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Branching Streams Flow Together

Branching Streams group

Branching Streams 2022 participants

By Tova Green

Branching Streams, a network of over seventy Zen Centers and sanghas in the Shunryu Suzuki Roshi lineage, hosted biannual conferences prior to the Covid pandemic. The last conference was hosted by Milwaukee Zen Center in 2019. During the last two years the group had several “mini-conferences” via Zoom to maintain connections. It was very joyful to meet again in person April 25 – 29 at spacious Ancient Yoga Center near Austin, Texas.

The conference was hosted by Austin Zen Center. 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. A program committee of seven sangha leaders met monthly for nearly a year to plan the program, and a local committee of Austin Zen Center staff and members worked on the logistics.

Several attendees wrote about the conference in their recent sangha newsletters.

Eden Kevin Heffernan, leader of the Richmond, VA Zen Group, noted, “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 workshop with Naomi Shihab Nye. We learned a lot and were vivified by everyone who attended.”

Hakusho Ostlund and Reirin Gumbel

Upon returning to Brattleboro, Vermont, Hakusho Ostlund wrote: “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 practice and care beyond the realms of the temple. Though all Sanghas faced unique challenges during the pandemic (several lost their physical meeting spaces), 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.

Affiliated Sanghas who attended the Conference: All Beings Zen (Washington, DC), Ancient Dragon Zen Gate (Chicago, IL), Austin Zen Center (Austin, TX), Akazienzendo (Berlin, Germany), Berkeley Zen Center (Berkeley, CA), Brattleboro Zen Center (Brattleboro, VT), Brooklyn Zen Center (Brooklyn, NY), Everyday Zen Foundation (SF Bay Area and beyond), Heart of Compassion (Pt. Reyes, CA), Houston Zen Center (Houston, TX), Mid-City Zen (New Orleans, LA), Middle Way Zen (San Jose, CA), Milwaukee Zen Center (Milwaukee, WI), Mountain Rain Zen Community (Vancouver, B.C.), Richmond Zen (Richmond, VA), San Antonio Zen Center (San Antonio, TX), San Francisco Zen Center (San Francisco, CA), Santa Cruz Zen Center (Santa Cruz, CA), Tuscaloosa Zen (Tuscaloosa, AL), Zen Center North Shore (Beverly, MA).

Program Committee Members: Choro Antonaccio (Austin Zen Center), Teresa Bouza (Kannon Do Zen Center), Jaune Evans (Heart of Compassion and Everyday Zen), Douglas Floyd (Ancient Dragon Zen Center), Reirin Gumbel (Milwaukee Zen Center), Michael Newton (Mountain Rain Zen Center), Inryu Ponce-Barger (All Beings Zen), and Tova Green, Branching Streams Liaison.

Austin Zen Center Logistics Committee (LOCO): Choro Antonaccio, Karen Laing, Wendy Salome, Pat Yingst, with support from Head Teacher Mako Voelkel and staff members Jess Engle and Maida Barbour.David Z, Tova G, Sozan M

David Zimmerman, Tova Green, and Sozan Miglioli attended from SFZC

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Standing in Love and Solidarity

We are sharing this newsletter article from Zen Center North Shore. Emily Dashawetz was interviewed for this article by their newsletter editor Jireh Shaazi, and we are reposting here with their permission.

As a spring tradition, Ukrainians make and exchange these eggs called “pysanky,” which shares a root with the Ukrainian word for “to write.” The different patterns, colors, and designs celebrate Ukraine’s rich beauty and culture, which our sangha member Emily’s family directly shares. Emily made the red egg with the wheat motif at top right, and the rest were made by her mother-in-law (Anna Kurniawka’s) church friends at Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Church in Jamaica Plain, MA.

Dear Sangha,
Two weeks into the invasion of Ukraine, our eyes and hearts have opened to this beautiful country of strong, creative, brave, and hard-working people. People who are, and have been, fighting for their sovereignty for many, many years.

