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Newsette 12-12-2022

This will be my last Newsette of 2022. It has been a year of reopening, joyfully, though slowly and cautiously, for many Branching Streams Zen Centers.  Some highlights for me were the Branching Streams Conference in April, hosted by Austin Zen Center, and my road trip to visit sanghas in Arcata, Ashland, Bellingham, and Vancouver in late September and early October.

We celebrated Buddha’s Enlightenment at City Center on Saturday morning, December 12th as did with many Branching Streams sanghas. The leadership of Zen Center North Shore (MA) offered this description in their newsletter:

“On this Rohatsu, we commemorate Shakyamuni Buddha’s attainment of anuttara samyaksambodhi — supreme perfect enlightenment. Across the world, Zen practitioners will be united in practice and joined by our collective aspiration toward awakening. What a beautiful and powerful expression of love and compassion. May you also find deep peace and equanimity at this most precious time.”

We will soon be celebrating the solstice and other holidays involving light, leading up to New Year’s Eve and morning. From Massachusetts to British Columbia, Branching Streams groups will be transitioning from the old year to the new with traditional Zen practices and unique adaptations.

Mountain Rain Zen Community in Vancouver, B.C. is Sitting and Chanting for Peace on New Year’s Eve from 8 p.m. to midnight. “Join Mountain Rain and friends from other sanghas in our annual New Year’s Eve retreat to cultivate peace in our hearts, our families, our communities, and in our world.” Please register for in-person attendance; you can also join on zoom.

Zen Center North Shore will usher in the new year on the morning of January 1 with two periods of zazen, a brief ceremony to welcome 2023, and a courageous, purifying dip in the [Atlantic] ocean!

On another note, Colin Gipson, guiding teacher of San Antonio Zen Center, who will retire in 2023, asked me to share the attached announcement, the result of several meetings with the transition committee and the Board.

If you read stories to children, you may enjoy Laura Burges’s Buddhist Stories for Kids: Jataka Tales of Kindness, Friendship, and Forgiveness, published by Shambhala on December 6. Laura is a seasoned storyteller, children’s educator, and SFZC teacher who received lay entrustment from Eijun Linda Cutts. Laura says, “My wish is for the book to reach as many children and their parents as possible. I wish I could have read this book to my daughter Nova when she was little!” I interviewed Laura for this week’s SFZC Sangha News if you’d like to know more.

I hope to visit Branching Streams groups on the East Coast in 2023. And I look forward to seeing more of you in person at the conference we’re planning in Santa Cruz, September 11 to 14.

I wish you good health and joy in your practice and sangha life.

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Newsette 12-1-2022

I am writing this Newsette on the first day of December. It is raining this morning in the San Francisco Bay Area, the rain greatly welcomed, as our umbrellas and raincoats have not been used in many months. In a few days we’ll begin Rohatsu sesshin at City Center and offer our annual memorial service to Suzuki Roshi.

At this time of year, many Branching Streams groups are fundraising while they are preparing for Rohatsu Sesshin and Buddha’s enlightenment ceremonies. I am including excerpts from several fundraising appeals to illustrate a range of ways in which Branching Streams centers, small and large, are raising funds to support their teachers and care for their meeting spaces.

Taigen Leighton, the guiding teacher of Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago writes: “As we approach year’s end, Ancient Dragon is in transition. The next Sunday, December 4th, we will hold a Rohatsu all-day sitting and a temple dedication ceremony for our lovely new Lincoln Square interim zendo. However, the sitting is already full to capacity. Numbers of regular ADZG participants will not be able to attend….The great interest in our all-day sittings is heartening, and we will hold more all-day sittings early next year. This highlights our need for a larger full-time space. We are actively working to locate and finance a building for a long-term Chicago temple. We also are working to develop and enhance our hybrid zoom/ in-person technology to integrate our in-person sangha and our many fine remote practitioners.

Please consider giving to Ancient Dragon Zen Gate so that we may continue to provide our practice and teaching offerings. Your gift will help us in the search for a new practice location while continuing to make the Dharma available online.

Brooklyn Zen Center’s director, Ryan Wong, wrote in their December newsletter: “We are entering the final days of our Fall Practice Period, themed “Repose and Bliss, Engagement and Liberation.” We face the monumental challenges of racial and patriarchal violence, ecological catastrophe, eroding political systems, the global pandemic, and more. “Repose,” in this context, is no indulgent or self-interested activity. The Ancient Greek paúō means “cease, stop, hinder, halt”: repose is not passivity, but interrupting harmful systems.

“This requires us to move against the stream and can create a space for repose—to build sangha (community) in a society that makes us individuals, to offer practices based not in profit but in vow. In a capitalist system, robust finances are considered their own measure of organizational health. For us, they are only an outward manifestation of our deeper practice intentions. This flow of resources between the sangha and temple enables us to deliver our offerings to the entire community.

“Our End of Year fundraising goal is $100,000. We raised $88,074 last year and we are increasing our goal to build our new Equity-Based Model making our programs more accessible, stipend our teachers and hire staff, and meet the expanded activity at our two temples.”

Austin Zen Center’s Membership Committee member Todd Cornett writes: “I look forward to the season, but with a bit of unease from the demanding social rules of exchange. So I am thankful for our Rohatsu sesshin winter retreat, Dec.2nd – Dec.9th. During this time, before serving each meal, we say “…now we set out Buddha’s bowls. May we, with all beings, realize the emptiness of the three wheels: giver, receiver, and gift.” That is, as Zen practitioners we remember at each meal that giving is life—that everything is giving, everything is given. There are no separate givers, receivers, or gifts. All of life is always giving and receiving at the same time. The three wheels empty into just the act of giving.”

Stacy Waymire, Co-Guiding Teacher and Board President of Ashland Zen Center (OR), penned a letter which ends with these words: “As we look around our world, it is clear that to live a life of value is difficult…It is only in this one moment, with this one life, that we have been given the opportunity to help bend the arch of existence toward loving kindness…To help and encourage us, spiritual communities come together and places of practice are established where we cultivate wisdom and compassion. A great bow of thanks to everyone who generously shared your financial, material, and physical donations that have maintained Ashland Zen Center this year. If Ashland Zen Center is important to you, please take the time now to renew your pledge, begin your pledge, or make a donation to sustain Soto Zen Buddhist practice and programs in the future.”

“This weekend marked my ten-year anniversary as a Zen priest,” writes Hakusho Ostlund, guiding teacher of Brattleboro Zen Center (VT). “I’ve been celebrating it by reflecting on the marvelous accompaniment I’ve enjoyed on this path…And, in the last 20 months, the members and supporters of Brattleboro Zen Center, contributing to the establishment of a thriving Zen community in our quaint little Vermont town. Your practice and generosity support me to engage in the most meaningful kind of work: to guide the practice and Sangha growth of a Zen community.

“Having grown beyond this beginning, I’m now thrilled to report that the BZC is seriously considering renting our own dedicated zendo space. Due to the generous support from local Sangha members, whose financial contributions have surpassed expectations set by our Board, renting our own space is, though a significant leap, imaginable! …Whether we’ll rent our own space or a shared space that will better meet our current and near future needs, we’re going to need to grow our current budget of $10,000 significantly. Your generosity now will help shape the direction of Brattleboro Zen Center in the new year.”

I find these words encouraging and inspiring and hope you will as well.

May the coming month and the celebrations from Buddha’s Enlightenment to solstice and to New Year’s be sustaining and enlivening for you.