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This has been a challenging week for those of us in California, with over 600 wildfires flaring all around the state, many of them close to practice centers and homes of sangha members and causing poor air quality in the Bay Area and beyond. In addition, a tropical storms is on its way to the Gulf Coast, endangering communities in Louisiana and Texas. Such vivid reminders of the climate crisis are impossible to ignore.

Many sanghas have been addressing this issue for several years. Climate justice was a theme of the 2018 Branching Streams Conference, which included a wonderful presentation by Stephanie Kaza on systems theory and the climate crisis. Given the pandemics of Covid-19 and the heightened awareness of racial injustice, the precarious state of our planet may have moved to a “back burner.” Please let me know if your sangha is involved in climate justice actions or study and I will include that in the next Newsette.

As the days grow shorter, even in places that are still experiencing the heat of summer, signs of autumn are unmistakable. School is starting, for most students, from pre-school to college, online. Ancient Dragon Zen Gate’s senior students host a Zen group for students at the University of Chicago, which was recently featured in a Tricycle article, “Buddhists on Campus”.

Many sanghas are planning Fall Practice Periods, some starting as soon as September. Mountain Rain Zen Centre in Vancouver is opening its Fall Practice period with a weekend retreat and will be opening its zendo for up to ten sangha members at a time, physically distanced, as well as offering the retreat online. Guiding teachers Michael Newton and Kate McCandless carefully worked on a zendo reopening plan.

Seattle Soto Zen’s guiding teacher Allison Tait writes, “I am receiving support from the teachers both Bellingham and Vancouver to offer an [online] Seattle practice period! SSZ has only ever had a shuso one time before, so the Sangha is very excited.” This inter-sangha support and cooperation is happening more easily with Zoom.

In case you missed it, I’m mentioning again Thomas Bruner’s Fundraising for Buddhists class, offered by Houston Zen Center, three sessions beginning September 1st. For a description or to register, go to: https://houstonzen.org/events-calendar/2020/9/1-september-fundraising-for-buddhists

Jon Voss continues to generously offer his weekly Zoom drop-in clinics, Wednesdays at 11 a.m. Pacific time.

May you, your loved one, and all beings be healthy and safe.

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In 1963, in the summer before I graduated from college, I spent three weeks in a voter registration project in Greensboro, North Carolina, sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. I joined a group of about 20 Black and white college students. We were housed in the basement of a Black church and went door-to-door to encourage African-Americans to register to vote. I have never forgotten how precious and precarious is the right to vote. Getting out the vote continues to be of vital importance.

In recent years many Zen Buddhist practitioners have organized election sesshins in swing states. This year, leaders and members of sanghas across the country are participating in online election retreats. Individual and groups of sangha members can participate in these letter-writing efforts to get out the vote. You can find more information at https://www.electionretreat.org/

In response to the climate crisis, the Shogaku Zen Institute is offering a 13-week course in Eco-Dharma, beginning September 10th, led by David Loy and Kritee (Kanko). Some questions the course will address include:

  • How can we respond urgently and effectively to the ongoing climate emergency and the larger ecological crisis—and stay sane doing it?
  • How do we understand the interconnection of environmental degradation with colonialism, racism and neoliberal economics?
  • What contemplative/spiritual principles and perspectives can help us forge a response to our ecological predicament?

For more information, here’s the link.

In case you missed it, I’m mentioning again Thomas Bruner’s Fundraising for Buddhists class, offered by Houston Zen Center, three sessions beginning September 1st. For a description or to register, go to: https://houstonzen.org/events-calendar/2020/9/1-september-fundraising-for-buddhists

Jon Voss continues to generously offer his weekly Zoom drop-in clinics, Wednesdays at 11 a.m. Pacific time.

I’d like to end with words from the late John Lewis, in a statement he wrote just before he died in July, “When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

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Several sanghas are finding creative ways to practice together outdoors, physically distanced. This image is from Richmond, VA Zen Center, at Sheilds Lake:

Richmond Zen Center: Sitting Zazen by the Water

If you’d like to know more, please go to: https://www.richmondzen.org/boundless-zendo

Houston Zen Center is offering a second series of Fundraising for Buddhists led by Thomas Bruner, as the first one filled. The next series will be September 1, 8, and 15.

