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Newsette 5-9-2024

This Newsette highlights expressions of the dharma through writing and art by members of Branching Streams sanghas, and more widely.

First, however, some Branching Streams news:

Welcome to new affiliate, Oceans Compassion in San Francisco. Oceans Compassion has grown over the last two and a half years and just celebrated its first Jukai ceremony. Founding and guiding teacher Steven Tierney was ordained by Dairyu Michael Wenger and received dharma transmission from Ryotan Cynthia Kear, guiding teacher of Great Spirit Sangha.

Since the 2023 Gathering in Santa Cruz, the Branching Streams Advisory Group and I have been following up on some issues that were explored at the Gathering. We have been focusing on how Branching Streams sanghas support their teachers. We created a survey that I sent two days ago to over 70 teachers. We think the results will be helpful to teachers, board members and sanghas experiencing teacher transitions, as well as more broadly. We will summarize the results and share them on the Branching Streams website.

Arts and Letters

Ryan Wong, the Director of Brooklyn Zen Center, relates, in his personal newsletter, “On Chanting, Protest and Faith,” his morning practice at Brooklyn Zen Center’s Ancestral Heart monastery with the experience of joining a student march in Manhattan this week in solidarity with Palestine.

An exhibit of Blythe King’s artwork, “Time Beings,” opened recently at the Eric Schindler Gallery in Richmond, VA. Richmond Zen sangha member Blythe’s collages “give expression to her ongoing de/re-construction of our images of women as re/de-fracted through the lens of Zen practice. This exhibit specifically explores Dogen Zenji’s teaching on time, in which he directs our awareness from our usual sense of time as “merely flying away,” to an understanding that “time itself is being, and all being is time.” This view brings an urgent vitality to every moment of being.”

“Are You Really Present All the Time?” – an article   by Kaishin Victory Matsui discussing a modern koan about waking up in this lifetime – was recently published in Tricycle. Kaishin. a priest of the Brooklyn Zen Center sangha, currently serves as the Director of Brooklyn Zen Center’s Ancestral Heart Temple, in Millerton, New York.

Lien Shutt, founding and guiding teacher of Access to Zen in the San Francisco Bay Area, has been hosting a podcast series available on the Access to Zen website. On May 1, in honor of Asian and Pacific Island month, she posted an interview with the 2024 May We Gather co-organizers, Funie Hsu, Chenxing Han, and Duncan Ryuken Williams. Lien will be co-hosting the next series of podcasts with Dana Takagi, who trained at Santa Cruz Zen Center.

Lion’s Roar just launched “Bodhi Leaves: The Asian American Buddhist Monthly” written and edited by Asian American Buddhists. Editors Noel Alumit and Mihiri Tillakaratne write, “Bodhi Leaves centers Asian American experience and is part of a larger movement creating a more inclusive American Buddhism.”

Turning toward summer

The Tassajara guest season began on April 30. The first Branching Streams sangha to go for a Sangha Week was Zen Heart Sangha from Woodside, CA. Twenty-five Branching Streams sanghas will be enjoying Sangha Weeks at Tassajara this summer.

Dharma Rain Zen Center in Portland OR offers a Buddhist Summer Camp for children. Dharma Camp, from July 21 to 26, is “an overnight summer camp for kids aged nine through eighteen who are interested in Buddhism. The camp experience combines traditional camp activities, such as swimming, crafts, sports, and a campfire, with Buddhist practices like meditation, a chanted morning service, silent breakfast, and mindful work practice. Campers come from a variety of traditions and have different levels of familiarity with Buddhism but are willing to participate in our forms for the week of camp.” Please spread the word if you know families who may be interested.

I hope you are enjoying the colors and fragrances of spring.

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Newsette 5-2-2024

Earlier this week I returned from nearly two weeks of vacation in Rome and Venice. In Rome I visited Dario Girolami, Abbot of Centro Zen l’Arco and his wife Annalisa Miglioni, enjoyed many walks with them in the ancient and modern streets of the city, and practiced with Dario and the sangha.

