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Newsette 11-15-2022

As I write, some of you will be in Los Angeles, and others on your way there, to participate in the five-day Precept Retreat (Jukai-e ceremony) celebrating 100 years since the founding of Zenshuji Soto Zen temple in Los Angeles.

The flyer for this event (attacjed) says: “During the last 100 years, Soto Zen Buddhism spread across North America and there are now over 200 temples and Zen centers and 800 Soto Zen priests. Though many of their dharma lineages share the same roots, they have become so diverse and complex that they are often unaware of the presence of their distant dharma relatives. On this occasion…we are going back to the root of our origin and once again share the Jukai-e ceremony with our dharma brothers and sisters.”

If you are attending the ceremony and would like to share some of your experiences, impressions, or photos on the Branching Streams website, please send them to me and I will compile and post them.

Thanksgiving is coming up next week for those of us in the U.S. and I will be taking some personal time. The next Newsette will be the week of November 28.

Here’s news from Branching Streams Zen teachers in Rome, Italy and Jalapa, Mexico, an update about the network of sitting groups in England called Dancing Mountains Zen Community, and a message from the Director of Tassajara.

Dario Girolami, Abbot of Centro Zen l’Arco in Rome

led a meditation and gave a dharma talk at the Forum, in the Temple of Venus and Rome, on November 4. The topics of his talk ranged “from the fire of Nero to the Buddha’s Fire Sermon, from the cypress trees of the Sacred Way to Joshu’s Cypress in the Courtyard…in the place where Julius Caesar, Octavian Augustus and Marcus Aurelius walked.” Dario was joined by his sangha and his wife Annalisa. “It has been a very deep experience for me.” It clarified his living koan about “why I was born in Rome with a clear Buddhist vocation.”

The guiding teacher of Montana Despierta Zen in Jalapa, Mexico, Sergio Stern, recently published his book The empty bowl. Contributions of a psychoanalyst to the study of buddhadharma. His book expresses what Sergio has learned in 25 years of practicing as a psychoanalyst and a Zen student about the connections between these two disciplines.

The Secretary of Dancing Mountains Zen Sangha UK, Michael Elssmere, sent a document (attached) tracing the history and current status of a group of sanghas that organized under the umbrella of Dancing Mountains in 2012. This structure connected groups that formed after Tenshin Reb Anderson’s many visits to the UK . Dancing Mountains supports the various sanghas financially and by arranging UK wide retreats and the UK tours of SFZC teachers in various parts of England.

Please share the following with your sanghas: Tassajara is offering a full scholarship for the Winter 2023 practice period to anyone who has completed at least one Tassajara practice period and would be interested in working in the kitchen. An application will need to be submitted, but no payment or use of practice period credits will be required. There are five spaces available. Please contact the Tassajara director at before November 21 for details.

I wish you safe travels if you are traveling and a nourishing time wherever you are.

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Newsette 11-7-2022

“The chilly, wet days of fall have arrived at last, the early is gratefully absorbing the needed rain,” write Kate McCandless and Michael Newton, the guiding teachers of Mountain Rain Zen Community in Vancouver, BC. We’re also appreciating some rainy in the Bay Area after many dry months.

This Newsette includes two mournings, two literary launchings, and a request from Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.

At City Center we rang the densho 108 times for Layla Smith Bockhorst, who died on Thursday, November 3 at home, supported by family and sangha members. Layla was the guiding teacher for Branching Streams groups Open Circle in Helena MT and Mountain Source in Bolinas and Larkspur CA. She and her husband Jim came to SFZC in the early 70’s.

Mid City Zen in New Orleans LA has been grieving the loss of their friend, former board chair, and long-time Mid City Zen sangha member, Billy Southern. They joined with Houston Zen Center, where he was also active, in holding a weekly memorial service for 49 days. The closing ceremony will be on November 17.

Celebrations:  David  Guy, a long-time student at Chapel Hill Zen Center in NC, is launching his sixth novel,  Hank Heals: A Novel of Miracles.  It’s about a Zen teacher who supposedly has healing powers. Norman Fischer wrote in a blurb about the book, “In the course of the story we learn a lot of real stuff about Zen practice, zazen, and why people need to do it—and, not incidentally, about healing: physically, psychically, spiritually.  You will enjoy and learn from this book.” It will be published by Monkfish on November 22.

Guiding teacher of Mill Valley Zen, Marc Lesser, writes:  “I’m so excited to announce the launch of my brand-new podcast, Zen Bones: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times. “Why Zen Bones? Our world is in crisis and ever-shifting, and now more than ever, more wisdom, clarity, and courage are essential, especially in the world of work, business, and leadership.” This weekly 30-minute podcast will alternate between interviews (including Leo Babauta, Peter Coyote, and Jane Hirshfield), and teachings from Marc.

Tassajara is looking for kitchen volunteers with practice experience either at Tassajara or other silent retreat settings to support a retreat for wildland firefighters from January 2 – 11. This retreat will provide firefighters with much needed refuge, rest and renewal, as well as training in mindfulness, meditation, and sensory awareness. Preference will be given to those who can commit for the entire retreat. Please contact Lauren at

Tension is in the air about tomorrow’s elections in the U.S. So much rests on this election. If you are eligible to vote, please vote.

