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February 1, 2021 Newsette

I am still feeling the joy of yesterday’s Mountain Seat Ceremony at Berkeley Zen Center. Among over 350 Zoom participants I noted teachers and members from nearly thirty Branching Streams sanghas, from coast to coast in the U.S., as well as from Canada and Italy. 

A request from Fushin Susan Schoenbohm, Ancient Dragon Zen Gate board member, who writes: “We are starting here what we are calling a Sangha Care Committee, which checks in with sangha members who might be in need of some kind of assistance and sees what we can do to help.” Susan is looking for other sanghas that have such committees, “to learn about what their “mission” statement might be, and some best practices that might guide us going forward.” Please let both Susan and me know if you have such a committee or program/practice in your sangha. Her email address is s.schoenbohm@gmail.com.

Jon Voss will be offering an intermediate/advanced Zoom Clinic on Wednesday, February 3rd, from 11 to 12 PST. Here’s the Zoom link or Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.

In the midst of winter several sanghas are beginning or have recently begun Winter Practice Periods and other programs that are all available online.

Ava Stanton, guiding teacher of Just Show Up Sangha notes:  We are starting a Practice Period , Yasodhara’s Path, on Friday, February 5th.  Information about our online Practice Period is at The Just Show Up Zen Sangha Blog or  https://justshowupzensangha.com/new-blog-1

Chapel Hill Zen Center and Richmond Zen and are collaborating on a monthlong Winter Practice Intensive, Sunday, January 31 through Sunday, February 28, 2021 Via Zoom co-led by their guiding teachers Josho Pat Phelan and Eden Heffernan. This is an innovative model for sharing teachers and teachings that other centers may wish to explore. In addition to zazenthe intensive includes Dharma talks, Way-seeking Mind talks, group Dharma discussions, and weekly teas.

Houston Zen Center is offering a program for meditators who want to enter Zen deeply, to investigate the mind of daily life: Entering the Path of Practice (EPP), an advanced program of guided exploration, study and training. Zen Priests Tim Schorre and Royce Johnson will lead the program. Entering the Path of Practice is organized as three eight-week-long modules, each module emphasizing one of the three treasures: BUDDHA (great teachers and practitioners of the Way), DHARMA (teachings and practice) and SANGHA (the community of practitioners).Registration ends on February 7th.

Some upcoming dharma talks that may be of interest:

Austin Zen Center is hosting Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, founding teacher of Still Breathing  Zen group on Saturday, February 13th at 10 am Central Time. The talk is titled, “The Deepest Peace in the Midst of Chaos.” Zenju’s most recent book, the Deepest Peace, Contemplations from a Season of Stillness, was published in December, 2020.

On Sunday February 21st , from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Central Time, as part of Ancient Dragon Zen Gate’s series of Black women guest teachers, Breeshia Wade will speak. Breeshia from lived in Chicago and practiced at Ancient Dragon’s temple or at their Hyde Park group. Breeshia now lives in Los Angeles and works as a hospice chaplain. She has written a powerful new book coming out later this month, Grieving While Black: An Antiracist Take on Oppression and Sorrow.  

Wishing you all good health and sustained energy as we enter a new month.

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January 26, 2021 Newsette

I hope you are doing well in this time of midwinter. I have been feeling more hopeful in these early days of our new U.S. national leadership. I  appreciated last week’s inaugural ceremonies for their inclusivity, messages of compassion, and calls for both unity and accountability going forward.

Today I’m writing about a few offerings coming up in the next two weeks.

First, here is an invitation from Berkeley Zen Center’s board president, Mary Duryee, for the Mountain Seat Ceremony of Hozan Alan Senaukeon Sunday, January 31st at 3 p.m PST.

Dear Sangha friends,
We look forward to your participation in our joyous ceremony. For your ease in joining through zoom, here is the link you can use directly:  If you wish to send congratulations, you can do so on kudoboard.

Jon Voss will be offering his first Zoom Clinic of 2021 for those newer to Zoom on Wednesday, January 27th, from 11 to 12 PST. He will offer an intermediate/advanced Zoom clinic on Wednesday, February 3rd at the same time. Here’s the Zoom link or Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.

Marcia Lieberman, who has visited and taught at many Branching Streams groups in the U.S., will be teaching an online class through San Francisco Zen Center called Favorite Pages. The class starts on February 1st and is based on the haiku collection A White Tea Bowl—100 haiku from 100 years of life by Mitsu Suzuki. The book was translated by Kate McCandless, co-guiding teacher of Mountain Rain Zen Community in Vancouver, BC, Canada. This link will take you to the SFZC website for more information and registration. 