Jon Voss will be hosting the Wednesday Zoom weekly drop-in clinics, at 11 a.m. Pacific time.

This continues to be a time of great hardship for many people in the U.S. and around the world. May we find ways to share our practice in ever-widening circles.

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This morning, August 4th, after online zazen, Abbot David Zimmerman was doshi for the monthly Suzuki Roshi memorial we recently resumed online at San Francisco Zen Center. He made the offerings of tea, rice, and sweet water at the Kaisando altar and the kokyo led us (we were muted) in chanting the Harmony of Difference and Equality. I thought of all of you, with gratitude for the many expressions of practice you are offering around the U.S. and in many other countries.

I am wondering what your experience is, offering services and ceremonies. What innovations have you experimented with? I read on the Soto Zen Buddhist Association listserve about a jukai ceremony at Red Cedar Zen Community in Bellingham, WA led by guiding teacher Nomon Tim Burnett. It was physically distanced, outside on a deck, with two preceptors, one ordainee, one support person, everyone masked and pretty much maintaining the 6′. They broadcast the ceremony live on Zoom; about 50 people participated. Tim thought it worked “surprisingly well.”

Houston Zen Center is planning an outdoor Bodhisattva Precepts giving ceremony for September. Abbot Gaelyn Godwin commented about this in the SZBA listserve: “September might be cool enough in Houston, and we might have calmed down in the pandemic mode, to allow us to have an outdoor spacious ceremony for 6 new Bodhisattvas and a widely-spaced community.”

In the online Zoom Clinic with Jon Voss, Douglas Floyd from Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago and others have been learning how to record bells to use in zazen and services. If you want to expand the doanryo for services or ceremonies, your sangha members are welcome to join our weekly drop-in clinics, Wednesdays at 11am Pacific time.

How are students sewing rakusus in your sanghas, given social distancing? Zen Center North Shore in Beverly, Massachusetts, whose guiding teacher is Joan Amaral, will be hosting their annual sewing retreat online. It will be led by Hogetsu Laurie Belzer from Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago, who, prior to Covid-19 would spend a week in Massachusetts.

The members of Centro Zen l’Arco in Rome Italy are sitting sesshin online this week with their Abbot, Dario Girolami. Those participating in the sesshin Zoomed in to Eijun Linda Cutts’s Sunday Green Gulch dharma talk this week, as Eijun Cutts is Dario’s teacher. I had attended Dario’s Mountain Seat Ceremony in Rome last year and was happy to see the familiar faces of many sangha members who hosted me the week I was there.

Looking toward the Fall, some centers are planning practice periods or ongoing classes. Please let me know if you’re planning activities that you’d like other sanghas to know about.

I’m continually inspired to hear of the connections and collaborations between sanghas, amplified by the ability to visit another sangha without getting in a car or a plane.

May you be nourished by Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha – the whole wide world.

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It’s past mid-summer and many sanghas are finding creative ways to practice together out-of-doors.

This Newsette includes glimpses of Ancient Dragon Zen Gate’s Camping Sesshin and an outdoor work-day at Milwaukee Zen Center. If you have found ways to practice in nature, please share your experiences.

This Newsette also contains an update about the launch of Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership last weekend and a workshop next weekend with Paula Arai offered by Kannon Do in Mountain View CA.

This is an excerpt from a longer article with photos that will be posted soon on the Branching Streams website: “Since 2016, Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago has held an annual three-day Camping Sesshin that combines traditional Zen forms and Dharma teachings within the natural setting provided by Illinois Beach State Park, writes Senior Student Eishin Nancy Easton. “Our sesshin takes place in a sheltered, open-air environment, and opportunities for tent camping are available for overnight participants. Daily Dharma talks, discussions, communal meals and nature walks are offered by our co-leaders Eishin Nancy Easton and Gyoshin Laurel Ross, and other senior students under the guidance of Guiding Dharma Teacher Taigen Dan Leighton. This sesshin offers us an opportunity to bring our practice to an encounter with the natural world, without venturing far from home.