I went to Venice for the opening of the Biennale, an international display of art that occurs every two years. This year’s theme was Strangers Everywhere, and many artists created work related to the experiences of migration, refugees, and the impact of colonialism.

Several Branching Streams teachers and sanghas participated in the April pilgrimage to Eiheiji and Sojiji Japan to honor the 700th Anniversary of Keizan Zenji, the founder of Sojiji, and many were able to visit Rinso-in, Suzuki Roshi’s family temple. Houston Zen Center’s Abbot Konjin Gaelyn Godwin reported on the pilgrimage, including some wonderful photos.

In the latest Mountain Rain Zen Community (Vancouver, BC) newsletter, co-guiding teacher Kate McCandless writes: “I want to say something about the war in Gaza, and beyond, the war that is all wars, the dead children that are all the children killed in wars – and at the same time this war, and this child, and this one. Like so many others, I am heart-broken at the news every day.” If you would like to read more, here’s a link to the Mountain Rain newsletter.

Kate invites us to listen to a Ted Talk given in Vancouver by “two men of tremendous courage and heart, a Palestinian, Aziz Abu Sarah, and an Israeli, Maoz Inon, both of whom have lost family members in the conflict, and both of whom are whole-heartedly working for peace. Their conversation opened TED2024 in Vancouver April 15.” Click here for link 

Djinn Gallagher, resident teacher at Black Mountain Zen Centre in Befast, Northern Ireland, writes that Paul Haller from San Francisco Zen Center is offering two workshops this Saturday, May 4, in person and online. The first, at 10 am, is The Essentials of Zazen, which will explore the awareness of posture, breath, and mental/emotional activity. The second, The Path of Zen, at 2 pm, investigates how to let the insights that have been revealed guide us to bring kindness and wisdom into our life. 

The current Brooklyn Zen Center newsletter includes a beautiful description of the coming of spring at Ancestral Heart temple, Brooklyn Zen Center’s monastery in Millerton, NY written by a student named Larissa P.

Also, Brooklyn Zen Center is offering a new class with co-guiding teacher Kosen Gregory Snyder, Karma and Collective Liberation, in person at the Millerton Zendo and online, during eight consecutive Thursday evenings from 6:45 to 8:30pm, June 13 – August 1. Registration is now open!

Valley Streams Zen Sangha in Sacramento CA celebrated a Jukai Ceremony in April. Malia McCarthy received the Dharma name Hō Etsu/Dharma Joy.  Dave Jarrell received the Dharma name Kō Shin/Generous Heart.  Myō Lahey, Abbot of Hartford Street Zen Center in San Francisco was the preceptor. Guiding teacher Jim Hare gave the dharma names and prepared the rakusus and documents. He reported, “Many people pitched in to set up the hall and hold a reception afterwards.  It was a lovely day.”

Joan Amaral, guiding teacher of Zen Center North Shore in Beverly MA, recommends a new book by Tim Ream, Fallen Water: A Novel of Zen and Earth. Joan says, “I just finished it, and was deeply moved by his thorough and compassionate view of beings – plants, birds, stars, fire, water, earth, animals, and humans. I think others might enjoy it, possibly recognizing with fresh eyes aspects of their own practice and training at Tassajara as I did.” The book is  available in print and on Kindle here.

This month’s event in the Soto Zen Buddhist Associations yearlong series, Celebrating the Voices of Women in Buddhism, Yesterday, today, and tomorrow is a talk by Eijun Linda Cutts on Receiving the Marrow by Bowing, Raihai Tokuzui on Sunday May 11, 12:30 to 2 p.m. PDT, on Zoom. Eijun says, “Besides his unfolding of the issue of gender in relation to the Dharma of nonduality and in the choosing of a guiding teacher, Dogen does not hold back in his diatribe and strong admonishment of the biased practices of the time in relation to women…” There will be time for discussion and Q&A. Registration is now open to all who are interested, including your sangha members.

I welcome news you would like to share with other sanghas. I also welcome your comments and feedback about these newsettes.

