivified by everyone who attended.”

Upon returning to Brattleboro, Vermont, Hakusho Ostlund wrote: “With the Brattleboro Zen Center the newest Sangha represented at the conference, I was eager to learn more about how other Zen centers have established themselves in their communities, how they handle administrative responsibilities and leadership structures, what their physical zendos are like, how they’ve navigated the pandemic, etc, etc. Though the program for the conference had been well crafted by the planning committee, it was always the relationships and strengthening of supportive networks that attracted me to attend. I have to confess that the joy I experienced of practicing with old Dharma friends and meeting new ones (especially after two years of limited physical contact with other practitioners) was such that I neglected to seek answers to many of the questions that I arrived with. What is the best place to buy a mokugyo (wooden drum) from? I’ll be connecting with the people I was with in the weeks and months ahead to try to find the answer to my questions.

“Other than the heart-to-heart connections, what was moving to me was to get to experience how many others are making efforts such as ours, establishing and caring for a community of Zen practitioners, training in forms and ceremonies, and extending the realm of practice and care beyond the realms of the temple. Though all Sanghas faced unique challenges during the pandemic (several lost their physical spaces of practice), my sense was of a vitality of practice as new and creative ways for practicing together have emerged.”

Reirin Gumbel, guiding teacher of Milwaukee Zen Center, wrote: “This year’s theme, Healing Relationships, seemed to be poignant for our time of enforced separation and estrangement on many levels. The Branching Streams  program committee and the Austin Zen Center local logistics committee had been spending many hours over the last two years to finally come together again in person and enjoy live workshops that were heartwarming,  enlightening and fun, and to experience the intimacy of sangha again every morning and evening during zazen and service.”

Inryu Ponce-Barger, guiding teacher of All Beings Zen Center in Washington, DC compiled a Gatha from words of participants, which she read during  the closing portion of the conference.

May we together with All Beings

Cultivate broad view

Reaffirm connection

Remember the beauty of the sound we make together

Look after our new friends and old friends

Keep the vitality we feel

and be encouraged for the benefit of All Beings in the Ten Directions.

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