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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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Which Side Are You On: An Interview with Ryan Lee Wong

Book cover and Ryan Lee
Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan

I met Ryan Wong in April at the Branching Streams Conference in Austin, Texas, which Ryan attended in his role as Director of the Brooklyn Zen Center. When I learned that he is a writer as well as a Zen student, the idea for this interview arose. His novel, Which Side Are You On, was published by Catapult Books on October 4, 2022.

Ryan first had the idea that sparked his novel around 2015 when he was living in Brooklyn, NY, and was involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. A pivotal moment was the event involving Peter Liang, a Chinese American police officer who shot and killed Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man. It was shocking to Ryan how many Chinese Americans supported Gurley, and how this caused a huge rift in the Asian American community.

Although Ryan had known that his mother had been involved in Black-Korean organizing in the 1980s in L.A., that work had been overshadowed by the 1992 uprising. He wanted to learn some history and decided to write a novel because “fiction is a way to tell a story without taking a side. I could explore the more emotional and social sides of the story.”

What interested Ryan is that both his parents had been long-time activists, community organizers, and teachers and they had made a conscious effort not to speak about their politics or impose them on him. Some of their friends had tried to involve their children in politics, but they didn’t like going to protests and meetings with their parents and took more conservative paths.

Many of his parents’ activist experiences had been difficult and painful, hard to explain to a young child—for example, some of their friends had been murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1979. Both Ryan and his parents had to be ready to share these stories.

In writing the novel, Ryan considered ways to engage his potential readers. “The main thing I had to create was dramatic stakes for the main character. It doesn’t come naturally for me. A reader doesn’t have any investment in opening a novel. You have to tell them what the stakes are for the character. In Zen language, Reed, the protagonist, has to see the image of himself as a successful activist crumble.”

Ryan attended an MFA program in Fiction Writing at Rutgers from 2017 to 2019 to immerse himself in reading fiction and learn the craft of writing. He and his fellow students took apart famous stories and each other’s stories. “If you’re doing your job well as a writer, all of that is hidden from the reader. Your job is to make the machine work, so the reader doesn’t have to think about it.”

His Zen practice and his writing practice are inseparable. “I can’t picture one without the other. I see my writing practice as Eihei Dogen’s teaching, ‘To study the self is to forget the self.’ Writing is one of the ways I can see my karma and articulate it. As soon as I see my karma, I’m changing. In fiction, one character can illustrate this process. As soon as they learn something about themself they have to choose whether to hold on to that identity or let it go.” At the start of the novel, the main character, Reed, who is very entrenched in his political beliefs, often alienates the people close to him with his self-righteousness.

Ryan sees writing as a compassion practice. “If I’m not able to be compassionate toward my characters the writing suffers. The hardest character was Reed. Six years ago I was more like Reed than I am now. For me it’s often hardest to be compassionate with people who are going through what I recently went through. It involves turning toward part of myself that has been hard to accept. But there’s no turning away. As soon as you turn away, the reader can tell. As readers, we have very sophisticated truth detectors. We want the writer to be honest.”

Ryan spoke about the ways in which the novel explores generational trauma. “A key component of the plot is Reed’s understanding of his inheritance. He’s not just an individual. He’s tied to this particular ancestry. In the beginning he sees himself as an individual and makes choices from that place. As the novel goes on, he still has to make choices, but it’s from understanding his family’s history, Korean history, a history of organizing and struggle. Learning about this from his parents entirely changes his world view as well as his view of his parents.”

I asked whether Ryan writes poetry. “As fiction writers, we’re trained to be specific, to capture details. Even though a novel is long, it’s made out of sentences. Poetry shows you how to do that—not waste words, be precise with language, build an image. A house should be made of solid bricks.”

