2015 Meeting in Chapel Hill
We just completed an excellent, good-feeling and connected Branching Streams meeting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina! Josho Pat Phelan, Choro Carla Antonaccio and many of the Chapel Hill Zen Center members did a wonderful job of caring for us and for all the on-the-ground transportation, overnight accommodation, and other logistics.
And the meeting itself went really well. Thirty-three people participated from 19 sanghas around the country. The agenda of topics was engaging, and by having small groups for each portion of the meeting, there was lots and lots of participation from all attendees. The discussions were wide-ranging yet also deep and, sometimes, not without some difference in points of view. In addition to the meetings all day Thursday and Friday, on Thursday evening we had a ‘reminiscence’ session, recalling anecdotes of personal contact with Suzuki Roshi; and on Friday evening we saw a showing of the film “States of Grace” at a theater on the Duke University campus. Perhaps most importantly, we had a chance to be together — sitting zazen, doing service, and soji each morning, having meals and breaks together — it was a really good feeling, and, I feel, provided a strong basis for mutual encouragement.
Much thanks to everyone, and may our connection and support continue, for the benefit of all.
Personal Reports from Attendees
Joan Amaral, Marblehead Zen Center, Marblehead, MA:
I had to leave the conference early in order to catch a flight back to Massachusetts that would get me in at a reasonable time for our Saturday morning schedule. And it was like leaving a really good party – I had to tear myself away! You know, the kind of party where there’s connection and relaxation and goodwill. What an achievement to attain that kind of feeling at a conference. For me, I really appreciated the range of people there – from an abbatial presence to younger students – and the feeling that we could all speak our mind, come from our own experience, and that would be heard and valued in both the small and larger groups. This created an openness that allowed for engaging, energizing dialogue. It’s such a beautiful, tender thing to come together in the spirit of Suzuki-roshi, now with the backdrop of our elders beginning to leave this life. So much shifting, with SFZC emerging from the shadow of Japanese traditions, and smaller practice places emerging from the shadow of SFZC. We seem to be helping each other find good strong sunlight to sustain us all.
John Briggs, Valley Streams Zen Sangha, Sacramento, CA:
I was happy to be in such a warm and welcoming group of people who listened well and offered help, and who were obviously a family. I learned from you. It was very sweet to hear the reminiscences of people who practiced with Shunryu Suzuki and shared their loving experiences. I am very grateful.
Deep bows to all.
Choro Antonaccio, Chapel Hill Zen Center, Chapel Hill, NC:
At the final circle, when we were asked to say a word or words or a few sentences, mine were ‘grateful, connected, home’. I said ‘home’ not because I was at home in Chapel Hill, although I was. I said I was home because I was among those practicing Suzuki Roshi’s way, as our way. Gratitude and connection are my spontaneous response. May we continue to express this precious legacy and offer and extend it to all beings, always.
Gyoshin Laurel Ross and Paula Lazarz, Ancient Dragon Zen Gate, Chicago, IL:
Someone described it as “a meeting of our tribe”: 33 representatives of 19 Suzuki Roshi lineage sanghas coming together for two days to get to know each other better and to share problems as well as hopes and dreams.Late spring at Chapel Hill Zen Center in central North Carolina provided a delightful setting, and the good work of the planning committee helped the meeting unfold seamlessly. The format of the discussions fostered new relationships among attendees by allowing substantial time for small group discussion that made it easy for even the shyest introvert to participate. Topics of discussion directly addressed some of the hardest questions we all are dealing with. Some of these were very practical such as how we can raise the necessary funds to accomplish our ambitious goals. Other topics were designed to help us explore ways we would like to build and even stretch our sanghas. Expanding our outreach efforts was more controversial, or less unanimously supported, than perhaps expected, but we learned that several groups have made this a priority and are putting specific programs into place designed to broaden the participation in their temples. This will no doubt be a topic for discussion at future meetings.
There is something very healthy and useful about having these kinds of discussions among sanghas of such various sizes and maturity. It is much like a family where the older more experienced members mentor the younger ones, and the younger provide bold new ideas and help the older ones be less set in their ways. Everyone has the opportunity for a fresh perspective.
