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Newsette 1-19-2024

The teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have inspired me and many sanghas this week as we work toward creating Beloved Communities locally and internationally.

The Report on the 2023 Branching Streams Gathering is now on the Branching Streams Website. If you were unable to attend the Gathering, the Report will convey the spirit of the Gathering, the program, some nuts and bolts about the planning process, and how feedback from participants will guide Branching Streams in the coming year(s). Thanks to Jon Voss of Mid City Zen, Teresa Bouza of Kannon Do Zen Meditation Center, Jaune Evans from Everyday Zen and Heart of Compassion, and others in the Gathering Program Committee for working on the Report with me.

If you or your sangha is responding to the growing tension and war in the Middle East, please let me know what you are doing or planning, what questions you have, or what teachings or poems have encouraged you. I am working on a blog for the Branching Streams Website, as what I’ve gathered so far is too lengthy for a Newsette.

Welcome to a new affiliate, Thousand Flowers Dojo in Durach, Germany. The resident teacher, Andreas Elsen, a student of Paul Haller, was Shuso at SFZC’s City Center for the Fall 2023 practice period. Andreas, a physician and psychiatrist, practiced at Tassajara for 2 years from 2002-04. He has been joining Black Mountain Zen Centre in Belfast for Paul Haller’s sesshins since then (2004).

If you’re curious about other Branching Streams Sanghas in Germany and Switzerland, read the blog I wrote about my October journey to Zen Centers in Germany and Switzerland, including several photos, which was just published in San Francisco Zen Center’s online Sangha News. Here is the link.

Dario Girolami, Abbot of Centro Zen l’Arco in Rome met with Catholic hospital chaplains in Assisi at the invitation of the Vatican. Dario writes, “Since now only Catholics are hired as hospital chaplains in Italy – chaplains of other religions are called individually at the explicit request of patients – the Vatican raised the question of how Catholic chaplains should address patients of other religions.

“I explained to a group of twenty-five people (mostly male priests, a few monks and two nuns) what the Buddhist perspective on old age and death is. I explained that – unlike Christianity- the Buddhist approach is not theocentric. My talk was received with great interest, enthusiasm and affection. The meeting took place in a large Franciscan institute within walking distance of the Portiuncula, the very first church of St. Francis.Given the success of the meeting, the plan is to organize more meetings to explore the topic in more depth.”

Konjin Gaelyn Godwin, Director of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, is extending an invitation to Branching Streams teachers: “In honor of the important 700 year anniversary and commemoration of Keizan Zenji’s life and teaching, our Branching Streams centers are invited to participate in the ceremonies in Japan. We are opening more spaces for participating in this great event, and we have extended the deadline for registration to January 31.

“The International Center has organized a tour for April 21-23, 2024. Please join the tour with your sangha members. If you cannot join, your sangha members will be well-supported by our staff. They will be traveling with fellow Zen practitioners. You might want to arrive in Japan before the tour and join on April 21. Or you can plan to stay on after the tour ends on April 23. The tour includes visits to Eiheiji and Sojiji, and a Soto Zen World Fellowship gathering in Tokyo. The cost for the tour, which includes 3 days of ceremonies together, 2 nights’ lodging, and all food is $650. In addition, $100 donation per temple (total of $200) is requested. We warmly invite you to join the tour with us.  For more details or to register use this link.

Here is a request from Nomon Tim Burnett, guiding teacher of Red Cedar Zen Community in Bellingham, WA: “We’ll have the great blessing of opening a new zendo late in 2024 and I have an amazing woodworker volunteer. He’s happy to build us an altar and I’m looking for examples, parameters, and theory. Would you be willing to share your understanding of the symbolism of altars and/or snap me a picture of an altar you’re fond of at your zendo?” Nomon’s email is tim@redcedarzen.org.

In the midst of cold weather and storms of many kinds, may we be warmed by our connections to one another.

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Reuniting: Warm Hand to Warm Hand in Germany and Switzerland

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In my role as Branching Streams Director, I recently had the great pleasure of visiting Zen Centers in Berlin and the Black Forest in Germany, and in and around Lucerne, Switzerland.