“For Ancient Dragon as a non-residential, urban practice center, Camping Sesshin brings a welcome opportunity to practice together in an extended way, as participants bring their own tents and camp overnight in the land surrounding our tent zendo. Pre-dawn zazen on the shore of Lake Michigan is one of the highlights, along with our extended walking meditation along a trail that precedes the morning’s Dharma talk.

“During the COVID pandemic this year, we have not been able to occupy our zendo, and have similarly not felt that it was safe to offer this practice due to the hazards of communal food preparation. However, plans are currently in the works to offer a half-day or all-day sitting in this format, with participants bringing their own bag lunch. Our spacious tent zendo can easily accommodate 6-8 socially distanced participants, and the outdoor setting adds to our physical safety.

Reirin Gumbel, Guiding Teacher of Milwaukee Zen Center writes about a recent sangha work-day: “Sangha members worked on projects individually and brought their own lunches and water. The work was mostly outdoors, weeding and repair, a couple of members cleaned the basement, and one person with a truck took various items to Goodwill and to the dump. It was lovely to see everyone in person, though at a distance.”

Kannon Do Zen Center is offering a workshop, The Healing Power of Everyday Activities in the Time of Covid-19, on Saturday, August 1st led by Dr.Paula Arai, author of Women Living Zen and Bringing Zen Home. You can find more information at: https://kannondo.org/event/summer-workshop-with-paula-arai/

Branching Streams launched our first online course on Saturday, Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership, led by Crystal Johnson. 107 participants from 29 different sanghas in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. enrolled in the course. Thanks to Jon Voss of Mid-City Zen and Teresa Bouza for their technical support.

Jon’s Zoom Clinic helped Teresa and me learn how to manage security and create breakout groups on Zoom. All are welcome to join our weekly drop-in clinics, Wednesdays at 11am Pacific time.

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This will be a brief Newsette, as I have only a few items to share with you – all things occurring on the coming weekend. A dharma friend shared a term this morning that resonates with me: “caution fatigue.” With the spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths in 40 states, the need for physical distancing and wearing masks continues.

The Branching Streams Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership course begins on Saturday July 25th. One hundred participants from sanghas in many states, Canada, and the U.K. have registered. Dana for participating in the course raised over $10,000 for the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland CA.

Crystal Johnson, who will be teaching the course, gave a dharma talk at SF Zen Center on Saturday July 18th which I recommend. Here’s a link to the dharma talk archives, where you can find a video of her talk.

Royce Johnson, a priest at Houston Zen Center, will be leading a one-day sitting that same day. You can learn more about it here.

And San Francisco Zen Center is offering an online retreat with Rev. angel Kyodo Williams and Abbess Furyu Schroeder on Radical Dharma from Friday the 24th at 7p.m. to Sunday the 26th at 4p.m.

Jon Voss’s Zoom clinic continues: All are welcome to join our weekly drop-in clinics, Wednesdays at 11am Pacific time.

May you all be healthy and strong – and finding ways to enjoy summer despite “caution fatigue.”

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As we reach mid-summer, sheltering in place continues in many states, not in others, as the Covid-19 virus continues to take lives and wreak economic havoc. I hear that some sanghas are exploring what it would take to be able to meet in person, and others are wrestling with hard decisions about whether to renew leases or have already decided not to do so.

This Newsette contains updates about the Branching Streams Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership course, new dates for the Fundraising Class Houston Zen Center is hosting led by Thomas Bruner, some words from the Brooklyn Zen Center’s board regarding closing their Brooklyn center, recommendations for new books by Marcia Lieberman and Pamela Weiss, and a reminder about Jon Voss’s weekly Zoom Clinic.

We were able to admit everyone who applied, including those on the waiting list, to Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership. There are about 100 people enrolled in the course. I think this speaks to the heightened awareness of systemic racism in the U.S. and throughout the world and a …

Fundraising for Buddhists: From Hesitance to Confidence! Taught by Thomas Bruner, this workshop will be hosted by Houston Zen Center. For more information, contact info@houstonzen.org. New dates: Tuesdays, August 11, 25, 6 – 8 pm.