In our effort to fully open to what is unfolding before our eyes, we turn to sangha member Emily Dashawetz whose family is Ukrainian. She graciously shares:

What I would want everyone to know about Ukrainians is exactly what the entire world is feeling right now: their passion, their resourcefulness, and a culture that honors the truth of interdependence in community. Ukrainians today carry the full strength of their generations of ancestors before them. Those ancestors knew that fertile earth intimately, and they fiercely protected their communal traditions in the midst of incredible suffering. Their stories, songs, dances, embroidery, and so much more have been passed on for centuries, so that they would stay alive to sustain them in times such as these. From my husband Markian, his immediate family, and their Ukrainian friends, who are our family, we extend love and gratitude to all those standing in solidarity with Ukraine, and a wish for peace.

How you can help:

In this link tree you will find both places to donate as well as resources for education, including links to various films, like Winter on Fire which we highly recommend for a basic understanding of the current situation.

Thank you for getting informed, getting involved, and mostly, for keeping your heart open.

May the Ukrainian people be protected, and may this aggression end immediately.

In Love & Solidarity,
ZCNS Leadership

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Starting and Growing a Sangha During the Pandemic

Hakusho Ostlund
Hakusho Ostlund

In the spring of 2020, San Francisco Zen Center resident and priest Hakusho Ostlund and his wife Marie Py decided to step out into the wider world. Hakusho had held several positions at SFZC during his 14 years of residency, including tanto (head of practice) at Tassajara and had begun taking online classes at the Institute for Buddhist Studies in Berkeley.

When Marie was hired for a job in Brattleboro, VT, she and Hakusho left Tassajara and moved there. After years of community living, Hakusho found it challenging to live in a town where he didn’t know anyone and with only one person. He wanted to practice with a local Zen group as a way of settling into the community. There had been a Zen group in Brattleboro prior to the pandemic but it was no longer meeting.

At first, he thought he would wait and start a Zen group post-pandemic. In an email exchange Zoketsu Norman Fischer said, “Maybe you should start your local Zen center now, not wait until Covid is over.” So Hakusho decided to take the first step.

He began by creating the Brattleboro Zen Center website, making flyers and posting them at the Brattleboro food co-op, bookstore, and library, and creating a mailing list. Within a few days people contacted him. A woman he met at the Food Co-op, who practiced insight meditation, knew others and helped spread the word. Hakusho started online, offering zazen five mornings a week. He added a weekly dharma event with discussion, some talks, and a half-day sitting one Saturday a month. “It’s been encouraging to offer what nourishes me in my practice, and find that people respond.” Currently the group is renting a space that will allow them to meet in person at the beginning of 2022.

Hakusho appreciates Zen forms and ceremonies and refers to himself as “a high church guy.” He is wondering how to transmit the forms in a way that is appropriate for his new sangha. He asks himself, when they meet in person would it be best to start more formally or to begin simply and add? As it will be tricky in the new space to face the wall for zazen, he wonders whether the practitioners should be required to do so.

Starting on Zoom meant that expenses were minimal, especially as he had no rent and had a free forty-minute Zoom license. However, more is involved in getting established in a physical space: teaching the forms; purchasing altar supplies, a statue, and instruments; beginning to fundraise to cover other expenses (and hopefully a modest stipend for himself at some point). Hakusho is also setting up a board and working on by-laws and a mission statement. To balance the additional time these activities take, Hakusho notes, “It’s so much fun and energizes my practice.”

Five years earlier, during his Branching Streams Fellowship at Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago, Hakusho learned about what it takes for a smaller sangha to thrive. He made connections with Taigen Leighton, the guiding teacher, and with Eishun Nancy Easton, a senior student who had been on the ADZG board for many years. Eishun has advised Hakusho on how to establish his board. He has also begun networking with other Branching Streams Zen teachers and with Zen teachers from other lineages in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Hakusho with members of Brattleboro Zen Center
Hakusho with members of Brattleboro Zen Center

Hakusho envisions the sangha he is establishing as a force for good in the world. Several sangha members, concerned about the climate crisis, meet weekly to explore options for addressing this urgent issue. They began by gathering signatures on postcards as part of a Just Transition climate action sponsored by 350 VT, calling on the Vermont Climate Council and legislators to bring about a transition from fossil fuels to a just and climate-resilient Vermont. “It is the first step in an exploration of how we as a Sangha may bring the ethics, concentration, and wisdom of our tradition into concrete beneficial action in the world.”