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Rakusu Sewing with Hogetsu Laurie Belzer

The following is a guest feature shared from the Zen Center North Shore newsletter written by Joshua Archer.

Laurie Belzer Headshot
Dharma teacher Hogetsu Laurie Belzer

This past weekend (Oct 8-10, 2022), ZCNS had the honor of hosting dharma teacher Hogetsu Laurie Belzer, who was visiting from Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago. For three full days, Laurie offered rakusu robe sewing instruction to ZCNS students preparing to receive the precepts in a jukai (lay ordination) ceremony later this year.

With sangha members fully present to support them, the students preparing to receive the precepts each sewed Buddha’s robe in an exacting method and pattern that has been transmitted, warm hand to warm hand, for centuries. This is a deeply devotional practice that affirms their vows, connects them to our lineage, and brings us all together in community. During Laurie’s time with us, many sangha members came forward to offer food and support, and to help the students stitch. It was beautiful to share this practice together.

We were also honored to receive a dharma talk from Laurie during her visit. Her talk explored the importance of community in our collective awakening.

We were so grateful to once again have Laurie here as a guest teacher, sharing her wisdom and compassion and connecting us to this vital tradition of sewing.

Thank you, Laurie!

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Newsette – 11-1-2022

Election day in the U.S. is a week from today, November 8. Taigen Leighton, guiding teacher of Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago, IL, wrote in his sangha newsletter:

“PLEASE VOTE, whether in person, in early voting, or by mail. People from many states receive this message. In all those states many key issues related to our bodhisattva values of benefiting all beings and expressing awakening and kindness will be on the ballot. This election will have major impacts for all of us. We value our deep interconnectedness with the natural landscape, now under threat. This election’s results may seriously hamper any appropriate measures to address world-wide climate breakdown…Further, this election will decide the situation of women’s healthcare, and whether local or national politicians will determine doctors’ and women patients’ health decisions… Moreover, amid massive voter suppression and an atmosphere of hate speech and violence, this election will decide whether our right to vote and our nation’s democracy will might continue. This is not hyperbole. This is not a drill. Please vote and support others to vote.”

Many Branching Streams Zen Centers and sanghas are opening to in-person events, including one-day sittings and longer sesshins. Looking ahead to Rohatsu sesshin, here are offerings from sanghas in several regions of the U.S. (this is not a complete list).

Hartford Street Zen Center’s SZC’s Winter Light Retreat is scheduled to begin the evening of Wednesday, November 30 and end mid-day on Sunday, December 4. HSZC is located in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. “Everyone is welcome to attend (all or in part) but please do let us know by emailing A more formal schedule will be posted as we near the start date.” This retreat will be in-person though it’s not residential.

Ashland Zen Center (OR) is offering Rohatsu Sesshin from December 5 to 11. Overnight accommodations are available. Guiding teachers Ramana and Stacey Waymire describe this retreat: “Sesshin means touching-uniting heart-mind.  Rohatsu (‘eighth day of the twelfth month’) is the day the Buddha, sitting upright under the Bodhi Tree, attained enlightenment together with all beings.  Rohatsu sesshin is the cornerstone of our year of practice…

Although we say that Rohatsu is a seven-day sesshin that begins on December 5, Rohatsu actually begins the moment we meet it and say yes. This is your invitation. Say yes and let Rohatsu begin.

Houston Zen Center is hosting an in-person residential Rohatsu Sesshin from December 7 to 12. “Deepen meditation practice and gather the mind during this 5-day intensive meditation practice being held at Auspicious Cloud Retreat Center and led by Abbot Gaelyn Godwin and Rev. Tim Schorre.
Rohatsu means “great cold” and sesshin means “gather the mind.” This is an annual meditation retreat in the cold time of the year, to gather the mind. Historically, it honors Shakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment.”

Austin Zen Center will end its Fall Practice Period with Rohatsu Sesshin from December 2 to 9. More information will be available on their website soon.

Brooklyn Zen Center offers an in-person non-residential Rohatsu retreat from December 7 to 11, co-led by Kosen Gregory Snyder, Shingetsu Laura O’Loughlin, Kidō Ian Case, Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny, at their Boundless Mind Temple in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.

An online sesshin is offered by Two Streams Zen Sanctuary, located in Western MA and Portugal,  “a dedicated practice space for People of Color where the Teachings of the Buddha are made accessible to all who come through our doors seeking Sanity, Community, Healing, and an End to Suffering.” Guiding teachers Ryumon and Anraku write in their newsletter: “Our Virtual Autumn Practice Period continues. We will intensify and deepen our practice with Rohatsu Sesshin starting on Wednesday, 30 November through Wednesday, 7 December. There is a place for you at the table.” To join, please send an email to:

I will close with these words from Ryumon and Anraku:

May these days be blessed times
of contemplation and practice, together with all beings.