Stepping Down Ceremony

With boundless gratitude, on October 24 Berkeley Zen Center honored Hakuryu Sojun Mel Weitsman in a Stepping Down Ceremony (Taitoshiki Saho). A formal invitation to him to step into the newly created position of Founding Dharma Teacher was incorporated into the ceremony as well, which Sojun Roshi accepted.

The ceremony was warm, emotional, and well attended through live-streaming. (It was also recorded, and can be viewed at the Berkeley Zen Center channel on YouTube.)

Ten people offered congratulations:

  • Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi (Abbot, Rinso-in)
  • Gengo Akiba Roshi (Bishop of Soto Zen North America)
  • Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi (Senior Dharma Teacher, San Francisco Zen Center)
  • Leslie James (Abiding Teacher, Tassajara), speaking for the San Francisco Zen Center sangha
  • Zoketsu Norman Fischer (Founder, Everyday Zen Foundation), as deshi
  • Josho Pat Phelan (Abbess, Chapel Hill Zen Center), as deshi
  • Zenki Mary Mocine (Abbess, Clear Water Zendo), as deshi
  • Hosho Karen Sundheim, speaking for the Berkeley Zen Center sangha
  • Liz Horowitz (Sojun Roshi’s wife)
  • Hozan Alan Senauke (Berkeley Zen Center Vice Abbot)

Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi said:

“Congratulations to Sojun Roshi. You have been following the teachings of Buddhism for a long time, but you still have more and more to do, so please continue your work and also take care of yourself. About sixty years ago you learned zazen from Suzuki Shunryu Roshi. He would have taken your hand and taught you the Hokkaijoin (the Dharma-realm meditation mudra). I hope that you will continue the Hokkaijoin for the rest of your life as long as zazen continues, until now and into the future. . . . Congratulations. Thank you for inviting me. I’m really thankful to you.”

Rev. Akiba Roshi said:

“To me, it seems like Sojun Mel Weitsman Roshi has been engraving ‘Monk Sojun of Shogaku’ on the foundation stone of Shogaku-ji, that was placed by Suzuki Roshi, for the long time in the past forty years.  Today, the engravement is completed. That is what I feel. . . . To end my statement, I would like to say ‘Gokurou-sama deshita,’ thank you for your hard work for such a long time. I deeply thank you for your many contributions to Soto Zen in North America. . . . From now on, I wish you have a slow and pleasant life enjoying what people will call the engravement ‘Monk Sojun of Shogaku.’ ”

Hozan Alan Senauke offered a poem:

For My Old Teacher—Hakuryu Sojun
For fifty-three years
The White Dragon has prowled
The slopes of Old Plum Mountain
Some trees here and there
Bear scorch marks from his fiery breath
But students who come and go
Are warmed and comforted
Bathed in his pure gaze

The fire in Sojun’s belly
Burns as it once did
At any moment
Embers may flare up bright and hot—
The fire remains
But as Suzuki Roshi told Sojun
“Just being alive is enough”

We have counted on him for so long
Now on our own two feet
The young dragons (comparatively speaking)
Must climb the steep hillside together
To care for all beings and even the mountain itself

A number of people were involved in planning both the ceremony and the technical aspects of the virtual presentation. Particular thanks to Steve Weintraub for guiding the planning of the ceremony, and to Jon Voss for acting as the digital producer. Mary Duryee, Laurie Senauke, and Carol Paul assisted Steve; Rob Lyons, Ed Herzog, and Ross Blum assisted Jon. Mary Beth Lamb, Raghav Bandla, Blake Tolbert, and Laurie Senauke acted as digital shikas to help people link into the ceremony. Deep bows and thanks to all.