Here’s a reminder that Branching Streams is co-sponsoring a daylong workshop on February 7th called “Living my Practice Wholeheartedly: Whiteness, Race and the Bodhisattva Vow,” led by Crystal Johnson, Sarah Emerson, Chris Fortin, and myself. The flyer is attached. This workshop will be a benefit for the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, CA.  Please share the flyer with your sanghas!

More sanghas are launching online winter practice periods, offering one-day sittings, and a range of  classes, as outdoor activities are limited due to the weather. I will report on some of these events in my next Newsette.

I will leave you with the words of the inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman:

The new dawn blooms as we free it.

For there is always light,

If only we are brave enough to see it,

If only we are brave enough to be it.

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January 19, 2021 Newsette

I am writing this Newsette at the end of a weekend of celebrating the life and teachings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and on the cusp of the U.S. presidential inauguration – which I hope will begin a period of change in the direction of a more equitable and just government in this country.

It’s good to see many of you participating in this year’s Green Gulch Farm January Intensive, which Tenshin Reb Anderson is offering online. He’s teaching the Lotus Sutra and the ‘Great Assembly’ consists of over 200 participants, including many from Europe.

As we move on in 2021, you may enjoy watching a video of photographs from Branching Streams sanghas’ experiences in 2020. The video was compiled by Teresa Bouza (a member of Kannon Do in Mountain View, CA). It expresses many of the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows of last year. 

Branching Streams is co-sponsoring a daylong workshop on February 7th called “Living my Practice Wholeheartedly: Whiteness, Race and the Bodhisattva Vow,” led by Crystal Johnson, Sarah Emerson, Chris Fortin, and myself. The flyer is attached. Like “Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership” which Branching Streams offered in 2020, this workshop will be a benefit for the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, CA.  Please share the flyer with your sanghas!

I’m repeating last week’s Website and Zoom news: As we head into 2021 Branching Streams webmaster Jon Voss and I are redesigning and restructuring the website. Many of the links on the website, especially on the Resources page are not working and we will replace them soon.

Jon Voss will be offering a Zoom Clinic for those newer to Zoom on Wednesday, January 27th, from 11 to 12 PST and an intermediate-advanced Zoom clinic on Wednesday, February 3rd at the same time. Here’s the Zoom link (Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143)

May we all stay healthy and strong as we meet the changes of 2021.

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January 12, 2021 Newsette

The year 2021 has begun with a mix of celebration and grieving.

I began writing this Newsette early last week and as the week went on it grew increasingly more difficult to write. There’s much to share with you.

At San Francisco Zen Center’s City Center we processed to all the alters on the morning of January 1stt and held our first in-person service since the pandemic began on the roof of 300 Page Street. Six days later, we rang the bonsho bell 108 times after we learned that Sojun Mel Weitsman had just died.

I offer my condolences to those of you who are dharma heirs or dharma grandchildren of Sojun Roshi, as well as to all of us who were encouraged by his presence and teaching. Barbara Wenger (photographer, community organizer and wife of Dairyu Michael Wenger, who leads Dragons Leap sangha in San Francisco) created a beautiful photo tribute to Sojun. Barbara is happy to share it with you. Here’s the link.

Last Wednesday we learned the results of the senate races in Georgia, in which the first African-American senator was elected in that state, a victory that was the result of much hard work to get out the vote. You may have participated in letter writing, online phone banking, or donating funds to turn the two senate seats from red to blue.

That same day, a mob who believed the presidential election had been stolen stormed the Capitol while the House and Senate were beginning the process of affirming electoral college votes to finalize the election of Biden and Harris. The light touch afforded the mob as they desecrated the Capitol differed painfully from the severe response to Black Lives Matters protesters last summer.

As teachers and sangha leaders how have you addressed these events with sangha members? Please let me know if you’ve had community discussions, offered dharma talks, written statements, participated in interfaith vigils or taken other actions that you’d like other sanghas to know about.

San Francisco Zen Center and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association are both preparing statements.

On another note, last week I received newsletters from many sanghas summing up the challenges and positive aspects of 2020. Here are a few quotes:

Abbot Gaelyn Godwin of Houston Zen Center looked back at 2020 “with appreciation and gratitude for the ways in which the sangha met the pandemic, racial injustice, continued offering teachings virtually, created ceremonies that were safe, and celebrated the births of three children of sangha members.”

