Branching Streams Newsletters

Branching Streams Newsletters and Posts Will Appear Here

April 19,  2021

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

 

This continues to be a difficult time for the U. S. and the world. Around the globe, Covid-19 deaths continue to rise and many countries have only begun to vaccinate their citizens. Many of us in the U.S. await the outcome of the George Floyd/Derrick Chauvin trial in Minneapolis, and may be reeling from the recent police killings of unarmed BIPOC people and the spate of mass shootings. We may be asking, “what is an appropriate response?” And we may be turning to practice, Buddhist teachings, and sangha for nourishment and support more than ever.

 

I’m happy to welcome a new Branching Streams affiliate, Seattle Soto Zen, whose guiding teacher, Allison Tate, is a student of Norman Fischer. Allison has been leading SSZ for nearly two years, after many years of training at San Francisco Zen Center.

 

Thank you to many sanghas who have sent their annual contributions to Branching Streams in the last week. If you would like to do so, you can contribute electronically with this linkor you can send a check to San Francisco Zen Center with the name of your sangha on the memo line and mail it to Tova Green, 300 Page Street, San Francisco CA 94102. Please contact me if your sangha is experiencing financial hardship.

 

Thank you also from Teresa Bouza, who has received photos from many of you as we continue to prepare for our online Gathering, Branching Streams Flow On. Whether you can attend the May 22nd event or not whether you will be able to attend the event or not, you are invited to submit photos to celebrate our amazing mother… The Earth. I’m repeating Teresa’s words from last week:

 

Did you spend time in Nature during this past year of social isolation? Did you find the time outdoors nurturing and supportive? Did you take any pictures of your favorite places outside? Is there any image of Nature that is particularly meaningful to you? If so, we would love it if you could send one or a few pictures to create a video to celebrate our Mother the Earth. Please indicate your name and the name of the place where the pictures were taken. Images of outdoor activities with your sangha are also very welcomed.

 

 We will play the video at our Branching Streams Online Gathering on Saturday, May 22 (9:00 am to 12 noon PDT).  Please save the date. Teresa Bouza will be creating the video for the event. Please send your photos to [email protected]. Teresa made a video using images she received from sanghas, which we shared at our December 10,000 Joys and 10,000 Sorrows gathering. Here’s the link in case you missed it.

 

Jon Voss will host the weekly Zoom Clinic on Wednesday April 14th from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. PDT. You are welcome to share this information with sangha members who are hosting sangha Zoom events including zazen, service, classes, etc. Here is the Zoom link or Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.

Some upcoming events you may want to put on your calendar:

 

Konjin Gaelyn Godwin, Abbot of Houston Zen Center, posted on the Soto Zen Buddhist Association an action on May 4th. .called “May We Gather, A National Buddhist Ceremony for Asian American Ancestors. www.maywegather.org . This event will address the situation of anti-Asian-American racism. Gaelyn wrote, “Please explore the website, and sign your temple/center up as a sponsor.” Houston Zen Center will also hold observances on May 4th.

 

Chapel Hill Zen Center is supporting the 34th Annual Chapel Hill/Carrboro CROP Hunger Walk. Their newsletter invites us to “,”join fellow CHZC sangha members and people of faith of many persuasions throughout our area in supporting both the Interfaith Council and hunger relief efforts worldwide. April 18-25 is walk week, but you can walk or not, as you choose–there is no  organized walk this year because of the pandemic.” Please visit the Chapel Hill ZC CROP Walk page if you would like to make a donation. https://events.crophungerwalk.org/2021/team/chapel-hill-zen-center 

I will be co-leading an online daylong workshop on Joanna Macy’s The Work that Reconnects with writer Laura Davis on Saturday April 24th. I first experienced Joanna Macy’s work in 1982 and trained with her soon after. I see this work as an antidote to overwhelm, numbness, and fear about the future. Please spread the word if you know people who might like to participate. Writing Our Way to Hope and Commitment, Online 4/24 (sfzc.org)

Earth Day is being celebrated this week in many centers. Mountain Rain in Vancouver, BC will show a film, The Story of Plastic on April 22nd to launch a month-long Call to Action to consider, observe and become more aware of our consumption and use of plastic. Click here for details.

 

I wish you all good health and strength in this time of both celebrations and mournings.

Bowing,

Tova

April 5, 2021

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders

I have good news to share with you today! Our new website is up and running. Here is the link. We can thank Jon Voss, the SFZC IT staff, and volunteers Bernard Voss-Potts and Pat Yingst for the refreshed look and updated content. Please let me know if you see anything that needs to be corrected.

Branching Streams Flow On – Invitation to submit photos

You and members of your sangha are invited to a Branching Streams Online Gathering 

Saturday May 22 from 9a.m. to 12 noon PDT. Please save the date.

Teresa Bouza will be creating a video for the event, using photos of sanghas’ outdoor activities and images of nature. Please send your photos to [email protected]. Teresa made a video using images she received from sanghas, which we shared at our December 10,000 Joys and 10,000 Sorrows gathering. Here’s the link in case you missed it.

There will be no Zoom Clinic with Jon Voss this week. He will be back on Wednesday June 14th.

Celebrating spring and Earth Day

Here are two expressions of spring you may enjoy knowing about:

Mountain Rain Zen Community in Vancouver is offering a creative way of celebrating the new season with a Spring Renga-kai on Saturday, April 17, 1:00-4:00.
Cherry blossom season is here! Please join us for our fifth renga-kai, or “linked-verse gathering”. Renga is a sequence of linked verses, typically created by a group of 2-4 people in a convivial atmosphere. The roots of renga lie deep in the history of Japanese poetry, but the form has survived and evolved through the emergence of haiku and into modern times and other languages. We will learn how to write and share renga in a way that is both grounded in our Zen practice of moment-to-moment awareness, and also accepting and fun! Click here for registration and details.

Austin Zen Center is celebrating Earth Day on Thursday, April 22, 6.45 pm CT All are invited to participate (in person outside, or by Zoom) by offering words of gratitude, intention, and vow regarding our commitment to our Mother the Earth on paper ‘ema’ (plaques),: in-person or online. The paper ‘ema’ will be hung from the great oak in the front yard. The oak tree, which was symbolically ordained in 2014, reminds us of our unfathomable and absolute mutual interconnection with all things, and specifically that our natural world greatly deserves and needs our utmost respect, care, and stewardship. For more information, here’s the link.

Shokuchi Carrigan of Brooklyn Zen Center shared information about a Love Walk/Love Sit in New York City on April 11th from 3-6 p.m. EDT, sponsored by the Buddhist Council of New York. The walk is in solidarity with the Asian Community in response to recent and past violence toward people of Asian descent.

Wishing you joy on Buddha’s birthday this week, as we are all buddhas, taking our steps toward liberation for all beings.

With appreciation,

Tova

March 29, 2021

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

As we move into spring and more people are receiving vaccinations, this Newsette features several offerings that address the challenges and opportunities of this time. These include a half-day Branching Streams gathering, our Zoom clinic focusing on hybrid zendos and ceremonies, and a class in psychological first aid. In addition, there’s a book published by Milwaukee Zen Center that may interest you. 

Branching Streams Flow On

You and members of your sangha are invited to a Branching Streams Online Gathering 

Saturday May 22 from 9a.m. to 12 noon  PT

In this time of many transitions in our lives, our sanghas, our country, and our world, we will gather to reconnect, explore shared concerns, participate in a ceremony, and be inspired by music, poetry and one another. 

Please save the date. More details to follow.

At our next Zoom clinic with Jon Voss on Wednesday March 31st at 11 a.m. PST we will focus on the topic of hybrid zendos. Many sanghas are learning ways to combine live and online offerings. Please come if you have questions or would like to share your sangha’s experiences.

Here’s the Zoom link or Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.

The Shogaku Zen Institute announces its Spring 2021 online class: Psychological First Aid – Creating Safety in the Present Moment taught by Rev. Koshin Steven Tierney, EdD, LPCC
April 22 through June 23,10 Wednesday evenings, 5:00 to 6:30 pm PDT (6:00 – 7:30 MT, 7:00 to 8:30 CT, 8:00 to 9:30 ET)

 This course will identify tools of psychological first aid which we can use in our lives, in our work as pastoral counselors, and in our teaching – to assist those with whom we live and practice to meet both the challenges and the joys of living life fully. Here’s the Full course syllabus. The course costs $600 and earns 3 credits toward a Master’s Degree in Divinity. For more information or to register send an email to [email protected]. Payment can be made on the Shogaku Zen Institute’s payments page.

The Milwaukee Zen Center recently published a book with vibrant art work by a member of a prison sangha and essays by ten contemporary Soto Zen teachers. Royalties from book sales are collected for the artist, MC Winston. It’s available through Amazon for $19.50. Here is the link.

May you, your sanghas, and all beings be healthy and safe in this transition-full time.

Bowing,

Tova


March 23, 2021

Dear teachers and leaders,

As we celebrate the coming of spring, I am reminded of a song about Sister Julian of Norwich, the medieval mystic. The words of the chorus are “Ring out, bells of Norwich and let the winter come and go. All shall be well again, I know.” As many of us receive vaccinations we may be feeling some relief and hope that the isolation of the past year will be lifted in the coming months.

At the same time, in recent weeks in the U.S. there has been rising awareness of and concern about violence directed at people of Asian descent, heightened after last week’s killing of eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. San Francisco Zen Center’s leadership wrote a statement which offers some resources for further learning and ways of intervening when we hear or see acts of anti-Asian hatred. Here is the link:  Speaking Out About Anti- Asian Violence.

This is short notice – nevertheless, you may be interested in hearing Mushim Ikeda, a founding teacher at East Bay Meditation Center, and Greg Snyder, co-guiding teacher of Brooklyn Zen Center, in conversation on Tuesday March 23 at 4 p.m. PST. Mushim’s topic is “I Vow Not to Burn Out.” Here is the link.

As spring brings new life, Valley Streams Zen Sangha in Sacramento CA will be welcoming the birth of a child to a family in their sangha with a Jizo Ceremony. This ceremony may be of interest to those who are offering baby blessings or supporting sangha members who have lost babies or children. Their Jizo ceremony will follow a half-day sitting on Saturday April 3. Rev. Doralee Grindler Katonah will give the Dharma talk and lead the ceremony. Here is how she describes the ceremony:

Jizo is the Great Bodhissattva who protects the baby and mother during pregnancy and birthing. Jizo is known as the ‘Earth Store’ or ‘Earth Womb’ Bodhisattva who embodies and transmits the qualities of fearlessness, tenderness, and open heartedness – qualities that protect the mother and cradle the child. Participants are invited to offer blessings and good wishes through a spoken prayer to Jizo, which will then be typed in the chat and made into prayer flags for the family to hang. This will be a sacred time to come together to celebrate new life. For more information, email [email protected].

Many sanghas are including more ceremonies in their offerings. This week and next there will be Full Moon Ceremonies offered by Zen Centers in many time zones across the U.S. including Austin Zen Center Read more & register, Seattle Soto Zen Read more, and Brooklyn Zen Center Read more.

Guiding teacher Peter van der Sterre invites you to join the Oak Street Zendo in San Francisco, and the 7th Street Zendo in Boise, Idaho for their 2nd annual spring practice period from March 27th to May 29th on Zoom, featuring Jennifer Block as Shuso.

