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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.

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New Book: Clean Slate, by Marcia Lieberman

Clean Slate by Marcia Lieberman
Clean Slate by Marcia Lieberman

Marcia Lieberman has authored a new book, Clean Slate: Images from Dogen’s Garden. Here is a blurb from Dale Wright, author of The Six Perfections: Buddhism and the Cultivation of Character: It’s hard to imagine a more apt portal to the heart of Dogen’s Soto Zen sensibility than Marcia Lieberman’s Clean Slate. Her brilliant photographs isolate fragments of plants from Dogen’s Japanese gardens in various stages of life’s impermanence so vividly that the fragrance seeps through the medium. Breathe in: black pine, camelia, wisteria, magnolia. Responses from five lifelong Dogen affectionados and an introductory doorway to Dogen from Soto teacher Taigen Leighton let the extraordinary Zen master and these botanical sentient beings speak to us directly. Just breathe, savoring “mountains and waters”– no translation required.

See more on the book, including a letter from Marcia Lieberman introducing the book, here.