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Newsette 4-10-2024

I sent my last Newsette on March 21, just before I left to visit Montana de Silencio in Medellin, Colombia. In that Newsette I wrote that Tassajara resident Caroline Meister had been missing for several days. On March 22, the day I arrived in Colombia, her body was found after an extensive search and rescue effort. For those of you who knew Caroline, a Buddhist funeral for her will be held on Sunday May 5 at 3:00 p.m. at Green Gulch Farm. It will be livestreamed for those who can’t attend in person. More details to follow.

Caroline was a student of Jiryu Rutschman Byler, the Green Gulch Farm abiding Abbot, as well as the guiding teacher for Montana de Silencio. He and I had planned to travel together and, with local guiding teacher Sanriki Jaramillo, to conduct a priest ordination and a Jukai ceremony, and lead a four-day sesshin. Jiryu felt that he needed to be available to those who were grieving at Green Gulch and to Caroline’s family and postponed the priest ordination to a future time.

I will write more about my stay in Medellin, the grief and the joy. Meanwhile, here are the names of the of the seven bodhisattvas who received the precepts in the Jukai at Montaña de Silencio on March 31: Luz Amparo Hena, HeiGetsu MyoKan, Luna Pacífica Beneficio de la Barrera; Gustavo Adolfo Montoya, JuRiki ShuSo, Poder de la Suavidad Proteger la Sangha; Julian David Posada, JiMon ShuSho, Escucha Compasiva/ Proteger la vidas (seres);Lorena Jaramillo, HeiKai JoKo, Mar pacífico (tranquilo) Realizar los estable; Alejandra Vaquez, GenJu AnShin, Perla oculta Paz del corazón; David Usuga, KanGyo ShoKi, Acción perfecta (completa) Energía de creación; Julio Bueno, JuGyo JoDo, Acción Suave (tierna) Camino Estable.

April is being ushered in by Buddha’s Birthday ceremonies in many sanghas. At City Center we had a festive ceremony, including families with children, in the Conference Center and across the street in Koshland Park.

In the second half of April, teachers and sangha members from many Branching Streams groups will be visiting Japan to attend the 700 year anniversary and commemoration of Keizan Zenji’s life and teaching organized by the Soto Zen International Center. Several will also visit Rinso-In, Suzuki Roshi’s family temple. Please send photos and brief reports for a future Newsette!

Welcome to a new Branching Streams affiliate, Sellwood Soto Zen in Portland OR, whose co-guiding teachers are Cynthia Ziegler and Kirk Phillips. Cynthia and Kirk received dharma transmission in March 2023 from Peter van der Sterre at Oak Street Zendo in San Francisco.

Austin Zen Center is launching a monthly Queer Dharma group. Also, inspired by the offering at Mid City Zen in New Orleans, AZC is offering another Universal Ceasefire Sitting on Saturday April 20. “We invite everyone to support and join us in our commitment to non-violence in ourselves and the world. We will sit zazen in peace and silence, concluding with the Metta Lovingkindness Sutta. We will dedicate our practice to the cessation of hatred and lasting peace everywhereREAD MORE

This month’s event in the Soto Zen Buddhist Associations yearlong series, Celebrating the Voices of Women in Buddhism, Yesterday, today, and tomorrow is The Body as a Doorway to Practice, with four panelists with different embodied experiences: Gyakuden Steph Blank, Dr. Grace Dammann, Karen DeCotis, and Susan Moon. The event is online-only via Zoom. Registration is now open to all who are interested, including your sangha members.

To end on a lighter note, Richmond (VA) Zen Center is having a movie night, screening my own current favorite film, Perfect Days, a film by Wim Wenders. Guiding teacher Eden Heffernan writes, “A perfect expression of Dogen’s teaching on uji, “being time, Wim Wender’s award winning film continues his life-long exploration of the human experience of time and meaning…Wenders’ eye for intimate detail results in films that reveal words using very few words.”