The theme for the Practice Period is Way Seeking Mind: the Path to Our Original Self.  Both beginners and those who have practiced for many years are welcome. You will find more information on the Oak Street Zendo website.

The Soto Zen Buddhist Association is offering Spring and Summer classes and requests your input. Here is a message from Anna Breckenridge, the SZBA Operations Coordinator:

”This year the SZBA will be opening its courses to members of other organizations and communities, including additional courses coming in the fall. We hope you’ll join us, and we have created a survey to gauge availability and interest in these offerings. Please click this link to take our survey. We look forward to hearing from you! The classes are:
Unpacking Whiteness: Exploring the Delusion of Race from a Buddhist Perspective and Building the Joy and Energy of Diverse Community: Living the Bodhisattva Vow

 I hope you are all in good health. As spring unfolds, may you find ways to meet this tender time of both sorrow and opening.

Bowing,
Tova


March 16, 2021

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

Houston Zen Center’s newsletter noted that the temple made it through last month’s ice storm in good order, losing electricity only for a short while and not losing water at all. However, their garden and temple grounds have taken a blow from the storm. They are planning a Garden Samu Day to work together physically in a safe way. “We will see the rejuvenation of spring before we know it.”

I find this expression of resilience encouraging, as is a report from Centro Budista Zen Soto in San Juan Puerto Rico. Sandra Laureano writes: “We have had continuous practice during the pandemic period. Initially, we met by phone. We later moved to virtual participation through a variety of electronic apps, until we decided to use zoom. For 8 months we met on a nightly schedule. When the holidays began, we adjusted to the changing conditions and now meet three nights a week for a well-being service, sutra chanting, zazen, and teachings.

“Prior to the pandemic, we celebrated a monthly Zazenkai, that we decided to renew starting January 2021. We meet at the center, which is an open, well-ventilated space and accommodate up to 8 people (half its capacity), with the required distancing. Students can also do the Zazenkai virtually. “Overall, we feel this arrangement has worked well. We are pleased to have taken this decision. It has given us the sense that slowly we are returning to our regular practices and are able to once again experience the richness of being physically present.”

Mountain Rain Zen Community in Vancouver, BC is planning a Spring Equinox Celebration
Sunday, March 21, 10:00-12:15, “to celebrate the coming of spring and the resiliency of our sangha one year after we closed the Wall St. zendo early in the pandemic. Please bring a poem or reading for the occasion! Everyone welcome!” 

In last week’s Newsette I mentioned that we are planning an online gathering of Branching Streams leaders and members and gave an incorrect date. Please save the date, Saturday May 22 from 9 a.m. to noon PST. We will have details about the program soon.

And here is the link for the March 21 at noon Central time Stepping Down Ceremony for Michaela Bono who has served as guiding teacher for Mid-City Zen in New Orleans for nearly a decade.

In a recent Zoom Clinic with Jon Voss we explored closed captioning and live transcription through Zoom. If you need Zoom support or want to expand your skills please join us on Wednesday March 17 at 11 a.m. PST. Here’s the Zoom link or Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.

May you be noticing signs of spring, internally and externally,

Bowing with appreciation,

Tova​​​​


March 9, 2021

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

Last March when I was visiting Austin Zen Center, we discussed plans to hold the 2021 Branching Streams Conference at a nearby retreat center in October of 2021. Now, due to Covid-19, conditions are too uncertain to plan an in-person conference this year. However, getting together can lift our spirits and provide connection – so the Branching Streams Advisory Committee is planning an online gathering for Branching Streams leaders and members. Please save the date, Saturday May 24th from 9 a.m. to noon PST. We will have details about the program soon.

This Newsette will highlight a few ways sanghas are meeting the ongoing challenges of the pandemic with creative programming, including ceremonies. It will also feature two ways in which sanghas that participated in last year’s Unpacking Whiteness class with Crystal Johnson have continued the work explored in that course, and a related event offered by SF Zen Center. This Newsette also includes a letter from the Board of Mid-City Zen in New Orleans about a significant change in their sangha.

The Mountain Rain Zen Community in Vancouver, B. C., Canada has found, despite “tedium, fatigue, impatience, inertia… also gratitude for small mercies and joys, friendships, Zoom connections. One of the sustaining joys has been seeing the home altars of sangha member in their Zoom squares, candles lighting our way through the pandemic, connecting us in the dharma. Please enjoy the home altar album slide show now available on the Mountain Rain website homepage!”

Richmond Zen Center will offer a Spring Equinox Ceremony and Gathering March 20 7:30 – 8:40 a.m. outdoors at Shields Lake, Byrd Park . “The spring equinox closely coincides with the one-year mark of our weekly outdoor Boundless Zendo meetings that began in response to the pandemic. Following our usual zazen and kinhin, we’ll have a spring equinox ceremony, which includes chanting the Heart Sutra and poems read by anyone who would like to share a reading. Live music and other surprises might happen, too. Remember: mask, distance, and connect.”

Austin Zen Center offers a Waking Up to Racism and White Supremacy Group. “All are invited to join this continuing group, a peer-led study of personal & structural racism and bias through the lens of Dharma. J oin us for the new module beginning March 14 from 1 to 3 p.m. (other meetings March 28, April 11, and April 25) which will focus on Resmaa Menakem’s 2017 book My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies . ALL are WELCOME!” Read more and register…

Awakening to Difference + Unity: Richmond’s Unhealed History Tour and Discussion is being offered by Richmond Zen Center, five Saturday Mornings: March 13, April 10, 24, May 8, 22
We will be reading local author, pastor, and activist Ben Campbell’s Richmond’s Unhealed History over these five weeks and each week we will meet at a different site in Richmond relevant to our reading. Possible sites include the Powhatan Stone at Chimborazo Park, the slave auction and burial sites around the 15th St. + Broad St. corridor, the Maggie Walker Plaza, and the Lee Monument. Please contact Blythe if you want to join us on this journey.

San Francisco Zen Center is offering Healing is the Revolution on March 13 th from 6 to 8 p.m.led by Denese Shervington Lisa Richardson and Dojin Sarah Emerson .

In this evening of conversation Dr. Shervington will bring her expertise in psychiatry, trauma, and community healing, paired with Dr. Richardson’s experience in Public Health and community resilience and Reverend Dojin’s deep understanding of Buddhist principles and practice engagement. For more information, click here and you can register here.

A message from the Board of Mid-City Zen in New Orleans: “We will be moving from a priest-led to a lay-led sangha with the leaving of our Reverend Michaela O’Connor Bono, who has led our sangha since its inception with her fierce strength, humor and compassion. Michaela has dedicated nearly a decade to guiding MCZ. As a small token of our gratitude and recognition of her dedication to our sangha – a community that would not exist if not for her – we will be holding a Departing Teacher Ceremony on March 21, 2021 at noon via Zoom. (The link will be in next week’s Newsette). We hope that you can join us.”

Jon Voss’s weekly Zoom drop-in Clinic continues on Wednesday, March 10thrd, from 11 a.m. to 12 PST. Here’s the Zoom link or Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.

May you all be healthy and safe.

Bowing with appreciation,

Tova


March 1, 2021

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

A year ago, in early March, I was beginning a two-week trip to Texas to visit San Antonio, Austin, and Houston Zen Centers. While I was on the road, Covid-19 was designated as a pandemic and the first cases were being reported in the cities I visited. I gave the last “live” talk in Austin before the Zendo closed and the first online talk in Houston before flying back to San Francisco on a nearly empty plane to enter two weeks of quarantine.

Today is also the beginning of Women’s History Month in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. International Women’s day is celebrated on March 8th in many countries around the world.

For International Women’s Day, Mountain Rain Zen Community in Vancouver, BC is “Honouring Mahapajapati, our first woman ancestor with a talk and a ceremony on March 7th. This talk is part of our regular Sunday morning practice schedule. Everyone welcome!”

Most sanghas are being cautious about reopening their zendos despite the increasing availability of vaccines. As spring nears and temperatures rise,  more outdoor programs may be possible.

Here is San Antonio Zen Center’s plan for an outdoor “hybrid” experience: On Saturdays March 6 and 27, we will attempt to have outdoor in-person zazen here at SAZC. This will be contingent upon weather and San Antonio’s Covid numbers. We will monitor this closely and there will be a go/no-go announcement before the event. If we can hold the Saturday program in person, it will also be broadcast on Zoom.

Taigen Leighton, guiding teacher of Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago writes: “We continue doing the mysterious, challenging work of sustaining our practice and our teaching tradition. Just to continue this dignified practice of upright sitting and life expression is a wonderful gift to our world, to each other, and to ourselves. We continue even through the current challenges of pandemic, climate breakdown, and our historical karma of slavery and now violent white supremacy. Just to sustain caring and attention provides possibilities for healing.  Though we are now a homeless sangha, we are beginning the process of locating a new permanent Chicago home where we can also include our new widespread zoom sangha folks.”

Sunday morning March 14th from 9:30 to 11 Ancient Dragon will host Pamela Ayo Yetunde in their series of Black women teachers. Ayo is a college professor who teaches pastoral care, counseling, and comparative religion, with connections to Vipassana and Soto Zen communities. To access the room, click here.

Emily Dashawetz, the Ino of Zen Center North Shore in Beverly, Massachusetts, writes in their newsletter, “We may feel the hope of the vaccine and an end in sight to the conditions of this pandemic – not because our hope is held elsewhere, in some other, unattainable place, but because we can expand ourselves wide enough to know all things must shift and change. We do not know the timetable, or the events to come, but change itself is unremitting.” ZCNS is offering several dharma talks by guest speakers this month:

Thursday, March 4, 6:30 – 8:30 pm ET: Zazen and Dharma Talk by Rev. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel on The Shamanic Bones of Zen
Thursday, March 11, 6:30 – 8:30 pm ET: Zazen and Conversation with Chenxing Han on Be The Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists
Thursday, March 18, 6:30-8:30pm ET: Zazen and Conversation with Rev. Andre Bennett and Rev. Myozen Joan Amaral on The Sacred Work of Justice 
Thursday, March 25, 6:30 – 8:30 pm ET: Zazen and Guest Talk by Rev. Bernadette Hickman-Maynard on Liberation

Bernd Bender describes a project conceived by members of Akazienzendo in Berlin as a response to their longing, during this time of meeting in digital space, for physical contact and analog exchange. They are individually copying by hand one or more pages of Suzuki Roshi’s “Zen Mind, Beginner Mind.” Sangha members are invited to add drawings, collages, photos or whatever arises from their own creativity and the desire for expression in connection with the book. At the end, the handwritten and designed book will be put together and made into a jointly developed whole.

 Fushin Susan Schoenbohm at Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago sends “a very heartfelt thank you to all the folks who have responded to our request for information regarding how your sanghas have conceived and organized sangha care. It’s been very helpful as we have begun to formulate how we will proceed.”

Jon Voss’s weekly Zoom drop-in Clinic continues on Wednesday, March 3rd, from 11 a.m. to 12 PST. Here’s the Zoom link or Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.

I want to thank Hiro Ikushima in SFZC’s Communications department for formatting this Newsette.

May you be well, and may you be encouraged by the strength, persistence, and creativity of dharma friends around the world.