Brooklyn Zen Center’s board sent a letter to their sangha describing the process they went through to reach a decision to close their city temple. The board wrote: “We realize that this may be painful news to hear. Our temple on Carroll Street has been our spiritual home for over a decade. Please stay tuned for emails and announcements about opportunities for dialogue and ritual that will allow us to express our collective grief and appreciation around the loss of this space. Please know that we are committed to a Zen practice space in Brooklyn. Once we have more clarity regarding a post-pandemic New York City, we will assess what makes sense at that time regarding a space. In the meantime, we will be wrapping the virtual sangha around Ancestral Heart and supporting our community from the monastery.”

I was saddened to hear this news, as you may be if you’ve visited Brooklyn Zen Center – and I know that other centers, particularly those that rent spaces, are grappling with questions of whether they can afford to keep paying rent on spaces they are currently unable to occupy due to the pandemic.

New books: Your sangha may have had a summer visit from Marcia Lieberman, a San Francisco-based member of Presidio Hill Sangha. Marcia’s many skills include writing, gardening, and photography. You will soon find a letter from Marcia on the Branching Streams website, with a link to order her new book, Clean Slate, Images from Dogen’s Garden, published by Goff Books.

Pamela Weiss, a dharma heir of Teah Strozer, former guiding teacher at Brooklyn Zen Center, gave a riveting dharma talk at City Center last Saturday on themes from her book published today by North Atlantic Books, ­A Bigger Sky, Awakening a Fierce Feminine Buddhism.

Although both books are available at Amazon, you may want to order them through your local bookseller.

Jon Voss, our Zoom wizard, says “All are welcome to join our weekly drop-in clinics, Wednesdays at 11am Pacific time. These weekly clinics are designed as open workshops in which participants bring any questions or problems they are facing, as well as their own ideas and expertise for what is working in their own sangha. We share resources we’ve discovered during the week, try out different methods, do hands-on training, and generally provide a place for mutual support. If you need the meeting password, please contact Jon Voss.”

I’ll end this Newsette with lines we chant in the SFZC Online Zendo every morning after the robe chant: May all be healthy and strong. May all have ease and joy in their lives and be free from suffering.

With deep bows,

Tova

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I hope this Newsette finds you in good health and finding nourishment in practice in the midst of a spike in coronavirus cases in many states, including California, and ongoing unrest in the U.S.

This Newsette includes an update on the upcoming Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership from a Buddhist Perspective course, announces Thomas Bruner’s next Fundraising for Buddhists class, shares Houston Zen Center’s deliberations on reopening, and offers a creative sangha-building idea from Brooklyn Zen Center. It also provides the link to Jon Voss’s weekly Zoom Clinic, and an invitation to join a weekend workshop with angel Kyodo williams and Furyu Schroeder offered online by SFZC.

Registrations for the Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership from a Buddhist Perspective course have poured in and the course is at its capacity. We closed registration today and are taking names for a waiting list. I know this will be disappointing news to some of you. Crystal is looking into the possibility of offering a second course starting later and I will keep you posted. If you would like to be on the waiting list please fill out the registration form. The link is: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Xk35dishqaIRKl4Gz85BDvDt-QycwkDE_rIkeKHHLtw/edit

Thomas Bruner’s next Fundraising for Buddhists series will be hosted by Houston Zen Center on Aug. 4, 11 and 18. This class is highly recommended for board members as well as teachers or sangha members who wish to hone their fundraising skills.

Reopening: Houston Zen Center’s board president, Carter White, wrote about why HZC is not reopening this July. It may be helpful to your sangha as questions about reopening arise. Here’s the link: https://mailchi.mp/houstonzen/a-message-from-houston-zen-center

An idea for your sangha from Brooklyn Zen Center: collecting Kitchen Practice Stories
“Our kitchens are also our home zendo and, even if we are not able at this time to prepare meals together as a sangha, we can still support each other in our kitchen practice. In this spirit, we invite you to share your stories and images of kitchen practice during this time of physical distancing. Whether you have been cooking by yourself, sharing the kitchen with your family or with near-strangers, fixing quick snacks or cooking elaborate meals – we would love to hear from you.” They plan to post the stories and images on their website.