Eden Heffernan, guiding teacher of Richmond VA Zen Center wrote: “In responding to the changes demanded by an invisible pathogen, and at times all too visible sociopathology, the Richmond Zen sangha has been an inspiration and support. Together, and with others, we created new ways to practice together in Zoom, at Byrd Park, and in the Ekoji garden. We have maintained our community and even welcomed new members. Via Zoom, we were fortunate to join in with others across the country and around the world to hear teachings of Dogen Zenji illuminated by Shohaku Okumura Roshi. We also participated in study groups led by Chapel Hill. We engaged in an exploration of race, privilege, and bias with many other Branching Streams sangha members. We found that “virtual” can still be intimate; although distanced we can connect.”

Taigen Leighton noted, “Ancient Dragon Zen Gate enters the New Year cast loose from our storefront home in North Center Chicago. Now we are a homeless sangha floating among Dharma realms in the adventure of how to express the awakening way and help to respond appropriately to suffering in our new-normal world. Vaccines pose hope for an end to the Covid pandemic sometime this year. Our society still faces the pandemics of systemic racism and a failed justice system, economic distress for many, as well as climate breakdown. We continue to sit upright amid the complexities and stresses of our world and our own lives.” 

Someone recently said to Joan Amaral, guiding teacher of Zen Center North Shore, “In this year of isolation, I’m amazed at how close I’ve come to feel with members of ZCNS. Thank you for helping to override the limited dimensions of a Zoom screen to break through to humanity!”

Laura O’Loughlin, co-guiding teacher of Brooklyn Zen Center comments: “In this year of change, loss and profound reckoning, we emerge as a community intact, resilient, and more committed than ever to our Bodhisattva vow of living from the wisdom of love and all that it requests of us.”

Website and Zoom news: As we head into 2021 Branching Streams webmaster Jon Voss and I are redesigning and restructuring the website. We will welcome your feedback when its further along.

Jon Voss will be offering a Zoom Clinic for those newer to Zoom on Wednesday, January 27th, from 11 to 12 PST and an intermediate-advanced Zoom clinic on Wednesday, February 4th at the same time. Here’s the Zoom link: Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143 or https://us02web.zoom.us/j/222402816?pwd=ODVWLzZ5ZUFtREcvS2M3YmkyVnVaUT09

I look forward to connecting with you in as many ways as possible as 2021 unfolds.

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I’m writing on the day of the Winter Solstice, feeling hope. Now the days grow longer and the nights shorten. The coming year will bring greater availability of Covid-19 vaccines, and the inauguration of new leaders in the United States.

In this time of holidays for people of many faith traditions, some sanghas are having online holiday parties, solstice ceremonies, or New Year’s zazen and bell-ringing. We may be feeling both grief and gratitude as this year comes to an end.

Berkeley Zen Center’s beloved Founding Teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman, has been receiving hospice care at home for about a week. You can get updates and leave messages for him on the Caringbridge website (you may have to set up an account in order to do so).  

And, at this time, Berkeley Zen Center sangha members are preparing for the Mountain Seat Ceremony of Alan Senauke on December 28th (now postponed, please stay tuned for updates).

I’m ending this Newsette with great appreciation for each of you, for all the ways you have faced the difficulties of this year and supported and nourished your sanghas.

My next Newsette will be sent early in January, 2021.

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I returned to work on Monday after City Center’s Rohatsu Sesshin feeling grounded and refreshed. The sesshin marked the end of our Fall Practice Period led by Abbots Tenzen David Zimmerman and Rinso Ed Sattizahn, with Shuso Sozan Diego Miglioli. We had SFZC’s first online Buddha’s Enlightenment ceremony on Saturday morning. I was amazed at the joy I felt during the ceremony even though only our Abbot David was circumambulating the Buddha Hall to the sound of the taiko drum and chanting of the maka hannya haramitta shin gyo (prerecorded). That afternoon we had our first online Shuso ceremony I was happy to see several Branching Streams teachers among the former Shusos who attended the ceremony.

Many Branching Streams sanghas sat sesshin last week for one, three, five, or seven days, celebrating Buddha’s enlightenment. Hartford Street Zen Center in San Francisco had a Metta service/practice led by their Abbot Myō Lahey during their three-day Winter Light retreat. They wrote, “It has been a turbulent year for many in 2020 and this is a great opportunity to hold the world in our hearts and generate loving kindness for all.”

Two Streams Zen in western Massachusetts, whose guiding teachers are Ryūmon H Baldoquín and Catherine Anraku Hondorp, sat Rohatsu virtually every morning from December 1st to 8th. On the last night, as is traditional, they kept the online zendo open through the night for informal sitting.