Bowing,

Tova


February 23, 2021

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

 

As the weather has warmed in some parts of the U.S., sanghas in Texas may be resuming many of their activities and finding ways of supporting those who have suffered during last week’s power and water outages. I checked back with the guiding teachers of Austin, Houston, and San Antonio Zen Centers last Thursday. If you’d like to read what they reported, you can find their words here.

 

At City Center we are getting ready for a three-week intensive led by Kathie and Norman Fischer on Dogen’s Zuimonki, from March 2nd to March 20th. Here is a link to an interview with Kathie Fisher that you may enjoy reading. Norman is the teacher of many Branching Streams guiding teachers. Perhaps some of you will be participating in this intensive.

 

I am wondering what questions you have for other sanghas. What information would you like to share or hear from Branching Streams groups in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Columbia, and several countries in Europe?

 

Jon Voss and I are still working on the Branching Streams website. Pat Yingst of Austin Zen Center is assisting us with updating the links, particularly on the Resources page.

 

Jon’s weekly Zoom class has been lively, and you or any member of your sangha are welcome to participate. It’s a drop-in group, although some people attend week after week to hone their skills and ease in creating ceremonies, using breakout rooms in creative ways, and solving audio and video problems. The next class is Wednesday, February 24th, from 11 a.m. to 12 PST.Here’s the Zoom link or Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.

Can you please share this message with any members of your sangha you think might be interested? Guest Student Program Reopens at City Center

We’re pleased to announce that the guest student program at San Francisco Zen Center’s City Center location has reopened to the public. For this new iteration of the program, guest students participate in a three-month residency designed to deepen one’s practice, connect to the community, and experience what it’s like to live the temple life. The temple schedule includes morning and evening zazen, service (sutra chanting and bowing), work as a form of practice in action, Buddhist classes, and communal vegetarian meals.  To ensure the health safety of guest students and residents alike, we have created a hybrid program where some of these activities occur in person and others online. This allows new students to live, work, and practice in the temple, while supporting the health and well-being of the sangha.


To learn more about the new guest student program as well as our health and safety protocols, visit the guest student stay webpage

 

February is the shortest month, yet it can seem very long, especially in places where spring doesn’t begin to show its colors until March or even April. Many people may be feeling exhaustion, especially after nearly a year of meeting the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

May you be well, and may you find moments of delight even in difficult times.

With appreciation,

Tova

February 16, 2021

Dear Branching Streams Teachers and Leaders,

Last week I mentioned a number of parts of the U.S. that were dealing with winter storms – and Texas and the Gulf Coast were not included. However, an intense cold front accompanied by snow and freezing rain, has landed in that part of the country.

This morning. Reirin Gumbel, Milwaukee Zen Center’s guiding teacher, posted her concerns about sanghas in Texas on the Soto Zen Buddhist Associations members’ forum. She wrote:

“How are you doing in this weather? Are your centers safe? Thinking about all Texans and others in the South. We have a seemingly unending snowstorm here; but Milwaukee is ready for it. 

Much metta,

Reirin”

 

Our three Texas Branching Streams sanghas in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio responded within hours.

 

Mako Voelkel, guiding teacher of Austin Zen Center replied, “Texans are *really* not prepared for such cold temps, and pipes freezing seems to be a huge issue. One of the buildings at AZC has lost hot water, and we’re concerned it’s due to a frozen pipe. Natural gas still works, thankfully, but we just received a recent warning statement from Texas Gas Services saying gas wells are starting to freeze due to the sustained low temps!

 

“While Austin Zen Center (with five residents) has not lost power yet – likely due to its location a few blocks from a major hospital – our Tanto and a few board members have not had power since 5:45pm last night. With no clear end in sight of either above-freezing weather or repairs to the energy grid, this may go on for some time. Driving anywhere right now seems out of the question, with snow on top of a sheet of ice, cars left stranded, and zero preparedness for such conditions! I myself am safe and thankful for having power (as well as Tassajara training in hot water bottles, headlamps, and bundling up).”

 

Gaelyn Godwin, Abbot of Houston Zen Center, commented: “Thanks for asking – the report in Houston is almost identical to Mako’s in Austin. A wide array of concerns and outages. Perhaps the biggest issue right now is that the water pressure is so low – due to everyone leaving their taps dripping and the big pumps freezing – that we may start having back flow into the drinking lines. The city asked us all to stop the dripping, but we already had frozen pipes here the first day and we are reluctant to repeat that.
“Tim told me part of the electrical shortage is due to the freeze on the gigantic wind turbine wings. No newspapers or mail, limited broadband, but we always have rumors. We’ve brought a member and her 2 dogs into the temple for refuge from the cold.The lack of hot showers was a challenge, but we are very grateful for all we have.”

 

Colin Gipson, San Antonio Zen Center’s guiding teacher, wrote: “Thank you very much for asking, and for your concern. We received around 3 1/2 inches of snow here at SAZC and so far have been very lucky in that we haven’t lost power or heat at the Zen Center. We are supposed to receive freezing rain tonight, but it begins warming tomorrow and the overall situation will improve rapidly over the next few days.”

 

The extreme cold and severe winter weather experience in much of the U.S. and in parts of Canada is related to the climate crisis, as Kritee Kanko, a Zen priest and climate scientist/activist posted on the SZBA Forum today. I will include a small part of her post in this Newsette and attach the rest to this Newsette.

“Dear fellow dharma teachers, Zen/Ecodharma enthusiasts and faith leaders, 

Yesterday I was moved to tears several times while listening to two indigenous women speak of Line 3 and repeatedly ask people to stand by their side as they put their bodies on the line to stop this pipeline in Minnesota. This issue is right at the intersection of facing the climate crisis and justice for indigenous people (especially women who are leading this effort). While Biden has put a stop on the Keystone pipeline, Enbridge’s Line 3 and other pipelines are continuing to put sacred indigenous sites, bodies of indigenous women, hundreds of waterlands where they grow their food and the Mississippi river in danger.” Kritee discusses the climate impacts of the Line 3 pipeline, its impact on indigenous communities, resources to better inform ourselves, and actions we can take in her letter.

On another note, Josho Pat Phelan, guiding teacher of Chapel Hill Zen Center, invites you to participate in a Zoom workshop with Kokyo Henkel, Questioning Our Assumptions about the World: Vasubandhu’s Twenty Verses on Mere Cognizance on Saturday, March 27, 10:30-3:30 EST
Although Vasubanhu’s 30 Verses is more well-known, his 20 Verses offers another interesting angle on Yogacara. In this short workshop, Kokyo will focus on just a few verses and go into them deeply. To register, please contact [email protected] by Wednesday, March 24. After registering, the Zoom link and reading materials will be sent to you. The suggested donation is $20-$50. Donations can be made electronically through MoonClerk at: https://app.moonclerk.com/pay/4yi5tx1i14xf. Please indicate “Workshop Donation.”

You are invited to join Jon Voss’s Zoom Clinic tomorrow, Wednesday, February 10th, from 11 a.m. to 12 PST. Here’s the Zoom link or Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.

Jon and I are still working on the Branching Streams Website to make it more user-friendly and current. We will also be correcting all the links that are not functioning.

I am also working with a staff member of the SFZC Communications Department on a new format for these Newsettes. I hope this will improve the aesthetics of the Newsette and make it easier to include photos.

I hope that those of you who are in the grips of winter storms stay safe and warm. Thank you to all of you for being part of this interconnected network of sanghas. May we continue to find ways to support one another’s practice.

Bowing,

Tova

January 26, 2021

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

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 Senauke on 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.

 

With appreciation,

Tova 

January 19, 2021

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

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. Here is the link:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1of-qupyO4cce4TWJz9wvlVeNqYaHJV6U/view?usp=sharing

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 or

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/222402816?pwd=ODVWLzZ5ZUFtREcvS2M3YmkyVnVaUT09

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

Bowing,

Tova

January 12, 2021

Dear Branching Streams Teachers and Leaders,

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 DairyuMichael 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.

With appreciation,

Tova

January 8, 2021
 
Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,
 
I am sending the message from Berkely Zen Center. Many of you are Sojun Roshi’s deshis or dharma grandchildren and are aware of his passing yesterday…and some of you may not yet have heard. Please check the Berkeley Zen Center website if you’d like more information.
bowing deeply,
Tova
 

With great sadness the sangha of Berkeley Zen Center announces that Hakuryu Sojun—White Dragon/Essence of Purity—Mel Weitsman peacefully passed from this world to the Pure Land of Buddhas and Ancestors at home, at 5:30pm on Thursday, January 7. He was ninety-one years old. 

Sojun Roshi is survived by his wife Liz Horowitz Weitsman, their son Daniel, and uncountable disciples and students across the United States and around the world. Cards and letters can be sent to Liz, Daniel, and the BZC sangha c/o Berkeley Zen Center, 1931 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA 94703. 

Berkeley Zen Center has created a Memorial Wall through the app KudoBoard, where you can post your stories, remembrances, feelings, and thoughts. Access that here:

December 9, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

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.

Tova

November 23, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

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’s 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.

 

There will not be a Newsette next week as I’ll be participating in Rohatsu sesshin.

 

I wish you a safe, healthy, and nourishing Thanksgiving week.

 

With gratitude for your presence and practice,

Tova

November 17, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

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.

 

May you find inner warmth and strength in the coming week.

 

With appreciation,

Tova

November 10, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

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 that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be leading our country for the next four years. 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: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/222402816?pwd=ODVWLzZ5ZUFtREcvS2M3YmkyVnVaUT09  Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143.

With great appreciation for all of you,

Tova

October 13, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

I had some difficulty with line spacing near the end of this Newsette. You may prefer to open the attached version.

 

This evening I took part in an interfaith vigil called Mourning Into Unity, outside Temple Emanu-el in San Francisco. It was one of many such Vigils taking place across the nation to activate people of Faith to vote and to stand together against the pandemics of Covid 19, systemic racism and environmental devastation. It’s the first time I’ve gathered with interfaith clergy since March, and though we all wore masks and maintained physical distance it felt very tender to stand in a circle and share our prayers for people in our city and country.  There will be another Mourning Into Unity vigil next Monday in Washington DC outside the White House.

 

Today was Indigenous Peoples Day. I received an email from Stephanie Kaza, who spoke on the climate crisis at last year’s Branching Streams Conference, about steps sanghas can take to cultivate local indigenous awareness. Stephanie forwarded a message from Unitarian Universalists with some questions that made me realize how little I know about local indigenous people:

·         Do you know the history of the land your congregation/sangha calls “home?”

·         Do you know what Indigenous people historically or currently inhabit that land?

·         Do you know who the Indigenous people or communities are who live in your area or region and what their visions and struggles are?

·         Are you acting in relationship or solidarity with any of them?

If you’d like to read more, here is a link to the newsletter Stephanie forwarded.

 

Ceremonies are important ways of marking transitions in our sanghas. One of great significance is happening at Berkeley Zen Center later this month:

 

The Board of Directors of Berkeley Zen Center, with boundless gratitude, invites you to the Stepping Down Ceremony and Stepping Into Founding DharmaTeacher position for Hakuryu Sojun Mel Weitsman Roshi:

Saturday, October 24 at 3 pm Pacific Time. The ceremony will be virtual; go to www.berkeleyzencenter.org and click on the link on the right hand column “Enter the Zendo Now” at the scheduled time. All are welcome.

