The biennial Branching Streams conference was held in late September, hosted by Santa Cruz Zen Center. This year’s gathering was the best yet, a breathtaking exchange of questions, ideas, and aspirations.
Branching Streams originally started twenty years ago as an opportunity for small temples and sitting group leaders with a strong affiliation with SFZC to share experiences and to support each other. More recently, sanghas with leadership trained in the Suzuki Roshi lineage have been invited to send up to three members of their choosing, including newer practitioners and other community leaders or emerging leaders. This year only Ryushin was able to attend from BZC.
At this conference, Branching Streams adopted an “Open Space” format. Using the topic loosely defined as “Transitions,” anyone of the 60 attendees from 30+ different sanghas could raise a topic for discussion and facilitate it. Together we explored the experience of imagination and art in expressing the Dharma; engaged in an intergenerational discussion of “Why is Tassajara necessary?” (as a prerequisite for becoming a priest); shared our efforts to express “the path of the Bodhisattva” in the world; spontaneously created a ceremony for healing pain around Climate Change; and discussed neurodiversity, making sanghas accessible, aging and medical aid in dying, and much more. Former Santa Cruz poet laureate Danusha Lumiere shared her poetry and helped us write our own; we shared our no-talent talent and ended with a Fall Solstice ceremony. We left not so much with information, but filled with ideas, intimate connection, and newly imagined ways forward to create Zen in America.
Suzuki Roshi’s Japanese Zen has fully manifested its North American identity in its third generation. Perhaps you’ll see your face in the crowd at the next meeting?