I will be travelling to Rome and Venice from April 14 to 28 and will send my next Newsette in early May.

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Newsette 3-21-2024

I wasn’t planning to send a Newsette this week, as I’m leaving for Medellin tonight, but there are two very time-sensitive matters that you may want to know about.

Some of you may have heard that a Tassajara student, Carolyn Meister, has been missing for several days since leaving the valley on a hike. There are many people involved in search and rescue efforts. We are doing daily wellbeing ceremonies for Caroline. Please hold her in your thoughts.

I want to share with you a message from Abbots Mako Voelkel and David Zimmerman: “We wanted to be sure that you knew of Kaiji Jeffrey Schneider’s passing, and that you receive an invitation to his Memorial. His practice at San Francisco Zen Center spans decades, and so many of you might remember Jeffrey.

“Held by Jeffrey’s family, there will be a Memorial on Saturday, March 23rd in the Parish Hall of St. Francis Lutheran Church,152 Church Street in San Francisco. The doors will open at 9:30 am, and service is from 9:45–11:00 am. 

“There are many ways to honor Jeffrey in his passing – there is a fundraising effort to install a memorial bench in the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and also several local organizations that Jeffrey significantly cared for.  More information about the Memorial and ways to give are found here. 

May all the ways that Jeffrey gave of himself lighten the heart and continue.”

And I want to note a correction to my last Newsette: The guiding teacher of Red Cedar Zen Community is Nomon Tim Burnett. Tim Burkett is a Senior Teacher at Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in Minneapolis. I

May you be well.

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Newsette 3-15-2024

Today I will be attending May We Gather, a national pilgrimage to honor our Asian American Ancestors. It will be held in Antioch, CA, a small city in the East Bay, starting at 1 p.m. PDT, and will be livestreamed.

Why Antioch? Their website explains: “When our Chinese immigrant ancestors came to the United States in the 19t century, we faced acts of exclusion and destruction. We remember the scapegoating of Chinese women that incited the burning of Antioch Chinatown in 1876, and the subsequent loss of a temple on Wyatt Street. In 2021, Antioch became the first city in the United States to sign a formal apology acknowledging its history of discrimination against its Asian American Community.”

From the Pacific Northwest, two celebrations and a mourning:

Seattle Soto Zen’s guiding priest Allison Tait and Nomon Tim Burkett, the guiding teacher at Red Cedar Zen Community in Bellingham WA, held a Jukai Ceremony in Seattle on February 25 for Susan Hautala, whose new name is Kaikyo Zenshin, Ocean Mirror, Whole Heart and Chris LaTerza, whose new name is Myozan Junshin, Wondrous Mountain, Sincere Heart.

On March 3, Mountain Rain Zen Community held a Jukai Ceremony for five students. Co-guiding teachers Shinmon Michael Newton and Myoshin Kate McCandless officiated. “Because we have a relationship with the Vancouver Buddhist Temple, a Jodo Shinshu Temple founded in 1906, and Rev. Aoki, he generously let us hold the ceremony in their spacious main hall, so that we didn’t have to limit attendance. Like weddings, some people weep with joy, and many renew their vows along with those receiving the precepts. 

The students and their new dharma names are Moe Zakzouk, Shiryū Daishin, Branching Stream, Magnanimous Heart; Wynnie Smithies, Jifū Kūdō, Compassionate Wind Boundless Way; Seph King, Myōshin Shinkyo, Bright Forest, True Abode; Jason Dunphy, Myōrin Sōyū Bright Presence, Original Friend; and Nik Bladey, MyōKai Tetsugen, Wondrous Ocean, Penetrating Source

A message from Red Cedar Zen Community: “Our senior priest Edie Norton died in the early morning on March 5. She passed peacefully at home with family nearby. At Edie’s request, a few members of the sangha sat with her body the day that she died, sometimes meditating in silence, sometimes sharing stories, gratitude and laughter. Edie was dressed in her exquisite hand-sewn priest’s robes.”  