Austin Zen Center is having a Tree-Planting Ceremony – A Celebration of Dharma Transmission on October 10th at 12:30pm Central Time. They will plant a Black Pine to celebrate and commemorate AZC Head Teacher Dōshin Mako Voelkel’s Dharma Transmission, given by her teacher Ryūshin Paul Haller in April 2019 at Tassajara. Dharma Transmission marks Rev. Mako’s full authorization as an independent Zen teacher. All are welcome to join us in-person or online for this significant event. Read more & register here.

Eishun Nancy Easton of Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago organized a day-long outdoor sesshin that brought many members of ADZG together face to face for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March.  She writes, “On Sunday, October 4, 2020, Ancient Dragon Zen Gate held our first outdoor all-day sitting at the Harms Woods forest preserve, located just outside Chicago. Priests Eishin Nancy Easton and Gyoshin Laurel Ross co-led this event, which included seventeen participants who joined together for a day of physically-distanced zazen, services, and an extended meditative walk along a hiking trail by the Chicago River.” Her article is attached if you’d like to learn more, and it will be posted on the Branching Streams website.

In Jon Voss’s Zoom class recently, guiding teacher and members of Centro Budista Zen Soto in Puerto Rico have been planning their first Jukai, which will be conducted with only guiding teacher Sandra Laureano and three ordinands in the Zendo, and videoed by Zoom. No matter how complex or simple your Zoom questions are, you are welcome to attend Jon’s weekly Zoom clinic on Wednesday October 14th at 11 a.m. Pacific time. Here’s the link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/222402816?pwd=ODVWLzZ5ZUFtREcvS2M3YmkyVnVaUT09  Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143

I wish you good health and resilience in the coming week/weeks.

Bowing with appreciation,

Tova

 

October 6, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

Even in the Bay Area, where it’s sometimes hard to recognize the changes in seasons, we’re seeing signs of autumn. Cooler weather and fog have aided firefighters in Northern California and the air quality in the Bay Area improved in the last week. San Francisco Zen Center’s City Center began our online Fall Practice Period last week. Branching Streams groups in Vancouver, Seattle, Austin, Brooklyn, and elsewhere are also beginning Fall practice periods at this time. It’s encouraging to have this more focused period of practice in the midst of the many tensions in our country.

Thank you to all the Branching Streams sanghas that have responded to the Covid-19 Survey. I’ve received 39 responses thus far and will reach out one more time to about 25 groups that have not yet responded. I will share the results next week.

Thanks also to those of you who responded to Sanriki from Montaña de Silencio Comunidad Zen Insight in Medellín, Colombia. He writes: “I tell you that the goal was reached, and even exceeded. ..With this, we can end the year without financial concerns and start 2021 with much more confidence…150 practitioners and friends supported us in the campaign. This is indeed a unique treasure that fills us with energy and courage to continue building our sangha and the right conditions to share the Dharma.”

There are two online DEIA events you may be interested in. One is tonight, October 6th from 7 to 8:30 EST, a dialogue, “What is Right Justice?” between Greg Snyder, co-guiding teacher of Brooklyn Zen Center and Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, offered through Union Theological Seminary in New York, where Greg teaches.

And Kannon Do in Mountain View, CA will be hosting an online talk about transformative justice with Lucy Andrews on Saturday October 10th, 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. (Pacific Time), as part of their  “Buddhism in Society” Discussion Series. Lucy co-leads the Unpacking Whiteness program at San Francisco Zen Center and is a PhD candidate in environmental science at UC Berkeley. The link is: https://kannondo.org/event/online-buddhism-in-society-discussion-series-with-lucy-andrews/

The Action to Feed the Hungry, an Online Gathering Sponsored by Houston Zen Center and Myoken-Ji is coming up this Sunday, October 11, 2020 11:30am – 1:30pm Central Time. Abbot Gaelyn Godwin says: “This year, during the global pandemic, it is more important than ever to come together to provide help and support for the many people who suffer food insecurity. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, the founder of Buddhist Global Relief, will join our action to give us encouraging words, as well as guided meditation. We invite everyone to participate by joining us for this online action.”

Jon Voss will be offering his weekly Zoom clinic on Wednesday October 6that 11 a.m. Pacific time. Wednesday, September 16th from 11 to noon Pacific time. Bring your questions about hosting Zoom events, sounds for ceremonies, and anything else Zoom-related. Here’s the link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/222402816?pwd=ODVWLzZ5ZUFtREcvS2M3YmkyVnVaUT09

Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143

Thank you all for your sustained practice and for the many ways you encourage your sanghas.

With gratitude, Tova

September 29, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

This is a time of both celebration and mourning, sometimes expressed in ceremonies.

This past Saturday, three sanghas held outdoor Jukai ceremonies. I was able to attend the ceremonies in Austin and Houston by Zoom and received a description of the Jukai at All Beings Zen Sangha in Washington, D.C., written by their Shuso, Shōryū Chris Leader.All Beings Zen Sangha held their second socially distanced Jukai ceremony this past weekend. The event was held in an open-sided barn at their rural retreat site and was attended by family members of the initiates and several sangha members. The barn was lit by the afternoon sunlight framing their preceptor and slipping through the boards of the ceiling. After the students took their vows and received their robes, each had a chance to step away from everyone, remove their mask, and address those who had gathered to support them. Afterward the ceremony closed with bells that roiled among the rafters, and exclamations of joy from Bodhisattvas and family alike. 

 

In recent newsletters we’ve spoken about closing ceremonies for beloved zendos. Ceremonies are also healing when loved ones die. Ramana Waymire of Ashland Oregon Zen Center writes: “One of our beloved sangha members, Kakuga Cyndi Grewe, died on September 7th. We held the traditional three-day vigil for her, adjusted for Covid-safety; only four in the zendo at a time, wearing masks and keeping social distance. At 72 hours we held a ceremony with 108 bows, with teachers and priests in the zendo with the windows open so that sangha could bear witness and participate from outside.”

 

Chris Fortin, guiding teacher of Dharma HeartZen sangha, will be offering two online events centering Jizo Bodhisattva through San Francisco Zen Center. She writes: “In this time of difficulty and uncertainty, the archetype of Jizo Bodhisattva, an embodiment of fearlessness and great persistence, is a profound resource. Jizo vows to walk into the fires of suffering, and to accompany all beings across to the safety and equanimity of awakening.”

Chris is offering a Jizo Workshop and Ceremony (traditionally done for children who have died, it is relevant to losses of any kind), on October 10th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and an 8-week practice group that begins on October 15th. She says, “All are welcome, especially those in need of compassion, healing, and solace from the many losses, uncertainty, and changes of these times. Here’s a link for More information and registration

We have received 31 responses to the Branching Streams Covid-19 Survey to date.  The survey is designed to provide an overview of how the pandemic is affecting sanghas. If you haven’t responded,  here’s the link to the survey. We request that only one person in each sangha respond. It will take 10 minutes or less to complete. Please respond by Friday, October 2nd.  We will share the results in a Newsette and on the Branching Streams website.

The last letter writing election retreat will be on October 11th. Enrollment is open until Friday October 2nd. Here’s the link to their website: https://www.electionretreat.org/ In following weeks, election retreats will focus on phone-banking in swing states.

 

Jon Voss will be offering his weekly Zoom clinic on Wednesday September 29th at 11 a.m. Pacific time. Wednesday, September 16th from 11 to noon Pacific time. Bring your questions about hosting Zoom events, sounds for ceremonies, and anything else Zoom-related.

Here’s the Zoom information:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/222402816?pwd=ODVWLzZ5ZUFtREcvS2M3YmkyVnVaUT09

Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143

 

Thank you for reading this Newsette. May you find strength and sustenance in ceremonies, in your sanghas, in your families, in nature.

 

Bowing with appreciation,

Tova

September 21, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

Although the fires near Tassajara have been sufficiently contained to create safe enough conditions for a few students to return, some fires are still burning in California, Oregon, and Washington.

This Newsette includes a message from Ashland Zen Center in Oregon, and news of Zendo closings in Chicago and San Jose, CA.  These reports hint at the grief that many of us are feeling, as the number of deaths from Covid-19 in the U.S. nears 200,000. In addition, many of us are mourning the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg last Friday.

Ramana Waymire of Ashland Zen Center wrote on September 17th, “We are smoked in, but thankfully we are safe. We each know someone who has lost a home or livelihood to the Southern Oregon fires, and know many who have been displaced by fire. The outpouring of support from the whole valley has been tremendous in the face of this suffering. Our sangha is gathering up care packages to distribute to those affected by fire. We also have an apartment which we are making available for short-term housing for some people who are living in their cars because their homes burned down. The fires have disproportionally affected the Hispanic community so we are grateful to have a Mexican sangha member who can assist in translation.”

Zendo Closings:

Douglas Floyd, Board Chair, sent this message: “Based on three Sangha Community Meetings held in August, Ancient Dragon Zen Gate’s board of directors is announcing that we have unanimously agreed that Ancient Dragon Zen Gate will not be renewing our lease after it expires on December 31, 2020. It’s with a heavy heart that we came to this conclusion. The temple on Irving Park Boulevard in Chicago has been our home for over 10 years. It’s important, however, to keep in mind that Ancient Dragon Zen Gate was a community before we occupied that building, and also that in the midst of this pandemic we have stayed together and grown together as a community. We will conduct a temple closing ceremony on December 6, which will include removing the image of Shakyamuni Buddha from our altar. The ceremony will be streamed on ZOOM, and additional information about the ceremony will be posted beforehand on our website www.ancientdragon.org.”

Cornelia Shonkwiler, guiding teacher of Middle Way Zen writes: “We did close our rented space in San Jose. Middle Way Zen is continuing on Zoom for now, but we are hoping to find a new sitting space when the pandemic is over, or at least better controlled.”

Here is a description of the closing ceremony from sangha member Ann Meido Rice: [The ceremony] “was held in the garden courtyard  of the Art Gallery with which we were associated, with many of the sangha in attendance, socially distanced and masked.  The ceremony was a simple and poignant  one, much like the history and workings of our sangha.  It was one in which many students were involved without realizing the specific contribution they had made to the service.

Cornelia’s closing remarks were beautiful and real: ‘With the closing of our zendo, we may experience a sense of loss, but we should remember that an ending can lead to a new beginning…Let’s go forward with trust and confidence that this practice will continue forever.’

My overall experience was one of realization of the profound effect of the simplicity, connection, teaching, and zazen that Middle Way Zen has had on many in the 11 years that we called this address our home, with the circle ever widening from this point. We are now on Zoom with zazen, services, talks, and social catch-up 6 mornings/week…..small and still together.”

On another note, by popular request Jon Voss will repeat his basic Zoom training Wednesday, September 23rd  from 11 to noon Pacific time. Here’s the description and link:

Time to add some backup to your online zendo team? This training will go over the basics for using Zoom to host online zendos. We will cover basic security features, how hosts can set up the zendo when they log on, using recorded bells and other sounds, and a quick intro to breakout groups if time allows. This class will be recorded. 

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/222402816?pwd=ODVWLzZ5ZUFtREcvS2M3YmkyVnVaUT09

Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143

This class is in lieu of the regular Wednesday Zoom clinic. If you have any questions, you can email me or Jon, [email protected].

 

As we approach the Autumn Equinox, already experiencing the shorter days and changing colors of Autumn, may we find ways to connect with and support one another.

