Abbot’s Letter

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

Our 34th Spring Practice Period ended Sunday, June 20, on the summer solstice, with a three-day hybrid sesshin. For the first time in sixteen months our sangha on Zoom was accompanied by BZC residents sitting in the zendo. This experiment taught us about the challenges of hybrid practice, which will serve us well as we move toward reopening in the coming months. Opening plans are explored here. The Practice Period was a remarkable experience, with more than sixty members participating, including members in India and elsewhere in the U.S. Our heart is very much in Berkeley and in our zendo, but our body now reaches more widely.
I would like to share some of the activities happening in our community. Very soon we will offer free online access to nearly 3000 talks, mostly by Sojun, dating back to 1980. This is an astonishing and rich body of wisdom. Great appreciation to Charlie Wilson of Engage Wisdom, who has been digitizing all of this. We will need your help in creating the metadata for these talks, which will make them searchable and accessible. More about this soon. In the future, I hope to share transcribed versions of dharma talks by BZC’s other teachers, as well as forty years of Sojun Roshi’s lectures.
Through the last year of his life, Sojun worked on completing two books. The first book is a combined memoir and selection of his talks. Ron Nestor assisted him with this work, along with Kika Hellein, Andrea Thach, and more recently Raghav Bandla. The second book is a new collection of Suzuki Roshi talks, which was shepherded by Sojun and Jiryu Rutschman-Byler at Green Gulch. Laurie Senauke is assisting Jiryu with this project.
Liz Horowitz has asked me to serve as Sojun Roshi’s literary executor to see these projects through to publication. She has also designated that royalties for these projects will come to BZC, which will be a wonderful, generous, ongoing gift. Several Buddhist publishing houses are interested in other collections of Sojun’s work. For now, the main thing is to keep these two projects moving forward toward completion.
In his last days, Sojun asked me to make the necessary arrangements for his “stuff”—papers, books, robes, and many items given to him over the years. For several months, Maria Winston and I have been going through all the papers in the Abbot’s office, sorting them into three categories: material to keep for future reference and use; material to pack for the Stanford archive; and duplicates, triplicates, and unneeded material to discard. I have begun to work from this office, and it is a wonderful, relaxed space for writing, studying, and meeting with people. Those of you who met with Sojun there will find the space familiar and essentially unchanged.
The vision of BZC as a lay sangha has always meant involvement with our Bay Area community and with the wider world, learning and giving, offering our practice where it may be of value in the work of spiritual and systemic liberation. I am encouraged to see the sangha’s dedicated work toward goals of deconstructing racism, which parallels efforts in many Buddhist communities across the country. We have an active BIPOC (Black‒Indigenous‒People of Color) group, and an open antiracism initiative in the sangha at large. Together, these groups allow for introspection, education, and action. In the context of Berkeley Zen Center itself, they help us strategize about how we might address BZC’s administrative and teaching structures, moving toward broader diversity and greater equity.
I am eager to find the time to teach and meet with sangha members for individual study. But presently, all of us are absorbed in the project of reopening the zendo while sustaining the rich online practice that has developed during the Covid pandemic.
I deeply appreciate the support of the Board, the senior students, the coordinator, the Practice Committee, and all our members. I think we share the priority of continuing and mindfully expanding Sojun Roshi’s and Suzuki Roshi’s Zen practice. I wish to support you in this practice, day by day. Please let me know your thoughts, questions, and views. My door is always open.
May we continue in wisdom and compassion,