Looking forward to the solstice and New Year’s, Zen Center North Shore in Beverly, MA, whose guiding teacher is Joan Amaral, will have an online Winter Solstice Art and Music Party: In celebration of the year turning toward the light again. Their invitation is: “Come gather on ZenZoom Sunday, December 20th, from 4 to 6 PM ET, for our online Winter Solstice Art & Music Party! We anticipate a beautiful evening of poetry readings, stories, musical performances, artistic gestures, and anything (nearly anything) else that can be shared on Zoom.”

Brooklyn Zen Center will have their 14th annual New Year’s Eve Celebration and Sit Thursday, December 31, 10 pm – Friday, January 1, 12:30 am EST. They write: “Please join us for this intimate celebration of community and collective practice, in what is the longest running BZC celebration – we have been doing it since 2005! This year, the New Year’s Eve Celebration and Sit will be offered online and with a reduced schedule.”

There will be a virtual Jukai ceremony at Zen Center North Shore this Saturday December 12th at 2 p.m. ET for two sangha members. One of the ordinands, Emily Dashowitz, writes, “We will each accept the 16 bodhisattva precepts as our chosen way of life. These precepts will be given to us by our guiding teacher, as hers were given to her. Together we will take refuge in the Three Treasures and acknowledge the full line of ancestors who have brought us here, sustaining us along the way with their wisdom and care.
“It has been a unique challenge to plan for this intimate ceremony, in this particular year. Like a river, there have been so many twists, juts, jagged edges, depths and shallows. Yet a river never loses its course and never has to worry about whether it will reach the sea. Our ceremony may be hosted virtually, but the heart of awakening, moral and ethical conduct, and care for all beings will be transmitted. That it is occurring is the true gift.”

There are many true gifts of this season, despite the loss of in-person meetings and ceremonies many of us are feeling.

Warmest greetings to each and all of you. Please cherish yourselves.

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As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, the City Center Fall practice period is nearing its close. Rohatsu sesshin begins on Saturday the 28th, ending with a Shuso ceremony for Sozan Diego Miglioni on Saturday, December 5th.

Many Branching Streams groups in the U.S., Canada, and Europe will be spending days in the silence of sesshin and celebrating Buddha’s enlightenment, as the nights grow longer in the Northern hemisphere.

At this pre-holiday time, when we may have more time for reading, I will devote this week’s Newsette to several soon-to-be-released books by Buddhist authors, all connected with Branching Streams sanghas. We (our new webmaster Jon Voss and I) plan to feature reviews of these books on the Branching Streams website.

Guiding teacher of Still Breathing Sangha Zenju Earthlyn Manuel’s new book The Deepest Peace, will be released by Parallax Press on December 1st. Zenju writes in the introduction: “I have testified many times of my suffering. Before I die, I must speak of peace.” “Reading this book is a profound meditation in itself,” says poet Naomi Shihab Nye. “Exquisitely crafted and perfectly paced—you will feel your whole being calming down, responding with layered grace to the rich gifts offered here.”

An essay by Houston Zen Center Priest Gyozan Royce Andrew Johnson appears in Black and Buddhist, What Buddhism Can Teach Us about Race, Resilience, Transformation, and Freedom, edited by Pamela Ayo Yetunde, who was the keynote speaker at this year’s Soto Zen Buddhist Association conference and Cheryl A. Giles. Published by Shambhala, Black and Buddhist will be out on December 8th. Leading African American Buddhist teachers offer lessons on racism, resilience, spiritual freedom, and the possibility of a truly representative American Buddhism. With contributions by Acharya Gaylon Ferguson, Cheryl A. Giles, Gyōzan Royce Andrew Johnson, Ruth King, Kamilah Majied, Lama Rod Owens, Lama Dawa Tarchin Phillips, Sebene Selassie, and Pamela Ayo Yetunde.

San Francisco Zen Center Board member Carla Sterling Walter’s Sacred Dance Meditations, published by North Atlantic Press, will be available on December 15th. This book offers readers 365 dances–one for every day–rooted in traditions from around the globe. Each dance is different in origin and technique but connected in common purpose: as sacred conduits for hope, love, connection, community, and spirituality. Carla is the founder of Dance in the Spirit, an organization that recognizes the value of sacred dance as a daily practice linked with mindfulness, along with its ability to emphasize and anchor us to the present moment. Carla considers herself a perpetual beginner in the Suzuki Roshi Soto Zen practice tradition.

Daijaku Kinst, guiding teacher of Ocean Gate Zen Center in Santa Cruz, California, highly recommends, Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists by Chenxing Han. Chenxing Han was a student of Daijaku’s in the Institute of Buddhist Studies Chaplaincy Program in Berkeley, CA. Daijaku notes, “Not only is Chenxing a excellent scholar, she has the ability to invite people to share their lives and perspectives with her, and this work reflects that skill. She takes special care to include the voices of young Asian American Buddhists.” Be the Refuge, published by North Atlantic Books, is available for pre-order, and will be out in January, 2021. There is more detailed info at www.chenxinghan.com, and a list of reviews here.