The next offering in the Soto Zen Buddhist Association’s monthly presentations in the series Celebrating the Voices of Women in Buddhism is The Body as a Doorway to Practice

on Saturday April 13, from 3:30 to 5 pm ET. Click here for more information

San Francisco Zen Center is hiring an AR & AP Specialist to work at our Page Street location. See this job description. Interested candidates can send a cover letter and resume to humanresources@sfzc.org.

On the Spring Equinox, March21, I will be going to visit Montana de Silencio Zen Community in Medellin, Columbia. I’ll be assisting guiding teacher Jiryu RutschmanByler (who is the Abiding Abbot at Green Gulch Farm) and resident teacher Sanriki Jaramillo with a Jukai Ceremony, a priest ordination, and a sesshin. I’m looking forward to meeting sangha members and practicing with them – as well as visiting a city and a country I’ve never been to. I will be back on April 2, and will send my next Newsette that week.

May you thrive as buds unfold, spring flowers blossom, and the days grow longer.

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Newsette 3-6-2024

It’s the beginning of Women’s History Month. Many sanghas are offering ceremonies honoring Mahapajapiti this month, our first woman ancestor, some in conjunction with International Women’s Day on March 8.

This Newsette begins with an update about Hozan Alan Senauke. Many of us are holding Hozan in our thoughts and including him in our well-being ceremonies.

I’ve included news from Branching Streams centers in Belfast, Northern Ireland; Vancouver, BC; Chicago, and New Orleans, a message from the Buddhist Election Retreat Organizing Committee, and descriptions of two residential retreats happening this summer in the U.S., one on the East Coast, the other on the West Coast.

This update about Hozan Alan’s Senauke’s condition was written by Laurie Senauke on February 19: “It’s been eight weeks since Abbot Hozan Aan Senauke experienced a cardiac arrest while being hospitalized for complications from surgery. After spending most of January unconscious, Hozan began to wake up – first with eye contact and hand squeezes, then by gradually finding his voice again and interacting more and more fully with visitors. Silvie, Genpo, and I are very encouraged by the progress he has continued to make.” Hozan is now at Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital in Marin County. To keep up with the latest developments, visit the “Journal” section at Hozan’s CaringBridge site.

Paul Haller will be visiting Black Mountain Zen Centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland from April 23 to May 5. He will lead a sesshin at Ards Friary, April 23-28, which still has places available: click here for more information, and will teach two workshops and participate in the BMZC schedule during his visit. All events will be both in person and online. For more information, check their calendar.

In the Mountain Rain Zen Community (Vancouver, BC) newsletter, co-guiding teacher Myoshin Kate McCandless describes a way in which their sangha encourages a wide range of voices to be heard. Sangha members are invited to give “Zed talks,” 20-to-30-minute informal talks about how they take their practice into everyday life through work, activism, art, teaching, parenting or other ways.

Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago will be hosting an online Dharma talk with Paula Arai, on the topic “Women Wielding Liberating Power,” on Sunday March 17, following zazen, from 9:30 to 11:30 CT. Dr. Arai, a prominent Buddhist scholar, heads the Soto Zen Program at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley.

On February 28, Mid City Zen in New Orleans LA joined an interfaith prayer vigil and press conference in Baton Rouge to call for an end of the death penalty in Louisiana. Read the statement from Mid City Zen Board regarding the death penaltyhere.

The Buddhist Election Retreat organizing committee is devoting themselves this year, as they have since 2004, to getting out the vote for Democratic candidates in swing states. Their Zoom kickoff event is Sunday, March 24 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. PT. Here’s the link to their webpage.

Looking ahead to summer here are two retreats:

Red Cedar Zen Community in Bellingham WA recently announced their annual Samish Island sesshin, which will be led by Zoketsu Norman Fisher from June 14 to 22.

Kosen Gregory Snyder and Shingetsu Laura O’Loughlin will co-lead Brooklyn Zen Center’s annual week-long summer retreat at the Watershed Retreat Center, “an opportunity to deepen practice through living communally on a 73 acre farm adjacent to a state forest. The retreat will culminate with Shukke Tokudo (priest ordination) for two sangha members.