There are two aspects of Zen practice that Hakusho finds particularly meaningful. “One is ritual, how we pay homage to the Zen ancestors and engage in a practice of gratitude and humility through forms and ceremonies. The other is sangha, the recognition that awakening takes place in relationship. While the former grounds our practice in tradition, the latter asks us to be flexible and kind as we adapt to one another and the world we live in. My aspiration is to establish the Brattleboro Zen Center at the intersection of tradition and community.”

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Sharing A Covid Memorial Flag Project

Ashland Zen Center undertook a Covid Memorial Flag project over the last year which culminated in late October at Segaki (also known as Sejiki). We sewed several thousand little flags made of plain white fabric, each flag honoring one person by name who died of COVID-19. Each flag shared a person’s age, where they died, and something unique about them. The Covid Memorial Flags were on display at Ashland Zen Center for several days in October and our memorial service during Segaki included these names. 

For the installation we strung flags at eye level between poles lining the path from our front gate to the Memorial Garden at the back of our land. Visitors were able to walk the length of the installation absorbing the names, and lives, and bearing witness to the unimaginable scale of the Pandemic, one life at a time. 

This project began when the United States passed the grim milestone of 100,000 dead. How could we become intimate with this unimaginably large number? We wanted to learn the names of people who had died of COVID-19. To do that our sangha combed through news reports, obituaries, social media and online memorials across the country. We found that learning about one person at a time was a deeply moving experience of connection. 

If any Branching Streams sanghas would like to make Covid Memorial Flags, our flag pattern is at We also have a limited number of flag-making kits to share. Each kit has white fabric, white cord, bells, names and instructions.  

Kigetsu Ramana Waymire and Tendo Stacy Waymire

More press coverage:

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Hybrid Zoom Zendo Workshop

Thanks to everyone who attended our July 17, 2021 Hybrid Zoom Zendo Workshop, where we explored some of the ways various sanghas are approaching a hybrid in-person/virtual approach in these changing days of Covid-19. We’ve made available the video of the workshop below, as well as a link to the detailed notes prepared by each of the 5 presenters, many of which have direct links to the videos they showed, or technology used.

A very special thanks to Sandra, Reirin, Laurie and Anne who invested the time to walk us through their zendo setups in such detail, and to all who attended and shared their insights and thoughts on the challenges and opportunities in this important part of our evolving sanghas.

And below, please find the notes, photos, presentation links from each of the presenters:

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Branching Streams Flow On in the Dark

May 22, 2021, 9 a.m. – noon PT

Abbreviated Program

Register Here!

Please note: this event is free for all Branching Stream affiliates and their members, but registration is required.

Welcoming words, Tova & MC Inryu Ponce-Barger, All Beings Zen, Washington DC

Tova Green, Branching Streams liaison, speaks on “Branching Streams Flow On in the Dark”

Introductory breakout groups

Video of Nature Images compiled by Teresa Bouza, Kannon Do Zen Center, CA

Konjin Gaelyn Godwin, Abbot of Houston Zen Center, speaks on “The Climate of Our Time”

Topical breakout groups:

  •  “Climate Chaos: How does it feel? What will we do?” facilitated by Eden Kevin Heffernan, Richmond Zen Center, VA    
  • “The Sacred Work of RacialJustice” facilitated by Joan Amaral, Zen Center North Shore, MA   
  • “Transitioning to Hybrid Zendo Offerings” facilitated by Jon Voss of Mid-City Zen, LA

Ceremony: Looking Back and Looking Forwardwith Douglas Floyd, Ancient Dragon Zen Gate, Chicago, IL; Michael Shinmon Newton, MountainRain Zen Sangha, Vancouver, BC; and Reirin Gumbel, Milwaukee ZC, WI.