With bows of appreciation for all of you,

Tova

September 14, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

This morning I received a message from Josho Pat Phelan, the guiding teacher of Chapel Hill Zen Center, saying, “I am thinking of you and of California and the West Coast fires and send my deep wish for it to end soon.” I replied, “Thank you for your wishes concerning the wildfires.  It’s such a call to do whatever we can to slow climate change.” 

For me, slowing climate change is linked to getting out the vote for the November election. Nearly 200 people from sanghas across the country, including Shokuchi Deirdre Carrigan from Brooklyn Zen Center and Chris Fortin from  Dharma Heart Zen in Sebastopol, CA participated in an online election retreat organized by many members of Berkeley Zen Center yesterday. This retreat generating over 4,000 letters encouraging people in swing states to vote. The 4 ½ hour retreat included zazen, a dharma talk by Roshi Joan Halifax of Upaya Zen Center, and time to write letters. Thus far this year over 50,000 letters have been generated in these retreats – an example of how, together, we can make a difference. It’s not too late to enroll in the three remaining retreats on September 27, October 4 and 11. Here’s the link to their website: https://www.electionretreat.org/

This Newsette  also includes a description of what two sanghas are doing to support a global Buddhist response to feed the hungry, a new video of zazen instruction by Sojun Mel Weitsman, and a study group inspired by A Wild Love for the World, as well as an invitation to a special Zoom class with Jon Voss.

Houston Zen Center writes: “This year, during the global pandemic, it is more important than ever to come together to provide help and support for the many people who suffer food insecurity. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, the founder of Buddhist Global Relief’s Walk to Feed the Hungry, will join HZC’s action to give us encouraging words, as well as guided meditation.

“We invite everyone to participate by registering for this online action. You can also make a video of yourself walking or standing with a sign that supports Buddhist Global Relief. Your efforts and generosity will help with programs that provide direct relief, promote sustainable agriculture, and provide education and right livelihood opportunities for women. To learn more: https://mailchi.mp/houstonzen/walk-to-feed-the-hungry-october-26th-2187372?e=f8dc82556b

Berkeley Zen Center will also be participating in the Walk to Feed the Hungry.

Berkely Zen Center’s Vice-Abbot Alan Senauke writes:  “Sojun Roshi [who is 91 years old] offered a full zazen instruction, with some q&a, at a Friday afternoon talk in the Zendo. We tried to capture it in a high-quality video with good sound. This wonderful documentation of his teaching can be found on our new Berkeley Zen Video YouTube channel, which also features almost all our Saturday talks and classes since we moved onto the Zoom platform. You can browse through the offerings. Meanwhile, here is the link to Sojun’s instruction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBmYlr35mYU

On Saturday night I attended an online conversation between Stephanie Kaza (who spoke at the 2019 Branching Streams Conference) and Joanna Macy, Buddhist activist, teacher, and writer. In the midst of the fires burning in California, Oregon (Stephanie’s home) and Washington, their words on the climate crisis were healing and energizing.  Stephanie edited A Wild Love for the World, Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time, a tribute to Joanna’s decades of work to help us turn our despair into compassionate action. This book is the focus of study for Heart of Compassion sangha in Point Reyes, whose guiding teacher is Jaune Evans.

Here’s a reminder about a special Zoom class offered by Jon Voss this week:

Many sanghas are expanding both the range of Zoom offerings (e.g. beginning to do service and ceremonies on Zoom) and including more sangha members in hosting Zoom events. Here’s a description of a class Jon is offering next week:

Time to add some backup to your online zendo team? This training will go over the basics for using Zoom to host online zendos. We will cover: basic security features, how hosts can set up the zendo when they log on, using recorded bells and other sounds, and a quick intro to breakout groups if time allows. This class will be recorded. 

Wednesday, September 16th from 11 to noon Pacific time.

Here’s the Zoom information:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/222402816?pwd=ODVWLzZ5ZUFtREcvS2M3YmkyVnVaUT09

Meeting ID: 222 402 816, Passcode: 057143

This class is in lieu of the regular Wednesday Zoom clinic. If you have any questions, you can email me or Jon, [email protected].

May we all find the words and actions that inspire us to care for ourselves, one another, our sanghas, country, and planet.

Bowing,

Tova

 

September 8, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

This Newsette is longer than usual, so you may prefer to read it as an attachment.

I enjoyed seeing many of you at last week’s Soto Zen Buddhist Association Conference.

And I’m happy to let you know that we have a new Branching Streams webmaster, Jon Voss, a member of Mid-City Zen in New Orleans. I want to thank Eric Jonas of All Beings Zen Group in Washington, D.C. for his responsiveness and creativity in updating the website.

This Newsette features news from Branching Streams groups in Europe, Mexico, and Columbia. You will read of some challenges groups have faced due to Covid-19 as well as opportunities going online has afforded sanghas.

Djinn Gallager writes: Black Mountain ZC in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is hosting an international weeklong sesshin on the theme Entering the Buddha Way, led by Ryushin Paul Haller. “The sesshin has 62 participants, and we will be sitting together across the world in Ireland and Northern Ireland, the UK, the US, Canada, Thailand, Australia, Slovenia, Greece, Norway and Austria. Ryushin is offering the sesshin by donation to allow as many people as possible to attend, regardless of their finances.”

Akazienzendo in Berlin offers an international evening

Bernd Bender, their guiding teacher, writes: “The zendo was closed from April to the middle of June. Since then we very cautiously reopened and accommodate 14 people to sit, practicing physical distancing. Like in many practice places, most of our events still happen online only.

 

“Zen in English” started two months ago as a venue for practitioners in Greece to meet with me. (For the past five years I have been traveling to Greece four times a year for short weekend-retreats.) The big surprise of “Zen in English” has been that right from the start people here in Germany also participated and a dream came true: For years we have been trying to find ways for the Athens and the Berlin sanghas to meet, and now it is happening. Then some friends from California joined, and lately Djinn Gallagher in Belfast participated and hosted our last meeting.

 

It is a very heartwarming experience how in challenging times we can find creative ways to connect and practice together. The meetings happen every Friday, 7.30-9 pm, Central European time. We sit together for 30 minutes and chant the Heart Sutra, usually followed by a brief talk and discussion.”

The Zoom link is: https://us02web.zoom.us/s/3516453359?pwd=bDlaT042OWR0UDJmNmlFOUFVM1VUdz09#success.  You are invited to join!

 

News and request from Montaña de Silencio Comunidad Zen Insight in Medellin, Columbia

Sanriki Jaramillo, their guiding teacher, was participating in the Spring Practice Period at Green Gulch Farm, which ended in mid-March, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He writes, “I returned to Medellín to guide our small community through the quarantine. It has been a time of great uncertainty and limitation. Although we are now close to ending our quarantine (the curve of contagion and death from COVID 19 has begun to diminish significantly in Colombia), the economic impact of the temporary closure of our center has been great. The largest part of our income is comprised of donations and voluntary support from practitioners and visitors, and our monthly income has been reduced by forty percent. In the last six months, we have incurred a large deficit that threatens our future. If we are not able to cover this deficit, we may have to give up our practice center, the house we currently occupy, where a small community of permanent and occasional practitioners live.  

Fifteen days ago, we began a fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $20.000.000 Colombian pesos ($5,500 US dollars). The result so far has been encouraging as we have raised 60% of our goal, but we still have a long way to go before we reach it.”

Sanriki asked me to share their current situation in the hope that we might be able to assist them in guaranteeing our economic equilibrium for the rest of the year.

Link to the campaign:

https://vaki.co/generosidad

Link to visit their page:

http://montanadesilencio.org/

Sergio Stern, leader of Montaña Despierta in Jalapa Mexico writes: “ We just reopened the zendo at Montaña Despierta with limited capacity (8-10 persons) and all the measures of hygiene, some distancing and mask wearing. The rest of the sangha may connect through Zoom. We are also meeting regularly in nature, by a river, to do some walking meditation. We are beginning to feel the full force of the sangha coming back to life after a big blow just when the pandemic started and we had to cancel everything. We were beginning our very first Practice Period in which I was going to be Shuso under the guidance of one of our teachers, Anka Rick Spencer. We couldn’t continue. Many of us, including myself, had our lives completely upended and it was very difficult to give space to the practice and feel the close in-person support that we felt was needed for a Practice Period. But we are back with our once a week sitting group. Gaining in confidence little by little and turning again into that place of refuge for the people in our community, where Eijun Linda Cutts has led many sesshins.

We have a nice web page in English and Spanish with a unique audio library of Dharma talks in Spanish or with translation from the English which makes a special contribution to the Spanish-speaking Dharma world.”  www.mdzen.com

 

Here’s an invitation to join Jon Vos’s weekly Zoom drop-in clinics, Wednesdays at 11 a.m. Pacific time if you need Zoom advice, support, or encouragement.

Wishing you all good health and resilience (the topic of a talk I’m giving at Monterey Zen Center) this week.

Warmly,

Tova

August 31, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

One of the gifts of this challenging time is the ease with which we can visit distant sanghas, hear their dharma talks, take part in their classes, one-day sittings, sesshins, and ceremonies. I am currently participating in a study group offered by Houston Zen Center and will be co-teaching a class at Mid-City Zen in New Orleans this fall – with no travel needed.

As I mentioned in a recent Newsette, Brooklyn Zen Center decided not to renew the lease on their Brooklyn home of many years. Laura O’Laughlin, (Laura and Greg Snyder are the guiding teachers) describes their process of grieving and celebration: “We have been going through a month-long process with the sangha of grieving our city temple (about two years ago BZC purchased land outside the city).  We have had a few zoom evenings of recollection and the BIPOC community made a short video and another sangha member made a longer video .Folks in the city are visiting the space in small groups and next week Greg and I will do a ceremony to close the space.  It has been such a powerful, beautiful practice space and our sangha grew substantially in that space, especially with the kitchen.  Kitchen practice is still happening once a week until the end, creating soups and food for protestors and those in need.” 

Laura also shared a 30 minute video.  She describes it as “a beautiful and generous offering to our community, capturing our practice in our Brooklyn temple.  It includes snippets of teachers’ talks at BZC and chanting.” Here’s the link:  https://vimeo.com/450607102  password snowy2328.

 

I’ve signed up for a second election retreat. It’s not too late if you’d like to join other Buddhists in September or October for four hours of practice (zazen and a dharma talk) and letter writing to encourage people in swing states to register and vote.  On September 13th you can join members of Houston Zen Center, San Francisco Zen Center, and Upaya Zen Center. Roshi Joan Halifax will give the dharma talk that day. Here’s the link for information about these election retreats: https://mailchi.mp/1325076a5ced/september-october-retreats?e=d3485a4663

 

Douglas Floyd, Board Chair of Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago, and I are working on a survey we will be sending you soon to learn how Branching Streams Zen Centers and sanghas have been affected by Covid-19 — what decisions you’re making about your practice spaces, how you’re offering the dharma, how your membership and finances may have changed. I’ve received many questions about what sanghas are thinking about renewing leases, reopening, amplifying online offerings, surviving financially. We will be able to share the survey results on our website.

 

Branching Streams is in search of a new Webmaster. After several years of maintaining the Branching Streams website, our wonderful webmaster, Eric Jonas, of All Beings Zen in Washington, DC, needs to pass on the baton.  Please let me know if you or someone in your sangha would like to be our next webmaster.