With gratitude for our shared practice,

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Newsette 2-21-2024

I began writing this Newsette while visiting Austin Zen Center and planned to finish it and send it after I returned to City Center a week ago. The day after I returned, long-time resident Jeffrey Schneider died. This was a shock for many of us. Jeffrey’s network, particularly in the Recovery community, was wide, and some of you reading this may have known him and may be hearing this for the first time. If so, please be gentle with yourself. Here is a link to San Francisco Zen Center’s announcement on Sangha News.

I found it difficult to focus on writing last week and this Newsette is a week later than I intended it to be. The week I spent in Austin included the Lunar New Year and I want to share an offering from Two Streams Zen Sanctuary in Westhampton, MA, a teaching from Zen Master Dae Kwan. You will find the entire teaching here.

Dragon Needs Space

Happy New Year of the Dragon!

Dragons need space to move. This year is a great year for us to wake up to our original mind, which is like space and clear. Then, we can use this space to live our lives freely with wisdom and can support each other without any conflict or hindrances.

I was invited to visit Austin Zen Center by guiding teacher Choro Antonaccio. We planned ways that I could support her, as she is the only priest, and the sangha during my visit. I followed the daily schedule, offered practice discussions, met with several board members, led a one-day sitting and gave a dharma talk on “Finding Spaciousness in Challenging Times.” A sangha member and I convened a meeting for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, which was well-attended and joyful.

The incoming teacher for San Antonio Zen Center, Karen de Kotis, and long-time SAZC board member Heather Martin drove to Austin to meet with me. Choro and I drove to Houston Zen Center on the last day of my visit to attend their Sunday program and stopped at Auspicious Coud, their country retreat center, so that I could see it. I had last visited all three centers in March, 2020, at the start of the Covid pandemic. It was wonderful to see and hear that all three are thriving.

What follows is news from Brattleboro Zen Center in Vermont and Zen Center North Shore in Massachusetts, an invitation to read three recently published books by Branching Streams authors, and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association’s March Voices of Women in Buddhism offering..

“I thought you might appreciate this article in our local newspaper,” writes Hakusho Ostlund, founding and guiding teacher of Brattleboro Zen Center, “about the early steps of transforming the Christian church where we have our zendo into a space that can hold multiple faiths. Here’s a link to the article, which I found inspiring.

Joan Amaral, guiding teacher of Zen Center North Shore, recently gave the precepts to Julia Lawrence, SekiShin KoYu/Red Heart, Nora Williams, BokuJin EiGen/ Pasture Benevolent, Eternal Source, Expansive Repose, and Jason Aylsworth, KoshuKu SeiKa/Tiger Dwelling, Authentic Home.

Catherine Gammon’s book of short stories, The Gunman and the Carnival, was recently released by Baobob books. She has published four novels and another book of short stories.  Catherine is the guiding teacher of Neighborhood Zen in Pittsburgh. Writer Laruen Acampora comments: “Her characters are recognizable in their striving for human connection in our time of despair and isolation—and in their struggle for footing upon a sinking landscape. Stylistically limber and by turns meditative, restless, and moving, these stories bravely attempt to channel what it means to be alive in this world now, and now, and now.”

Dr. Toni Pressley Sanon’s first Buddhist book, Lifting as they Climb, Black Women Buddhists and Collective Liberation, was published by Shambhala this month. Toni Pressley-Sanon is a long-time Buddhist practitioner and has written five books on other topics. She is a student of Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, founder and guiding teacher of Still Breathing Zen Sangha. The book features profiles of six Black Buddhist women, including Zenju Earthlyn Manuel and angel Kyodo Williams.

On February 18 poet and writerMaura High, who practices at Chapel Hill Zen Center, gave a reading from her book, The Field Index, published in 2023. Maura trained as a wildland firefighter and volunteered with Nature Conservancy burn crews in North Carolina for many years. Her book celebrates what she learned about the ecology of the Piedmont in NC.