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A Sangha Meets Birth and Death Ceremonially

A Sangha Meets Birth and Death Ceremonially

By Tova Green

In recent newsletters from Valley Streams Zen Sangha in Sacramento, California, I learned about two unusual ceremonies, one marking a birth and the other commemorating a death. I wanted to learn more about how these ceremonies originated. Jim Hare, the residing teacher, put me in touch with sangha members Doralee Grindler Katonah and Barbara Baccei, who agreed to meet with me by Zoom.

The Beginning of a Life

In the spring of 2020, after Valley Streams began to meet online, a new couple began participating regularly in sangha meetings. Sangha member Doralee reached out to them and offered them zazen instruction. During the pandemic they became pregnant with their second child. Doralee was excited to realize that there was a baby Buddha sitting with the sangha!  Most Valley Streams members are older and it had been many years since a sangha family had given birth. The pandemic has brought in a younger generation of practitioners.

Doralee wanted to find a way for the sangha to welcome the new baby.  She had the idea of adapting the Jizo Ceremony, usually offered at times of grief and loss, to this occasion. Her idea was to embed the ceremony in a half-day sitting.  The Sangha practice committee endorsed this Idea and asked Doralee to give a dharma talk about the meaning of the ceremony.

Doralee had read in Jan Chozen Bay’s book Jizo Bodhisattva that in medieval times Jizo was seen as a protector of children. In Japan there are “Jizo clubs” for pregnant women.  Doralee consulted two Bay Area Branching Streams teachers, Chris Fortin and Val Szymanski, who had experience with Jizo ceremonies. They confirmed Doralee’s sense of the significance of a child being born into a family that already knows the Buddha way. 

In preparation for the ceremony, Doralee met with the couple and their 11-year old daughter, guiding them to open their hearts and let their hands create an offering to Jizo (from craft materials), thus expressing their wish for a healthy birth. The family practiced bowing and learned the Jizo chant – Om Ka Ka Kabi San Ma Ei So Wa Ka. The ceremony was held after sitting in zazen all morning.  During the Ceremony each sangha member offered a blessing and later these were written on prayer flags and sent to the family. The mother gave birth on April 25th and sangha members are looking forward to greeting baby McKenzie.

The End of a Life

During the course of progressive illness with ALS, in June 2019, Bruce Baccei received the Bodhisattva precepts in a Jukai ceremony.  As a consequence of his illness, Bruce was unable to speak at that time.  In a moving ceremony, the phrases the initiate usually speaks were voiced by a “chorus” of Sangha members who had already received Jukai.

Bruce entered in-home hospice later that year and passed away on April 18, 2020.  During the months of in-home hospice, sangha members came to chant with him and Barbara at their home once a week. The sangha supported Barbara with a cremation ceremony and a 49-day memorial ceremony,

As the one-year anniversary approached, Dharma sister Sarah O’Gara, who was visiting Barbara said, “We’re all missing Bruce,” and they began to plan for an event in his memory. Bruce had loved outdoor activities, especially biking and sailing. They decided to invite sangha members to bike or hike a three-mile path that Bruce had biked to and from his job every day. 

This memorial event on April 18 iwas the first in-person sangha gathering in over a year, due to the pandemic. Sangha members met in a grove on the Sacramento State University campus, walked or biked the route, and then picnicked in the park and shared memories of Bruce. Due to Covid restrictions sangha members wore masks and brought their own lunches. Barbara had been in grief and recovery for a year. She described the gathering as heart-opening and healing. Many sangha members had experienced loss during the last year. She said, “Connecting with the suffering of others opened me up to a new ability to be responsive to others’ pain.”  

The weather was perfect. What could have been a day of sorrow for Barbara and the Valley Streams sangha became a day of joy. 

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May We Gather

This guest post by Gaelyn Godwin, Abbot of Houston Zen Center, was originally published on the Houston Zen Center blog.