 

Here’s an invitation to join Jon Vos’s weekly Zoom drop-in clinics, Wednesdays at 11 a.m. Pacific time if you need Zoom advice, support, or encouragement.

May you find ways to nourish yourselves and to connect with others this week. I hope to see some of you at the Soto Zen Buddhist Association Conference September 3rd and 4th.  

Bowing, 

Tova

August 18, 2020

Dear sangha leaders and teachers,

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:

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a1b563aa8b2b09a2e94033c/t/5e41a505116f1c6d04e87c63/1581360390044/EcodharmaClassCourseDescription.pdf

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.”

With gratitude for the part each of you plays in creating Beloved Community,

Tova

August 4, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

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.

Bowing,

Tova

July 7, 2020

Dear Branching Streams Teachers and Leaders,

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?e=f8dc82556b

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

If you haven’t visited the [email protected]  website recently, please take a look. Our webmaster Eric Jonas of All Beings Zen Sangha recently updated it.

Please keep sending news you’d like me to share in future Newsettes.

May you be healthy and strong.

Bowing with appreciation,

Tova

June 30, 2020

 

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, https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Xk35dishqaIRKl4Gz85BDvDt-QycwkDE_rIkeKHHLtw/edit

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: 
https://www.electionretreat.org/july-letter-writing-retreats/

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 clinicsWednesdays 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

June 22, 2020

 

Dear Branching Streams Teachers and Leaders,

This week’s Newsette is very rich, as many of you are sending news of your sangha”s activities and recommending events, talks, and other resources offered by other sanghas. 

Thank you to those of you who contacted me about the first Branching Streams online course, Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership with Crystal Johnson. The planning group will meet this week to design a registration form and clarify the process for registration. In case you missed last week’s announcement, this will be a 6-week course meeting on Saturday afternoons (most likely 1 to 3 PM Pacific time) every two weeks beginning July 25th. If you are interested please let me know by June 24th, including the number of people who would like to attend. A longer description with Crystal’s bio is attached.

Cultivating Solidarity and Building Stamina for Transformative Action for White Practitioners

Crystal Johnson, who will be teaching the course for Branching Streams, will be leading an online daylong event for white people at East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland CA on Saturday June 27th.  If there are white folks in your sangha who might be interested, please let them know. This could be a good introduction to Crystal’s work for those who are interested in the Branching Streams course.

Zoom Clinic with Jon Voss will continue!

There is still interest in and need for Jon’s Zoom Clinic. It will not meet this week, as Jon is participating in a Sangha Week program. It will resume on Wednesday, July 1st.Here is the link to join  weekly drop-in clinics11am 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. If you need the meeting password, please contact Jon Voss. Jon will be available for individual consultations. 

Reopening 

Daya Goldschlag, guiding teacher of Stone Willow Zendo in Spokane WA reports: Stone Willow Zendo has started meeting in our backyard at 8am on Friday mornings.  Everyone brings their own chairs or cushions and we sit a good distance from each other.  A lot more noise than inside….squirrels, robins and garbage trucks rumbling along in the alley along with lovely fresh air breezes.  This Friday we will sit slightly closer and have study…passing our study book to read aloud along with hand sanitizer.  At the end of June the sangha will come 25 miles NW of Spokane to our 30 acres and we will have an outdoor 1/2 day retreat.  Again, folks will bring their own chairs and cushions, water, sunhats and bag lunches.  We will sit among the ponderosa pine and douglas fir.

Houston Zen Center Glossary of terms 

This is a glossary of terms related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusison, and Accessibility, posted by Houston Zen Center. It was recommended by Inryu Ponce-Barger, guiding teacher of All Beings Zen Sangha in Washington. “This living document was compiled by the White People 4 Black Lives Class Committee as an act of love and commitment to making our spaces and our language more accessible.” DC:  https://static1.squarespace.com/static/523901f9e4b08b04ff30cc5f/t/5ee68316389cec341a089376/1592165142416/Glossary+of+Terms.pdf

Awakened Action: Women Leaders Speak to Race, Poverty, Climate, and the Pandemic sponsored by Upaya Zen Center

Chris Fortin, guiding teacher of Women’s Lotus Sangha in Sebastopol CA attended this daylong conference on June 21st and recommends listening to the recordings: https://www.upaya.org/resources/awakened-action/
Dharma talks focusing on meeting the challenges of this time:

Recommended by Choro Antonaccio, Tanto at Austin Zen Center: Zenju Earthlyn Manuel spoke two weeks ago as part of a year-long program called Commit to Sit. This link will take you straight to a Vimeo recording of the talk. https://tinyurl.com/y8spejzg

I recommend two talks given at San Francisco Zen Center this past week: Yuki Kobiyama (Tenzo at Green Gulch Farm) on June 24th and David Zimmerman (City Center Abiding Abbot) on June 27th. Lucy Xiao, a City Center resident and practice leader will be speaking on Wednesday, July 1st. All these talks can be found at https://www.sfzc.org/offerings/livestream-media.

I hope all of you are in good health and taking care of yourselves as you take care of your sanghas.

With appreciation,

Tova

June 17, 2020 : Part Two

 

Dear all,

There are a few other things I’d like to share with you this week.

.Zoom Clinic with Jon Voss

Today will be Jon’s last weekly class, as the numbers attending have dropped – hopefully an indication that sanghas are gaining ease and skill in using Zoom. Here is the link to join today’s weekly drop-in clinics11am 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. If you need the meeting password, please contact Jon Voss. Jon will be available for individual consultations. 

I am deeply grateful to Jon for sharing his expertise with Branching Streams members for the last three months.

Reopening

As new cases of Covid-19 are decreasing in some parts of the country and the world, there is a spike in cases in other places. The question of when and how to reopen our centers is being discussed at many centers. Kannon Do in Mountain View CA has a committee exploring these questions, and sangha member Teresa Bouza sent these notes: 

“We have formed a Reopening Committee to create principles and detailed plans for the safe resumption of in-person activities at Kannon Do. We haven’t identified a reopening date yet, but it seems feasible we might hold our first simple outdoor activities within the next few weeks. Our County only permits outdoor activities for small groups at this time, so we are considering starting with meditation on the engawa, with participants sitting on chairs. We are also exploring the possibility of holding events in Nature now that the weather is nice. Finally, we are looking to improve internet connectivity in the zendo with a view to possibly hosting our Zoom lectures and services from the zendo.”

Is reopening being discussed in your Zen Center or sangha? If you would like to share any thoughts or experiences or would like Branching Streams to host a Zoom discussion please let me know.

Films exploring race and incarceration in the U.S. recommended by Layla Bockhorst’s sangha in Marin County, CA:  “13th,” streaming free on Netflix this month, and Just Mercy, streaming free on Apple.

May you be healthy and strong,

Bowing,

Tova

June 17, 2020 :  Part One

Dear Branching Streams Teachers and Leaders,

The topic of this Newsette is Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership, an online course Branching Streams is proposing.  For teachers, board members, and sangha members, the course will be led by Crystal Johnson (her bio is attached). We will need 30 or more participants to offer this course. Here is the course description: 

This is a time in America when white people’s awareness of the terrible impact of racial inequity has increased dramatically in the context of the pandemic and following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.  As dharma practitioners and leaders, how can we use the energy of this time to confront and address the suffering of racial injustice and move toward greater inclusiveness and racial equity in our sanghas?  

Branching Streams seeks to address this question through a new course, Unpacking the Whiteness of Leadership, designed for dharma practitioners and leaders who wish to promote, nurture and maintain a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community.  

Goals of the course:

Come together as a supportive community of white practitioners and leaders to explore the dynamics and impact of whiteness from the personal to the systemic levels

Increase awareness of the ways our behaviors, values, social norms and leadership practices perpetuate the status quo, and explore alternatives.

Work together to develop new leadership practices that will support greater inclusiveness in our sanghas

Explore the Buddhist practices that nurture us and sustain our capacity to take action for change.  

 

The course will meet for six two-hour sessions, Saturday afternoons every 2 weeks beginning July 25th. The suggested  donation is $50 – 250. All proceeds of the course will go to the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, CA or to another POC-led organization working for social justice.

We would like to know if there is sufficient interest to offer the course.  Please let me know by June 22nd if your sangha would like to participate and roughly how many members would be highly likely to participate. For maximum benefit we recommend that two or more members of your sangha participate. 

If there is enough interest, we will send a flyer and information on how to register for the class

Many sanghas have already begun this work, and may wish to participate as a way of diving deeper. I hope this course will speak to your needs and concerns at this time and welcome your comments or questions about this offering. 

With deep bows,

Tova

 
 

— 

Tova Green

Branching Streams Newsette, June 9, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

In this week of wide-spreading protests against police violence and racism, as parts of the U.S. are beginning to open up after sheltering in place for three months, many sanghas are asking what is an appropriate response to the two pandemics – Covid-19 and racism.  From my perspective, there are no easy answers – and it may be helpful to listen to dharma talks and visit websites of other Branching Streams sanghas as well as websites of teachers of color.

One suggestion is a visit to the website of Two Streams Zen in Western Massachusetts, https://twostreamszen.org/ whose guiding teachers are Ryumon H. Baldoquin and Catherine Anraku Hondorp, and subscribe to their newsletter.

Alan Senauke spoke at Berkeley Zen Center on “Everything is Burning.” The audio of his talk is posted on the BZC website: https://berkeleyzencenter.org/talks-2/ .

This may be a time for our sanghas to begin or continue to explore white supremacy culture in our country and how it manifests in our predominately white sanghas. I will say more about this and suggest some resources in next week’s Newsette.

On another note, if your sangha is making plans to re-open your zendo with social distancing, can you please share a few words that might help other sanghas consider how to go about doing this?

San Francisco Zen Center’s Sangha Week, June 22 -26, co-led by Gaelyn Godwin and Susan O’Connell, is being offered online. Please let your sangha members know about this opportunity to work with two inspiring teachers. Here is the link:  Sangha Week.
Branching Streams annual contributions: I know many Branching Streams Zen Centers and sanghas have lost expected income due to cancelled programs and the financial hardships of members.  This may affect your ability to make your annual contribution to Branching Streams.

Please let me know if you cannot make your contribution at this time and would like to defer or reduce it.  If you are able to contribute you can do so on the Branching Streams website, using the link:  https://branchingstreams.sfzc.org/membership/ or by sending a check to San Francisco Zen Center with the name of your sangha on the memo line to Branching Streams, 300 Page Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. Thank you to the sanghas that have already contributed this year.

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. If you need the meeting password, please contact Jon Voss.

Please cherish yourselves, one another, and all in our communities in the week ahead. Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns or if you’d simply like to connect.

Bowing with gratitude,  Tova

Branching Streams “Newsette,” June 3, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

In the week since my last Newsette, it seems that our nation has broken open, with deep pain and suffering – not only from the Covid-19 virus. Yesterday’s banner headline in the New York Times stated, “twin crises and surging anger convulse the U.S. There are parallel plagues ravaging America: The coronavirus. And police killings of black men and women.” What is an appropriate response for each of us and for our practice centers?

This Newsette includes links to dharma talks addressing this week’s events by Rev. Mako Voelkel at Austin Zen Center and Taigen Leighton at Ancient Dragon Zen Center, excerpts from a letter to the Clouds in Water (in St. Paul, MN) sangha by Sosan Flynn, and a statement written by San Francisco Zen Center’s spiritual leadership and posted on the SFZC website. I hope these expressions of the dharma will be helpful as you find your own responses.