Jon Voss continues to offer the Zoom Clinic. He says, “All are welcome to join our weekly drop-in clinics, Wednesdays at 11am Pacific time. These weekly clinics are designed as open workshops in which participants bring any questions or problems they are facing, as well as their own ideas and expertise for what is working in their own sangha. We share resources we’ve discovered during the week, try out different methods, do hands-on training, and generally provide a place for mutual support. If you need the meeting password, please contact Jon Voss.

Radical Dharma: Embodying Race, Love, and Liberation with angel Kyodo Williams and Furyu Schroeder will be offered online the weekend of July 24 – 26. For more information, here is the link: https://www.sfzc.org/online-programs

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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.

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Dear Branching Streams Teachers and Leaders,

Some of us are experiencing the illness or loss of loved ones, and many of us are looking for ways to respond to cries for change in our communities, cities and countries. At the same time the breadth and availability of dharma offerings can nourish and sustain us.

This Newsette includes information about how to register for the first Branching Streams online course, Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership, an invitation to participate in online election retreats, a description of Houston Zen Center’s closing ceremony of their summer practice period, and a reminder about Jon Voss’s Zoom Clinic.

Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership will begin on July 25th thanks to the enthusiastic response of many of you. I’m attaching the flyer, which you can share electronically or print. Here is a link to the registration form.

Please note that if multiple members of a sangha wish to participate, each person needs to complete a registration form.

Election Retreats

Those of us who attended the 2019 Branching Streams Conference will remember Rob Lyons from Berkeley Zen Center who made a presentation about Election Sesshins. These are now offered online, as half-day events and focus on letter-writing. Rob writes:

“Though we still don’t know if we can hold our in-person Buddhist Election Retreat in October, in the meantime we’re putting all of our energy into a new kind of retreat: on Zoom, with a focus on letter-writing to Democratic voters in swing states. One participant in the pilot letter-writing retreat two weeks ago commented, “The day was wonderful. I loved the balance of Zazen, chanting, Dharma talk and letter writing . . . I am tired, but satisfied that my effort went for a good purpose.”

We are excited to announce the launch of two online half-day Letter-Writing Retreats, on Sunday July 12 and Sunday July 26.” Here’s a link for more information.

Houston Zen Center created a meaningful way for the guiding teacher, Gaelyn Godwin, and the Shuso, Zengetsu Vicki Glenn, to do a closing ceremony at the end of their summer practice period, although their Zendo was closed. This link includes a short video, which I found very moving.

Practice Period Closing Ceremony
By Gaelyn Godwin on Jun 26, 2020 08:55 pm, Houston Zen Center

“Summer 2020 Practice Period closed with bows to all the participants. This was a unique practice period, for all of us. The participants all found unique benefits in practicing together in this virtual way. Then, as usual at the end of an intensive time, the benefits are dedicated to everyone, both inside and outside of the practice period. Please watch this video to see how the ceremony took place. You can see that photos of the participants line the zendo. The residents bowed to the images of the participants every day. In the closing ceremony, the residents bowed to each and every one of the participants.”

Jon Voss will resume the Zoom Clinic this Wednesday. All are welcome to join our weekly drop-in clinics, Wednesdays at 11am Pacific time. These weekly clinics are designed as open workshops in which participants bring any questions or problems they are facing, as well as their own ideas and expertise for what is working in their own sangha. We share resources we’ve discovered during the week, try out different methods, do hands-on training, and generally provide a place for mutual support. If you need the meeting password, please contact Jon Voss.

As July 4th, which Thich Nhat Hanh calls Interdependence Day, approaches may you be healthy, may you find joy and ease in the midst of a time of great change.

bowing with appreciation for all of you,

Tova