A broken lotus flower, repaired at the gathering with gold. This is a symbol of strength and beauty after breakage.
A broken lotus flower, repaired at the gathering with gold. This is a symbol of strength and beauty after breakage.

Friends, our sangha was one of the original sponsors of May We Gather: A National Buddhist Memorial Ceremony for Asian American Ancestors. Buddhists of Asian descent from all Buddhist traditions in the US gathered at Higashi Honganji, in Los Angeles, which was recently vandalized. 49 Buddhists speakers gave teachings on practice, and how we can heal from violence and the causes of violence that have rocked our country: the violence that has been shown to Asian Americans for decades.

The ceremony took place on May 4th, 49 days after a gunman killed 8 people, including 6 Asian women in the Atlanta area. One of the most moving testimonies was in the form of a video by the sons of one of the women.

You can read an article about the ceremony: Learning to Heal in the Wake of Anti-Asian Attacks here. You can watch the full video of the ceremony here.

May all beings be peaceful and free from suffering, hatred, delusion, and greed.

With palms together,

Abbot Gaelyn

Candles for victims of violence against Asian Americans.
Candles for victims of violence against Asian Americans.
Monastics and Dharma teachers of Asian descent from all Buddhist traditions in the US gathered in Los Angeles for this momentous ceremony.
Monastics and Dharma teachers of Asian descent from all Buddhist traditions in the US gathered in Los Angeles for this momentous ceremony.
Leaving the ceremony, connected by the long thread originating from the Buddha.
Leaving the ceremony, connected by the long thread originating from the Buddha.
Entering the ceremony.
Entering the ceremony.
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Mountain Rain Zen Community April Newsletter

Anna’s hummingbird   Calypte anna
Dear sangha friends,

We hope you are spending time outdoors, enjoying the spring flowers and somewhat warmer days. It’s an ongoing practice of finding ways to stay grounded and connected, as of us some get their vaccinations, others continue to wait, and infection rates remain high. You can read commentary on the pandemic everywhere, so instead of adding more, we’d like to share one thing that has helped us get through the past year: watching hummingbirds! 

Here in coastal BC the Anna’s hummingbird stays year-round. This small marvel has extended its range northward over the past 50 years. Kate saw her first in mid-winter, in Lighthouse Park, West Vancouver soon after moving from New Brunswick in 1977, and could not believe her eyes. How could a hummingbird live through the winter? As she watched, it repeatedly darted out from its perch and snatched tiny gnats from the air. Mystery solved.

Anna’s hummers arrived here on Blue Mountain about seven years ago, and have been a source of daily delight ever since.The males flash their iridescent magenta head feathers in the sun. The females are the earliest nesting bird in North America, and just this past week we saw a fledgling at the feeder. Also, a few days ago we saw the first flashy male rufous hummer, returning from wintering in Mexico–no quarantine required. They arrive reliably every year just when we see the first pink salmonberry blossoms, and the females a week or so later. Soon the yard will be buzzing with hummer activity–feeding, display flights and chases. 

How can we humans take ourselves quite so seriously when hummingbirds are around? Yes, we need to find our way forward, and address the serious and urgent issues of climate and social justice that will continue beyond the pandemic. And we need to do that well-rooted in our dharma practice and insight, with wisdom, compassion and skillful means. But we need not only, our formal meditation practice in the zendo, but direct experience of the world around us, the more-than-human world of such wonder, diversity and resilience. The mountains and waters, red cedars, hummingbirds, salmon, and dragonflies are our source and sustenance, our teachers. 

Let’s celebrate Earth Day by going outdoors with a companion or two, and re-sourcing ourselves. And joining in community to take skillful action.

Myoshin Kate and Shinmon Michael

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Dharma Gates are Boundless

The Milwaukee Zen Center recently published Dharma Gates Are Boundless, a book with vibrant art work by a member of a prison sangha and essays by ten contemporary Soto Zen teachers. Royalties from book sales are collected for the artist, MC Winston. It’s available through Amazon for $19.50. Here is the link.