The initial impetus for my journey was an invitation from Tatsudo Nicole Baden, the Dharma heir of Zentatsu Richard Baker, to visit the Zen Buddhist Center in the Black Forest (ZBZS) after ZBZS became a Branching Streams affiliate. I reached out to Branching Streams teachers in Berlin and Lucerne and the trip came together.

I flew to Berlin on October 1 and spent a week there, staying with a Dharma friend, Ursula Richard. Ursula, a Zen priest ordained by Vanya Palmers, shares her practice of the Dharma in writing, teaching, and everyday life. She also translates Thich Nhat Han’s books into German and publishes Dharma books. Ursula met me at the airport in Berlin and demonstrated her familiarity with public transportation, as we changed trains several times to reach her neighborhood. During my time in Berlin we took buses and trains to attend classes, visit museums and see the Botanical Gardens, and after a few days I was able to find my way alone to several meetings with Zen friends.

Bernd Bender, the guiding teacher at Akazienzendo in Berlin, invited me to give a talk there. I had practiced for more than a decade with Bernd, who was ordained and given Dharma transmission by Dairyo Michael Wenger, at Tassajara, Green Gulch Farm, and City Center, and it was wonderful to see him leading the sangha.

Akazienzendo meets in an Aikido dojo which has been transformed into a zendo, with a familiar photo of Suzuki Roshi and black zabutons and zafus in rows. My talk fell on the night of October 3, which was Germany’s Reunification Day, commemorating the reuniting of East and West Germany and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.

I shared an old Chinese folk tale, which is the focus of Koan 35 in the Mumonkan, The Gateless Barrier (translated and with a commentary by Robert Aitken). The story is also included in The Hidden Lamp, Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women (edited by Florence Caplow and Susan Moon). The story tells of a young woman who is divided between loyalty to her parents and love for a man she has been close to since childhood; it illustrates the pain of separation, the longing for wholeness, and the energy released by reuniting — with forsaken parts of oneself, as well as with others.

The theme of reuniting ran through my entire time in Germany and Switzerland. It was joyful to see Bernd and Ursula again, and, when I got to Switzerland near the end of my trip, to be greeted by YoEn Auriau, with whom I had practiced at Green Gulch Farm and City Center. YoEn is now one of the guiding teachers at Felsentor, a Zen center on the side of a mountain above Lake Lucerne. I also reunited with the part of myself that had once been fluent in German (I studied German language and literature in college and spent nine months in Vienna during that time).

At the end of my week in Berlin, Ursula accompanied me to the train station and I took a train to Freiburg, where Richard Baker met me at the station. I rode with him and Nicole Baden through the countryside to the Zen Buddhist Center Black Forest, formerly called Johanneshof. We were warmly greeted and I was ushered to a room on the second floor which would be my home for the next five days. Nicole asked a long-time sangha member, Beata Aldag, to be my jiko. Beata filled me in on the history of ZBZS and accompanied me to the zendo, her flashlight shining the way in the dark to early morning and evening zazen.

I enjoyed blending in with the daily schedule, going to zazen and service, and participating in oryoki breakfast and dinner, and a study period. There was a talk by Richard Baker in the morning and an interactive seminar led by Nicole Baden in the afternoon. The focus of the seminar was Koan #21 from The Book of Serenity, “Yunyan Sweeps the Ground.” One evening I was invited to talk about what brought me to Zen practice and my work with Branching Streams.

I had several opportunities to speak with Richard Baker and Nicole Baden informally, as well as with a few long-time sangha members. As with many sanghas in the U.S., they were creating new program formats to attract new students to the center. Beata, who is their treasurer, is focusing on increasing the number of paid members. I appreciated the significance of Nicole Baden’s moving into the leadership of ZBZS. She will have a Mountain Seat ceremony and will become the Abbot in September 2024.

Beata kindly gave me a ride to the train station in Basel, and went inside to make sure I caught the train to Lucerne. I took a boat across Lake Lucerne, which is surrounded by mountains, and a funicular up a steep mountain to Felsentor. YoEn Auriau, a Swiss priest with whom I had practiced at Green Gulch Farm and City Center, met me when I descended from the funicular.