Among the most enjoyable and intimate conversations were those in which people shared remembrances, insights and ideas about the Suzuki Roshi lineage “its uniqueness and tradition.” The robust discussion about work practice was particularly enjoyable and inspiring. Needless to say, during work periods at the meeting everyone participated fully.
The potential for Branching Streams to be a valuable resource is great. It was heartening to hear how many of the ideas that have been discussed at earlier Branching Streams meetings are coming to fruition. Only a few people can attend these meetings, but everyone in our sanghas can benefit from such support as the website and the fellowship program.
Next meeting will be fall 2016 (location to be decided). One possibility for that meeting is to extend it to three days and to include training in addition to discussion.
Kido Jimmyle Listenbee, Middle Way Zen, San Jose, CA:
What an inspiring experience! Spending two days with strong, generous sangha leaders who are whole-heartedly dedicated to their work and open-hearted in their sharing left me feeling both humbled and strengthened.
And it was fun too.
Jane Shuman, Twining Vines Zen Sangha, Purchase, NY:
I so enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to spend a few days with our Dharma Family, seeing some old friends and meeting many new ones with whom I hope to continue this connection. What a gift to hear the experiences of those who sat with Suzuki Roshi as well as those of many of us who entered this lineage later on; large or small, newer or older, our sanghas clearly share many of the same concerns and joys. Taking part in the morning schedule–sitting, chanting and working together–was particularly sweet. The gatherings were informative and practical. And of course some of those conversations that just popped up over coffee at 5 in the morning will be remembered with fondness by us all. Great thanks to everyone at Zen Center for their huge efforts, and to Josho and everyone at Chapel Hill Zen Center for their care and attention–what a warm and beautiful space, lovingly maintained and supported over so many years–you are a fine example. Much gratitude.
From Tova Green, San Francisco Zen Center, San Francisco, CA:
Chapel Hill Zen Center was an ideal venue for our 2015 Branching Streams gathering. Its Zendo and adjoining buildings, surrounded by trees, was a peaceful setting. From the moment we arrived we were welcomed by CHZC’s abbess, Josho Pat Phelan and friendly sangha members, who supported the gathering in countless ways.
Everyone seemed to value the preciousness of our 2 1/2 days together, and in addition to a full agenda of large and small group discussions, people sought one another out for conversations about issues that were alive in their centers, finding sangha peers and making connections that I think will deepen in the future.
I had never been to CHZC, or to All Beings Abode Zen Center in Washington, DC, which I visited after the gathering. I appreciated learning about how these groups got started and what has helped them thrive.
Linda Ruth Cutts commented on the first evening we met that all the sanghas she has visited in the Suzuki iRoshi lineage, even those in Jalapa, Mexico and Rome, have a familiar feel. I have often thought of the SFZC community as my extended family, and now that family has grown much wider.
Gaelyn Godwin, Houston Zen Center, Houston, TX:
I am delighted that I was able to attend the recent Branching Streams gathering along with Judson Dunn, the membership director of Houston Zen Center. It was a great opportunity to visit a Center that I’ve long admired from afar. Josho Pat Phelan’s Zen center is an impressive, thriving place. The zendo is spacious and beautiful, very conducive to meditation. In addition to the opportunity to visit sister centers, the Branching Streams gatherings provide an important opportunity to mingle with old friends in the dharma as well as to make new friends from centers around the country. Perhaps even more importantly, the wealth of ideas, experiments, and suggestions for spreading the dharma in the widely different settings we find ourselves in gave us many helpful new ways to think about our own Center.
Carlos Moura, All Beings Zen Sangha, Washington DC:
The meeting offered an unusual opportunity for sangha to connect in a wide sense–in a way that’s not normally available via sesshins or retreats. I saw both our commonality in the same issues we share, as well as how we can be quite different too (for example city vs. suburban vs. rural etc.), sometimes in an unexpected sense. I observed and felt a sense of everyone willing to support each other in the challenges they face, and also their maturity in handling matters. Along similar lines, I felt a dedication amongst participants in terms of willingness and ability to dedicate/commit to constructive changes/improvements. The meeting had a heart-felt liveliness generated by participants that even if you weren’t planning on it, it was quite contagious.
Photos taken by John Paredes, Gaelyn Godwin, Joan Amaral, and Jane Shuman. Thank you!