Ryan spoke about the discipline it took to work on his novel in the midst of a full life. “A big part of finishing this novel was building a writing routine. Between 2016 and 2019 I tried to write every single morning. At first, writing takes a lot of practice—like preparing for a long run or learning to play an instrument.” He wrote the final draft during the summer of 2020 while following the monastic schedule at Ancestral Heart, Brooklyn Zen Center’s country temple. Though the schedule began early in the morning, there was a two-hour break in the afternoon. “I’d swim in the quarry, think about what I would write, then type it out for half an hour or so.”

“Writing is a solitary practice, but for me it’s not lonely. At every stage I’ve felt community—the writing community, the arts community, and the sangha. The container and stillness and mirroring of sangha has been essential to my writing.”

This summer, for the third time, Ryan attended the annual retreat with Kundiman, an organization dedicated to providing a nurturing space for Asian American writers. “I learned to really give myself permission to be a writer at these retreats. Growing up, it didn’t occur to me that I could be a writer, because most of the books I read in school were by long-deceased European writers. I didn’t know many writers, let alone Asian American writers. It was essential to be with peers who were doing just that. The world of books is so much more diverse than it was twenty years ago. It’s exciting to be a writer now. It feels like it’s part of being a wave or a movement.”

Before Ryan began writing fiction he was an art critic and was more comfortable with non-fiction. Since finishing Which Side Are You On he has written some essays and personal reflections and a short story about a character who is just starting to meditate and is struggling with his mind.

This Spring, Ryan left the monastery and returned to Brooklyn. “Back in Brooklyn the myriad things are coming up all the time. I’m a different person than before my two years of training at Ancestral Heart. I have more grounding and stability. It’s more fun now to be in New York, because if there’s a place that doesn’t conform to your preferences, it’s New York City.”

Before beginning Zen practice with Brooklyn Zen Center in 2015, Ryan tried a few other Dharma centers. “I stuck with Brooklyn Zen Center because I was attracted to the mix of social engagement and dharma.” His teacher is Kosen Greg Snyder, from whom he received the precepts in Fall 2019. His dharma name is Churyu Hongo / Faithful Dragon, Original Home.

Ryan will give a reading at San Francisco’s Booksmith on Haight Street on November 7. For readings in New York, Los Angeles, and other venues see his website.

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Meet Alan Senauke, Berkeley Zen Center’s Second Abbot

Hozan Alan Senauke

Hozan Alan Senauke and I met soon after he became Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in 1991. Meeting him inspired me to practice Zen at Berkeley Zen Center. I joined the Board of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and later the staff, and worked closely with him. Hozan became a mentor to me as my commitment to Zen practice grew, and I was delighted to meet with him for this interview.

We met in the Abbot’s room at Berkeley Zen Center, focusing on what it’s like to be the Abbot, his transition to that role, and his vision for Berkeley Zen Center.

Hozan began practicing at Berkeley Zen Center (BZC) in its earliest location on Dwight Way and later established his practice as a student of Sojun Mel Weitsman in the early 1980s. He was ordained as a Zen priest at BZC in 1989 and received Dharma Transmission from Sojun Roshi at Tassajara in 1998. After serving as Tanto (Head of Practice) and then as Vice-Abbot at BZC, Hozan was installed as Abbot in January 2021.

He is the second Abbot in BZC’s 55 years, following Sojun Roshi’s long tenure as founder and teacher. Because he has been practicing at BZC for so long, Hozan was familiar with Sojun’s way, and was well-known by the BZC sangha. When Sojun became ill, he and Hozan created a small group of senior students who helped think through the transition, including the ceremonies of Sojun’s stepping down and Hozan’s mountain seat (Abbot installation ceremony).

Sojun was weakening by the time of an emotional Stepping Down ceremony in late October 2020. He died at home on January 7, 2021. Hozan’s Mountain Seat Ceremony took place three weeks later. Hozan noted, “Because the sangha had seen us working together closely over so many years, members were able to support the change in leadership even while grieving Sojun’s death.”