YoEn has received Dharma transmission from both Christina Lehnherr and Vanya Palmers, and is now the co-guiding teacher at Felsentor. She had many roles and tasks, including leading the daily staff meetings, teaching, talking with students, taking her turn at feeding the wood stove that heats the water and rooms, doing a dish shift, and welcoming visitors. I blended in with the schedule and enjoyed meeting the residents.

From a deck outside my room I could view the gardens below, the mountains encircling Lake Lucerne and the sky. The light changed continually, as clouds began to gather and rain and fog hid the mountains partially, then completely, then cleared.

Many hikers walk through the grounds of Felsentor on their way up or down the mountain, and stop at a small cafe for coffee or homemade treats baked by residents. Many of the hikers come to the zendo on Sunday evening when it is open to the public. The zendo at Felsentor was constructed by Paul Discoe and brought piece by piece by helicopter to its site in a large field. On the Sunday I was there, YoEn gave a brief talk and zazen instruction as there were some newcomers in addition to residents.

One afternoon, YoEn and I walked down the mountain a short way to visit a farm where two Zen students care for farm animals that have been saved from slaughter, including pigs, long-haired goats, cows, and chickens.

Although I only spent three days at Felsentor, I felt a strong connection with the place. After Sunday evening zazen, YoEn and I left for Lucerne. She introduced me to the Zendo am Fluss, a five-year-old zen center close to the Reuss River, which runs through Lucerne. The guiding teacher, Othmar Wuest, lives in an apartment above the zendo. YoEn was about to move into another apartment in the building, where I spent my last two nights in Europe. Zendo am Fluss is close to a centuries-old stone city wall, and I enjoyed exploring the neighborhood with many old trees and houses.

My roles during this journey were a mix of ambassador/emissary from SFZC, Zen student, Zen teacher, and friend. I am grateful for the warm welcome I received everywhere I visited and the opportunity to practice with four sanghas, urban and rural, feeling so at home in each place.

This article is cross-posted from the Sangha News Journal, please see the post there for more photos from the article.

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2023 Branching Streams Gathering Debrief

Please read the full report summarizing the 2023 Branching Streams Gathering, hosted by Santa Cruz Zen Center with the support of Ocean Gate Zen Center and Monterey Bay Zen Center. The gathering was held at Villa Maria del Mar, a conference center overlooking the ocean in Santa Cruz, from September 18 – 21, 2023.


Participants in the 2023 Branching Streams Conference proposing sessions on Day 2.
Participants share updates from individual sanghas in 2 minute updates we called “Sangha Shorts.”
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Newsette 1-9-2024

We continue to include Hozan Alan Senauke in our well-being ceremonies, as do many Branching Streams sanghas. For updates from Hozan’s family, or to leave messages of support, you can visit his Caring Bridge page at: www.caringbridge.org/visit/alanhozansenauke.

This Newsette includes an event that occurred on New Year’s Day in Washington, DC, two book recommendations, a request from a Branching Streams teacher, and news of three wider community offerings that may be of interest.

On New Year’s Day a two hundred sixty-six-year-old temple bell was installed at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. The installation ceremony included the chanting of the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo by eight members of All Beings Zen Sangha and guiding teacher Inryu Ponce-Barger shared some words. A local TV station televised the event. Here is the link. An inscription on the bell began with these words: “One strike permeates all things.”

Recent books about beloved teachers:

Seeing One Thing Through: The Zen Life And Teachings Of Sojun Mel Weitsman, with an introduction by Hozan Alan Senauke and a forward by Norman Fischer.

Seeing One Thing Through begins with a series of autobiographical memories and reflections going back to Sojun’s boyhood in Southern California, his coming of age as an artist and a seeker in the vibrant San Francisco of the 1950s, and his first meeting with Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. The larger portion of the book is a collection of Sojun’s edited talks, his articulation of “ordinary mind,” and his strong belief that Zen as a way of life is available to all. 

Remembering Myogen Steve Stucky by Renshin Bunce

Renshin, the guiding teacher of Beginner’s Mind Zen in Eureka, CA, writes: “In the years since the death of my teacher, I’ve noticed that I repeatedly tell the same handful of stories about him. Also, when I’m around San Francisco Zen Center, students approach me to tell me their stories, to tell me how touched they were by him… Now, in the hope of sharing some part of him with Zen students in the future, I offer this book. The first part is my memories, the second is a collection of stories from friends and family, the third is a collection of his teachings in the three months between his diagnosis and death, and the fourth is his obituary. May it serve to benefit the awakening of all beings.”