Mako’s talk, “May All Beings Be Delivered from Oppression,” is on the Austin Zen Center Dharma Talk Library webpage. https://austinzencenter.org/dharma-talk-library/

Taigen’s talk on “Sangha and the Karma of Racism, can be found on the Ancient Dragon Zen Gate website: https://www.ancientdragon.org/podcast/sangha-and-the-karma-of-our-racism/

Sosan Flynn announced, Beginning Saturday, May 30, Clouds in Water will offer 49+ days of meditation, ritual, and mourning for George Floyd and for all who suffer from systemic racism and other forms of injustice. 

In her letter to sangha members she wrote: “I would like to ask each of you to open your bodies, minds, and hearts to what you are feeling, and then to consider what you want to do going forward. It might be helpful to consider actions on many levels: Intrapersonal (internal transformation), Interpersonal (interacting with other individuals), Institutional (examples: workplace, school, sangha, police departments), and Systemic (among institutions and across society). Even if you just take one action in each of these categories, you will be working to shift the tide of hatred and indifference towards the open waters of love and compassion.”

Here is a link to San Francisco Zen Center’s statement from our spiritual leaders: https://blogs.sfzc.org/

On another note, if you have any questions regarding Zoom, you are welcome to join Jon Voss’s  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.’s

I will close with some words of SFZC’s Abbot David Zimmerman, “Every breath is a sacred breath. Our lives are linked in undeniable intimacy.”

 May you be healthy and strong.

Tova, June 2, 2020

Branching Streams “Newsette,” May 18, 2020

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

Sunlight is filling my room this morning as I compile this “Newsette” – shorter than a newsletter and perhaps more current. I am borrowing from SFZC’s Abbot David Zimmerman’s use of the word “Dharmette” to describe brief and pithy dharma talks.

I had a conversation with Teresa Bouza from Kannon Do Zen Center in Mountain View, CA this week and learned that she is visiting many Branching Streams sanghas’ websites to learn about some of their innovative offerings during this time of Covid-19.  I’m including a few offerings she found in this Newsette, as well as a link to a memorial service Austin Zen Center held last week for their founding teacher, Blanche Hartman, and a reminder about Jon Voss’s weekly Zoom class.

Ancient Dragon Zen Gate, Chicago https://www.ancientdragon.org/

They are going through their archives and offer a selection of podcasts on a weekly basis to provide dharma steadily while activities remain online. The current’s week collection titled “Unfolding Wise Hope” seems relevant right now.

Also, Taigen Leighton, their guiding teacher, has started a list of movies and TV shows to watch while staying at home:https://www.ancientdragon.org/movies-and-tv-for-staying-in-place/

Mountain Rain Zen Community, Vancouver

This coming Sunday, May 24th the Zen Center in Vancouver is having an online evening of music, poetry and stories…

http://www.mountainrainzen.org/events/2019/5/12/may-soiree-an-evening-of-music-stories-and-poetry-fjngr

 Ashland Zen Center

They are offering “encouraging words” weekly. Sangha members can register to receive them. Teresa enjoyed reading them:https://www.ashlandzencenter.org/while-we-are-closed/

Austin Zen Center’s annual memorial service for founding teacher Blanche Hartman

This link https://austinzencenter.org/founders-memorial/will take you to a beautiful page with information about annual memorial services, some archival photos of Blanche Hartman, and the text of the memorial service with an audio recording.

Jon Voss’s ongoing Zoom class meets on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to noon Pacific Time. The link to the Zoom meeting is 222-402-816.  If you have any difficulty joining, please email [email protected]

Wishing all of you good health, support, and connection as this time of uncertainty continues.

Tova

March 13th, 2020

Dear all,

I am writing to you after receiving an email this morning from a Branching Streams guiding teacher with this question: “I’m reaching out amidst all the anxiety and fear to see if Branching Streams has guidelines/advice on what others are doing as far as schedules, closures, creative responses and general practice advice for fear/panic, etc.” 

I thought about her question all day, received a number of newsletters from sanghas about what they are doing, and decided to write the attached letter. with deep bows, Tova Green, Branching Streams Liaison, pronouns she/her

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

I have received notices and emails from many Zen Centers and sanghas in recent days about ways in which you are trying to slow the spread of the COVID19 pandemic in the U.S. and around the world. I’ve also received questions about best practices…when to close a center, what advice to give sangha members, how to address anxiety and fear about the uncertainty of the changing situation.

These decisions can be very difficult for us to make.  I found Alan Senauke’s comments, posted on the Soto Zen Buddhist Association forum, helpful: Loving the warm hand to warm hand nature of our practice, there is an understandable loss felt as we move towards “social distancing.” But it is necessary, and we can share with each other creative approaches to maintaining connection and cooperation. Humans are amazingly adaptable. And we are all in this together.”

I have been in Texas since March 3rd and am now visiting Austin Zen Center. I have watched the care with which AZC’s leaders are making decisions about how best to keep residents and the wider sangha safe, checking the CDC reports as well as local health recommendations, and noticing what other Zen groups are doing. I have also been following the decision-making process of San Francisco Zen Center’s leadership in the last two weeks. 

Many Zen Centers are closed at least until the end of March. Black Mountain Zen Centre in Belfast posted a link   https://www.sfzc.org/online-programs/online-ze to the on-line zendo at SFZC which offers daily zazen every weekday. Seattle Soto Zen is offering a Virtual Sunday. The guiding teacher will be offering a talk and discussion from her home using Zoom technology. Other centers are offering practice discussions by phone or Zoom, as well as dharma talks and classes online.  Some centers are open and are finding ways for sangha members to practice together safely.  All centers are suggesting the basic precautions the CDC has publicized.

I’d like to share some words of SFZC’s Abbot, David Zimmerman, which I find helpful:

“Everything is changing quickly: almost hourly we receive new information and updates regarding the expanding spread of the virus and what we need to do to protect ourselves from it and/or to mitigate its impact. The practice effort required of us now is one of ‘compassionate accountability’…to do our best to take loving and conscientious care of ourselves and each other. In my mind, this means that each of us needs to make a whole-hearted effort to be well-informed, to diligently do what we can to reduce the risk of infection for ourselves and others, and to treat everyone with kindness and tenderness as we navigate this time of uncertainty and great concern.

While it’s normal to be experiencing fear, anxiety, confusion, overwhelm and other forms of distress right now, the dharma practices of the six paramitas (generosity, ethical conduct, patience, diligent effort, meditation, and wisdom) offer us powerful medicine to help restore us to equanimity. We might think of ourselves as entering into a new practice period or intensive of indeterminate length, one with the theme of “The Zen Practice of Meeting a Pandemic”.  Regardless of the plethora of unknowns we’re being presented with, let’s explore how we can collectively sustain and nourish our personal and communal practice.”

Please send me your newsletters and announcements about how you are meeting this emerging situation so that I can share suggestions with other groups.  I am also available to speak with any of you by phone or Zoom if you would find it supportive.

I will end with Seattle Soto Zen’s guiding teacher Allison Tait’s words: “Please take care of yourselves and one another.”

With gratitude for all you do, Tova

p.s. I thought the following excerpt from “Six Ways to Transform Fear” by Marc Lesser, might also be helpful.

Change the pace: Slow down. Structure a day, or part of a day, where the focus is on paying attention to yourself and your surroundings when you have nothing to accomplish. Leave your cell phone behind.

New perspective: If possible, go on a retreat away from your office space and home space. Be in a place that is less familiar and where you are less apt to feel the pull of everyday tasks and usual routines. Quiet and spaciousness are a beautiful thing.

Get to know your monkey mind: Don’t be surprised or discouraged if you notice how busy and noisy your mind is when you remove distractions. Use your meditation and mindfulness practices; come back to your breath and body.

Find your center: Notice that you are more than your stories. In the busyness of life, you can easily become fooled into believing that the stories you tell about yourself are you, and that they absolutely define you. As your mind becomes more quiet, you gain access to your still, undefinable center. You glimpse the ways you create these stories about yourself, about others, and about the world.

Refresh and renew: Allow yourself to step (or more accurately, drop) into a place of not knowing, of uncertainty, of joy and refreshment. See if you can just appreciate everything you are, even your doubts and discomfort; just appreciate being alive.

Blend the mundane and the sacred: See and appreciate the immensity and sacredness of all existence and at the same time see the mundane need to eat, wash the dishes, sweep the floors, and clean the counters.

First Branching Streams Newsletter of 2020, February 14th

Dear Branching Streams teachers and leaders,

Last weekend we celebrated the first full moon of the Lunar New Year at City Center, and today is Valentine’s day. This seems like an auspicious time to be writing to all of you.

This newsletter focuses on what some Branching Streams centers and sanghas have been doing in response to the Climate Crisis.  I plan to have a focusing theme for future newsletters. Please let me know if there is a particular theme or issue you’d like to share or hear about from other sanghas.  One idea I have for the next theme is how sanghas are welcoming young people (in their teens, twenties and thirties), as this has arisen as an area of interest in sanghas I’ve visited recently. This theme could include how sanghas are welcoming children and families – or that could be a separate theme.

Other news reported in this newsletter:

  1. Save the Date for the 2021 Branching Streams Conference
  2. Tassajara summer 2020 – new dates for a Sangha week for Branching Streams priests and opportunities for summer student practice at Tassajara
  3. It’s time for your 2020 Annual Contribution
  4. Website updates
  5. Black Mountain Zen Centre’s Fall Visiting Fellowship report

Responses to the Climate Crisis

Since this was one of the themes of the 2019 Branching Streams Conference, inspired by Stephanie Kaza’s presentation, I invited groups to share their ways of responding to the climate crisis and heard back from six groups.  If you didn’t respond, it’s not too late to send your news for future newsletters.

Zen Center North shore members and guiding teacher Joan Amaral participated in a Climate Funeral in August 2019

  • Zen Center North Shore, Beverly, MA

In 2019, Zen Center North Shore in Beverly, MA participated in:

A demonstration at the Boston Globe offices in Boston, where approximately 100 people gathered in the lobby, calling for the paper to inform “the public on the climate emergency at the level of urgency that was placed on reporting the Second World War,” and to scrutinize public policy “with respect to the scientific consensus on the scale of action required,” increase coverage of local environmental issues, and divest finances that are tied to fossil fuel corporations. (April 17)

“Funeral on the Beach” at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, to mourn the sixth mass extinction, we joined a procession in black to, sing and march through water and sand with thousands of onlookers. (August 4)

A march to the Brazilian consulate in Boston, we stood with the indigenous women of Brazil and their courageous efforts to protect their rights, their home, and our earth. (August 29)

Global Strike for Climate in Boston, we joined millions worldwide in a day of strikes from school and work to call for meaningful action on climate. (September 20)

“Flood the Seaport” in Boston, we joined hundreds of activists to close a bridge to traffic and display banners “declare a climate emergency.” (September 27)

Honk Parade in Somerville, a marching band and sign-carrying procession with Extinction Rebellion calling for meaningful action on climate. (October 12)

Links to newspaper articles about three of these actions:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/09/27/environmental-protesters-block-downtown-bridge/k4TEpnczIkBIPM40gxDsFM/story.html

https://www.salemnews.com/good-harbor-beach-protest/article_0106d98b-2c39-5c31-882b-9a567e4656e0.html

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/04/17/group-calls-for-globe-take-leadership-its-coverage-climate-crisis/j6PXdElFDLqxhANhSFnfIJ/story.html

Compiled by sangha member Rob Bonney.