Taking into account Covid precautions, the mostly online Mountain Seat ceremony was challenging to organize. “However, due to the pandemic, we were already in a hunkered-down mode. The community has pulled together during the pandemic. Things have been stable at BZC over the past year and a half, returning to our traditional practice in the context of safety, although some people may feel we’re too lax and some that we’re moving too slowly.”

Hozan reflects, “It’s hard to take on an abbot’s responsibility for a busy center at age 74. Many of my peers are retiring. It’s not only hard physically, it’s challenging to figure out my/our vision for sustaining practice at this practice place, and how to continue Sojun Roshi’s practice. Our leadership cadre is relatively old. The next generation is here, but the circumstances are different for younger people. They need more money to get by than we needed thirty years ago. It is more difficult [for them] to immerse themselves in practice than when I was coming up.”

Hozan came to Zen practice in his thirties “after seeming to come to the end of the script for my life. I had done many things—working as an editor, driving a taxi, performing music, and doing various low-level jobs that were not particularly satisfying. I felt that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. Then I threw myself into Zen practice.” Hozan has been a resident at BZC since 1985.

Around the time he turned forty, a number of things shifted in his life. “I survived a serious illness. I was ordained as a priest in May 1989. I married Laurie later that year and soon became a parent. Then, in 1991, I was hired as director of Buddhist Peace Fellowship.” From that time on, his life and work activities have aligned with his values. Alan and Laurie (who is also a dharma-transmitted priest) raised their children Silvie and Alex, who are now young adults, at BZC.

Coming into the Abbot’s role, Hozan is learning to prioritize and delegate temple responsibilities and there is a strong cohort of senior students who have been practicing together for many years. Some aspects of Hozan’s activities are more difficult to share directly. Like Sojun, he has a long relationship with Sotoshu here in the U.S. Soto bishop, or sokan Gengo Akiba Roshi has been a mentor since Sojun’s passing. Hozan’s commitment to international and interfaith activism is something he longs to share in his extended network of friends and fellow practitioners.

During his years at BPF, Hozan became involved with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB). Rich friendships and connections through INEB have led to solidarity and support for the democracy movement in Myanmar, teaching in communities of Dalit Buddhists in India, and—here in the U.S.—working in prisons and protesting the death penalty. This work is described in two of Hozan’s books, The Bodhisattva’s Embrace—Dispatches from Engaged Buddhism’s Front Lines and Heirs to Ambedkar—The Rebirth of Engaged Buddhism in India. He is also founding director of the Clear View Project, which works on humanitarian projects in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand, India, and the U.S. So far in 2022, Clear View has distributed $60,000 to projects and trusted friends around the world.

Hozan sees his vision for the future of Berkeley Zen Center as an extension of Sojun Roshi’s pioneering commitment to lay Zen practice, learning from our traditional teachers as well as from the diverse communities of the East Bay. In the coming months, BZC is beginning a program developed by East Bay Meditation Center and SZBA entitled “Many Communities One Sangha.” This educational process is aimed at enhancing diversity, strengthening communication skills, examining biases, and gaining confidence in our ability to respond to each other through skillful means.

In the long run, Hozan hopes to encourage a new generation of leadership at BZC, developing younger and BIPOC practitioners to sustain the teaching of Suzuki Roshi’s way and administration of the temple. He would also like to see BZC in relationship with diverse congregations of different faiths in the Bay Area.

Speaking of Branching Streams, the network of Zen Centers and sanghas in the Suzuki Roshi lineage, Hozan says, “The proliferation of Suzuki Roshi’s tradition is astonishing to me.” He is contributing to this, having inspired a practice group in Kerala, India, and given dharma transmission to two students who have a zendo and hospice in northern Germany.

Hozan also makes time to write. His forthcoming book, Turning Words: Transformative Encounters with Buddhist Teachers, will be published by Shambhala in March 2023. And he always takes great pleasure in playing traditional music with good friends.

Berkeley Zen Center is very fortunate to have Hozan as their Abbot.

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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.