Advice requested by a leader of a Branching Streams sangha. He would like to accept donations from sangha members and would like to open a bank account in his Sangha’s name, without becoming a 501(c)3. If you have experience in receiving donations in this way, please let me know and I will connect you and the sangha leader via email.

Community offerings that may interest you:

Dr. Paula Arai will be offering a program, Bowing to Lotuses Blooming in the Mud, Gratitude as an Agent for Change on Sunday January 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The program will be in person at the Institute for Buddhist Studies in Berkeley CA and online. Registration is still open, and a flyer is attached. This program launches the Soto Zen Buddhist Association’s monthly, year-long series Celebrating the Voices of Women in Buddhism; Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, planned by the SZBA DEIA committee.

Before the ‘May We Gather’ pilgrimage in March (in Antioch, CA), May We Gather has partnered with the Asian Pacific American Religions Research Initiative, Tricycle Magazine, and an amazing group of panelists to have an online three-part series beginning Wednesday 1/24.

The series is entitled Resilience, Recovery, Repair.

Rev. Lien Shutt is offering a twelve-week online course, The Dharma of Being Antiracist, starting February 6.   The teaching team includes Crystal Johnson, who led the Branching Streams-sponsored Unpacking Whiteness series in 2020. The course will follow the outline of Lien’s new book, Home Is Here: Practicing Antiracism With The Engaged Eightfold Path, where she teaches the practices of the Eightfold Path as a means for healing from the trauma of race and racism. The course is open to all and will alternate between teaching sessions and small affinity group sessions, with readings and exercises in between. You can click here for more information, teacher bios, and to apply. 

May the words on the bell ring true for all of us: One strike/one sound/one breath permeates all things.

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Newsette 1-3-2024

This Newsette is my New Year’s greeting to you and a tribute to Hozan Alan Senauke.

On New Year’s Eve I joined the Berkeley Zen Center Sangha for zazen and a wellbeing service for BZC’s beloved Abbot Hozan Alan.

Hozan is critically ill, in the ICU at Kaiser in Oakland after cardiac arrest last Thursday. His family has set up a Caring Bridge page at: www.caringbridge.org/visit/alanhozansenauke. You can find daily updates about his condition there and leave messages of support.

I visited Hozan on December 30with my friend Mushim Ikeda. Both of us have known Hozan since the early 90’s, when he was the director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Hozan has been my mentor and friend ever since.

In the waiting room we visited with members of Hozan’s immediate family, his wife Laurie, daughter Silvie, and son Alex, who filled us in on Hozan’s condition.

Mushim and I sat at Alan’s bedside for a while, mostly in silence. Before we left, Mushim recited Santideva’s prayer, the Dalai Lama’s favorite prayer (see below). Friends who had visited before us wrote on the whiteboard in Hozan’s room, to share with his medical team, “Don’t be fooled by appearances – this man has a brilliant mind and a vast heart…Work: Saving all beings. Hobbies: Entertaining all beings (if you don’t know Hozan, he is a musician).”

On January 2, Silvie posted these words from Laurie: “Yesterday I [came upon] a wonderful quote from Joanna Macy that I wanted to share. Just reading that last sentence I can tell I’m in Hozanland. Please join me there.

“This is a dark time, filled with suffering and uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, because these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings.

“Action isn’t a burden to be hoisted up and lugged around on our shoulders. It is something thing we are. The work we have to do can be seen as a kind of coming alive. More than some moral imperative, it’s an awakening to our true nature, a releasing of our gifts.” 

As we begin the New Year, some of us setting intentions for our practice and our lives, I am adopting a practice I learned of from one of my students – to find a word that I’d like to live with and grow into in the coming year. Mine is Spaciousness.

The Dalai Lama said his favorite prayer is this verse by Santideva:

                     For as long as space exists

                     And sentient beings endure,

May I too remain,

To dispel the misery of the world.