If you know of other books or articles by sangha members that you’d like to recommend to others, please let me know.

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As the weather cools, with snow in some parts of the U.S. and Canada, the new cases of Covid-19 and deaths are rising. This has delayed the partial reopening of indoor spaces for some Zen Centers in the U.S. and affected sanghas in Europe as well.

This newsletter begins with messages from Branching Streams groups in Slovenia, Belfast, and Berlin. It also includes a message from Jon Voss about his Zoom Clinic, and an invitation to a SFZC online evening event for those interested in racial justice.

Nada Odar writes from Slovenia: “Congratulation to US nation and whole world for the current elections. Here in Slovenia we have a chance to take part in online Sanga with Djinn Gallagher and Paul Haller [in Belfast, N. Ireland], plus Bernd Bender’s Akazienzendo in Germany on Fridays and Thursdays with a Rinzai group here in Slovenia.”

Djinn Gallager, teacher at Black Mountain Zen Centre in Belfast, notes: “The cases in the north of Ireland are, as I’m sure you know, rocketing again, and we tend to stay indoors as much as possible, which is no hardship as the weather is pretty gloomy. I sit online every morning with the Black Mountain sangha and swim every afternoon in a nearby pool that is empty apart from me, so that’s very nourishing. I’ve been participating in Bernd’s Berlin group, which is lovely, and recently gave a talk at Colin Gipson’s group in San Antonio in Texas, so there are many opportunities for connection that were unsuspected before the pandemic.”

And Bernd Bender, guiding teacher of Akazienzendo in Berlin, writes: “We decided to close the zendo again starting November 1st. We have a lockdown “light”, and religious institutions are not affected by it, but we interpreted our bodhisattva vow to support this measure of practicing physical distancing to flatten the curve, and I hope all our online activities remain an ongoing support to most active members.”

Jon Voss will be offering his Zoom Clinic tomorrow, Wednesday November 18th from 11 to noon Pacific time, and then will take a break until the new year. If you have any Zoom questions, large or small, Here’s the link to tomorrow’s clinic. Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.

USF law professor and mindfulness teacher Rhonda Magee will be in conversation with SFZC Abbot Tenzen David Zimmerman about The Inner Work of Racial Justice on Saturday November 21st from 6 to 8 p.m. Pacific time. Rhonda Magee teaches embodied mindfulness—the practice of paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations in an open, nonjudgmental manner—as a way to support and inform this important work. Rhonda is the author of The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness. For more information or to register, here is a link to this event.

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I’m a little late in writing this week’s Newsette due to celebrating the results of the presidential election on Saturday (quietly, as we were in the midst of a one-day sitting here when the news was announced), and my 80th birthday on Sunday. I took yesterday as a vacation day to hike to the ocean at Point Reyes.

At the Branching Streams Conference near Milwaukee in September 2018 Rob Lyons from Berkeley Zen Center (BZC)gave a presentation about election sesshins. This fall many Branching Streams sanghas participated in election retreats, wrote letters to get out the vote, sent texts, participated in phone-banking. And voted. Thank you all so much!

I felt a weight lift from my shoulders when I heard about the news of the new leadership of our country this weekend. This was followed by joy, and then exhaustion, realizing how stressful our current political climate has been for the last four years. It’s not over yet… and change is coming. I am aware that many people in the U.S. are feeling grief, fear, and anger about the results of the election and deep rifts divide this nation. How can we, the dharma, our sanghas, contribute to the process of healing?

I’d like to recommend a dharma talk given by Eijun Linda Cutts at Green Gulch Farm on Sunday November 8th, “Kind Speech turns the Destiny of a Nation.” Here is the link.

Practicing the precepts, zazen, study, ceremonies, all continue to encourage and support us to meet the challenges of these times. Please continue to send me news of what keeps you going.

Ancient Dragon Zen Gate Guiding Dharma Teacher Taigen Leighton invites you to a Lay Entrustment ceremony he will perform for Douglas Floyd on Sunday, November 15th at the time of their Dharma talk, 10:15 am [Chicago time]. This will follow zazen at 9:30. Everyone is welcome. Sign in to their Zoom zendo from [www.ancientdragon.org].

Jon Voss, member of Mid-City Zen in New Orleans is offering his weekly Zoom clinic on Wednesday at 11 a.m. Pacific time. Here’s the link. Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.