  • Bamboo in the Wind, Sunnyvale, CA

Bamboo in the Wind Zen Center has launched our 2020 “Go Green in the Stream” Project that involves 2 classes in Green Buddhism, examing the teachings associated with going green (ethics, when is enough is enough; personal study of habitual patterns that destroy the environment and harm the health of all beings) coupled with practical tips to reduce single use plastic, limit chemical use, recycle, etc.  We will offer a list of organizations that actively, promote sustainability, reduce waste, offer technology solutions for cleaning our oceans and so forth.  We have started a webpage and hope to add to it with facts about the real problems facing our planet.

Sent by Val Szymanski

  • All Beings Zen Sangha, Washington, DC

The theme for the Fall 2019 Ango at All Beings Zen Sangha was “The Whole Earth is My Body.” In diffusing the boundary between the Earth and our bodies, Sangha members explored the harm being done to the planet as a result human (in)action(s) and made space to incorporate Zen practices to actively engage in healing the Earth through mindful interventions aimed at changing habits.

Early in the Ango, Sangha members watched a 2018 stop-motion film parable: “The Isle of Dogs,” written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Wes Anderson. Set in a dystopian near-future Japan, the story follows a pack of banished dogs, led by street dog Chief who helped a young boy named Atari searching for his own dog after the species is banished to an island following the outbreak of a canine flu. The discussion after the film revealed Sangha members’ deep respect for non-human life forms and concern for the current state of our World on a number of different dimensions ranging from profound miscommunication to political corruption and environmental degradation.

To further our understanding of the systems and science of earth’s health we invited an outside expert Mike McClary, Esq. to help us with these three questions: (1) what is climate change, (2) how will it affect the world in the coming decades, and (3) what needs to be done to reduce its risks?

Many sangha members read Stephanie Kaza’s book “Green Buddhism.” Which is a beautiful meditation in essay form on various aspects of ecological awareness as it intersects with Buddhist practice.  We had two gatherings to study three chapters (10, 11 & 14) of “The Avatamsaka Sutra” also known as the “Flower Ornament Sutra,”  in which the Buddha teaches about the infinite interpenetrating co-arising of everything and the spiritual wisdom which sees the nature of the world.  

Our studies lead to spirited discussions both during study periods and outside the zendo over meals and tea, to clarify aspects of the material presented and to better understand the magnitude of the degradation of the earth.  We talked about: public policy, energy use, food systems, personal consumption patterns, systems theory, how do we as Zen practitioners face the realities, how do we engage with and impact these issues?

To stimulate Sangha members to explore small actions to halt further degradation of the Earth, we had two targeted three week-long habit changing challenges. We tried two strategies aimed at reducing single use plastic waste. The first challenge was refraining from using straws and using aluminum straws instead (or completely doing without straws). The second challenge involved casting aside single-use plastic eating utensils in favor of portable bamboo utensils. Several Sangha members reported adopting either or both habits permanently and we learned first-hand the importance of sharing our habits with the rest of the world as a way to create change around us. Also, some members decided to begin eating a plant-based diet.  Many members voiced changes in their holiday consumption and purchasing habits and an awareness of focusing on wasting less and using pre-used items rather than purchasing new items.  

Our taking a clear look together on “the whole earth as my body” and supporting each other in small and large efforts to improve our “care for the earth and thus ourselves” has enabled some of us to look toward the future with less unease and more hope for healing.

Written by ABZS Shuso Seidō David Sarpal

  • Kannon Do, Los Altos, CA

The Sangha of Kannon Do is pleased to announce our plans for solar panel installation on the roof of our zendo early in 2020.  In addition to our commitment to the Earth, we feel this project will also encourage other non-profit institutions and private property owners to do likewise. 

Sent by Chris Becker.

  • Chapel Hill Zen Center, Chapel Hill North Carolina

In January 2018, the first meeting of the Chapel Hill Zen Center Eco-Dharma Group was held with the mission to “informally explore together Buddhist teachings on the natural world, caring for the natural world as an expression of the Bodhisattva Vow, and our own responses to current environmental issues.

The intention of this group is to support and inspire one another in our efforts to make appropriate Buddhist responses to environmental concerns at a personal, local and global level.” Originally a discussion group, participants share articles, videos, and personal approaches to dealing with the environmental crisis and for staying connected to the natural world. We meet outside whenever possible, walk together on the trail around the temple, and are considering silent nature walks outside the temple grounds. And, sponsored by the group, we held the first CHZC outdoor half-day sitting in November 2019.

Some members also attended a recent climate rally together. Eventually the group began writing a regular entry for the CHZC’s newsletter and website covering subjects such as problematic materials recycling, hazardous waste disposal, and how to reduce packaging and materialism during the holiday season. A composting workshop, the first of a series of workshops on how to incorporate caring for the natural world into daily practice, is scheduled for early 2020. In addition, members of the group are considering doing the One Earth Sangha’s online Ecosattva training together and have begun learning about innovative methods to care for the temple grounds, such as mimicking a controlled burn without actually setting a fire to allow areas to evolve in a more natural way.

The Chapel Hill Zen Center Eco-Dharma Group gives people a place to share sorrows, fears, discoveries and successes, and is focused on responding to the climate crisis, both in discussion and action, grounded in the Buddha’s teachings and the Bodhisattva Vow to care for all beings in this “dewdrop world.” CHZC in general has a culture of being conscious and conservative in energy consumption, water consumption, recycling, food use practices, and how we use material goods. This is a direct result of our Abbess’ example and teaching.

Written by Zenki Kathleen Bateson

  • Zen Heart, Sebastopol, CA

Bodhisattvas do not turn away. This is the continuous practice and vow of the Dharma Heart Zen sanghas, Sebastopol and Cotati CA, an affiliate of the Everyday Zen Foundation. 

 The sangha’s many gardeners, beekeepers, naturalists, Jizo earth-womb makers, school- teachers, parents, grandparents, and on and on, wholeheartedly vow to meet the suffering of climate disruption, displacement of populations, and the degradation of our precious earth body with fierce, tender, and creative response.

 From a sangha member: “Each week, (we) sit down with practitioners whose commitment to protecting the natural world arises from their deep understanding that we are not separate from this earth, but that, in fact, the minerals in our bones and the water in our blood is the earth itself…(together) we find the strength and courage to turn towards this terrible pain with determination and hope.”

 We dedicate ourselves to the study of Ecodharma. Through the Everyday Zen Dialogs that I curate we ‘Walk for the Earth’ on the Green Gulch ridge that overlooks the cites, hills, gardens, forests, and bay—invoking the four directions, and offering chants and prayers for the wellbeing of the earth and for all beings. 

We attend marches as individuals and as a sangha. We have visited and studied the oceans. We chant the Ecosattva vows and Shantideva’s Bodhisattva Prayer regularly. The sangha has begun sewing a rakusu with cloth made from recycled plastic as an expression of intent. 

And along the way we become wiser and more compassionate in our actions of body speech and mind. 

From a sangha member: “I have been turning my lifestyle away from consuming so much, and there is so much more to do. This is what I have been doing:

  • I do not buy beverages in plastic bottles…ever.
  • I have turned towards a plant-based diet.
  • I receive a community supported agriculture (CSA) box that is based on produce not usable in regular grocery stores in order to combat food waste.
  • I educate myself along with my community about climate issues and racial inquiry.
  • I live in dense housing.
  • I compost and recycle.
  • I will vote.”

 Together we can change the world, and sangha has never been a more important refuge and vehicle to awaken to and enact our interconnection with all of life. May we universally support each other to not turn away and to embody the Bodhisattva vow with and for all beings. 

written by Hoka Chris Fortin, founder and guiding teacher 

  The 2021 Branching Streams Conference

Next year’s Conference will be hosted by Austin Zen Center at the Ancient Yoga Center, half an hour from Austin,  October 12th  through 15th.  If you are already planning for 2021 please put those dates in your calendar.

Tassajara Summer 2020

The Tassajara Brochure is out! Starting on February 14th you can make online reservations at www.sfzc.org/tassajara. Phone reservations can be made after March 14th. Toll-free 1(888)743-9362, 7 days a week from 9 am – 5 pm PST.

In my last newsletter I mentioned a new Branching Streams Private Sangha Week for priests. This will be led by Greg Fain and will focus on skill-building including care of the okesa and ceremonial roles. The new dates are August 9 to 14. Contact Tassajara Reservations to register.

If you or members of your sangha would like to spend a week or longer at Tassajara following the student schedule you can apply by filling out an application found at sfzc.org/summer.

Annual Contributions

You can make your contribution online through the Branching Streams Website with this link: https://branchingstreams.sfzc.org/membership/or send a check to San Francisco Zen Center with the name of your sangha on the memo line and mail it to San Francisco Zen Center, 300 Page Street, San Francisco CA 94102, attention Tova Green.

Website updates

Our webmaster, Zenho Eric Jonas, from All Beings Zen Sangha made some aesthetic and structural changes to the Website, including some new photos.  We will be posting the Climate Change news on the website.  Please check it out!  And please let us know what else you’d like to see on the website.

Black Mountain Zen Centre in Belfast

Heather Iarusso, a priest who lived at Tassajara for several years (and started her Zen Practice at Austin Zen Center!) and is now Program Director at City Center spent three months at Black Mountain Zen Center through a Branching Streams Fellowship. Djinn Gallagher, the resident teacher at BMZC, sent several photos and this report:

Heather’s visit to Black Mountain Zen Centre was a wonderful opportunity for our students here in Belfast to get to know a teacher with an inimitable style, full of energy and enthusiasm. She co-led the monthly zazenkai, gave four well-appreciated Sunday morning dharma talks, and led the Saturday morning study group every week as we read Suzuki Roshi’s Not Always So. Her astute perspective and thoughtful insights made her a helpful practice leader for several students needing to talk, and her friendly and outgoing personality offered easy and open interactions with the community.

With Heather’s participation, we were able to rehearse and carry out our first Full Moon Ceremony in Belfast in October, and we followed it up with a second one in November – now that our sangha has seen how it can be done, we hope to continue.

During her stay in Belfast, Heather gave a four-week meditation class aimed at LGBTQ+ women and girls, in conjunction with Cara-Friend, a voluntary organization that supports and empowers the LGBTQ+ community in the north of Ireland.

Heather encouraged us to open our Sunday morning programme to beginners once a month, and our first experience was very positive. She also co-led our first Rohatsu sesshin in Benburb Priory during the weekend of December 6th to December 8th, and she led our first LGBTQ+ affinity group, Rainbow Zen, modelled on SFZC’s Queer Dharma.

Our experience of her presence in Belfast was universally positive, and we said goodbye to her with much sadness. 

To see additional photos please visit the Branching Streams website.

Closing

Please feel free to email me if you have any questions, concerns, or news to share. If I’m not already receiving your newsletters, please send them to me.  Please visit the [email protected] and give me feedback about it.  I’m here to help us all connect and support one another.

With deep bows of appreciation for your practice, and a Valentine’s Day greeting: Please treasure yourselves.

Tova