On Saturday, March 2, from 12:30 to 2 pm. PT the Soto Zen Buddhist Association’ yearlong series on the Voices of Women in Buddhism will offer a Zoom panel, Navigating Relationships in Buddhist Communities. The speakers are Reverend Byakuren Judith Ragir, Reverend Grace Shireson, and Pamela Weiss. They will “delve into the intricacies of cultivating healthy boundaries within the spiritual community.” Here is the link to register

The many rainy days we’re having in the Bay Area lend themselves to reading. I think of it as one of the gifts of winter.

May you experience spaciousness in your life as this Year of the Dragon unfolds.

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Newsette 1-30-2024

At City Center, our Winter Practice Period led by Abbot Mako Voelkel began last week. As renovation of 300 Page Street is underway, we had our first one-day sitting of 2024 at Unity Church, a block down Page Street, transforming their worship space into a zendo and bringing bag lunches.

I am looking forward to spending next week at Austin Zen Center, where I will meet with students and board members, lead a one-day sitting, give a dharma talk, and co-host a Queer Dharma evening. Choro Antonaccio, their guiding teacher, and I will visit Houston Zen Center for their Sunday program on February 11, and I hope to connect with the new guiding teacher at San Antonio Zen Center, Karen deCotis.

I’m compiling the responses from sanghas that are offering public responses to the conflict in the Middle East and will share those later this week.

This Newsette includes news from sanghas in western Massachusetts, Brooklyn, New York, and Vancouver, B.C. as well as a source for handmade ceramic oryoki bowls, and a request from SFZC’s Meditation in Recovery steering committee.

Two Streams Zen in Westhampton, MA thanks those who contributed to their successful fundraiser to provide full scholarships for ten young adult activists to attend a weeklong retreat, Meditación en Acción: Espiritualidad y Creación de Mundos Sustentables. The retreat will be co-led by Ryūmon Baldoquin, co-guiding teacher of Two Streams Zen, and Venerable Thubten Saldon (www.pemacholingcommunity.org)  from March 24 to 31 at Ilumina Centro in Cuidad de Minas, Uruguay. The weekend before, they will offer a public talk at Parque Roosevelt in Montevideo.

The speaker for the February 17 program in the Soto Zen Buddhist Association’s yearlong series, Celebrating the Voices of Women in Buddhism: will be Rev. Chimyo Atkinson. Her topic is Women in Buddhis Monasticism: Women in Community. Her talk will be given in person at Brooklyn Zen Center’s Boundless Mind Temple as part of their Saturday morning program, and will be livestreamed and recorded.

Other programs at Brooklyn Zen Center in the month of February that may be of interest are: a one-day Qigong Workshop with Sally Chang on February 24, and a BIPOC one-day in Person Sit with Kaira Jewel Lingo on February 25. The sit is open to all BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) practitioners. “This is the perfect opportunity for newer practitioners to try longer sitting and to build BIPOC sangha, as well as for long-term practitioners to recommit to their practice.”

Mountain Rain Zen Community in Vancouver, BC is offering a Dogen Intensive in the month of February, with dharma talks by their guiding teachers and practice leaders. They will work with Dogen’s teachings on Continuous Practice, “exploring what it means for us as lay practitioners in the 21st century to have practice permeate every aspect of our lives.”

Cynthia Kear, co-guiding teacher of Great Spirit Sanga in San Francisco, and a member of the SFZC Meditation in Recovery steering committee, writes: “Meditation in Recover (MiR) is interested in connecting with Branching Streams sanghas that offer a recovery-oriented program. If your sangha hosts such a group, please respond to Brent Haas (brent.haas@sfzc.org) with the name and email address of the contact person and a brief description of the program.

Peter Goettler, a ceramic artist and Zen student in Germany, specializes in handcrafted earthenware oryoki bowls. He is able to ship them to the U.S. and elsewhere. You can visit his informative website for photos and more information. We will add this resource to the Branching Streams Resource page soon.

Thank you all for your practice.

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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.