All posts by Hozan Alan Senauke

Hozan Sensei began practicing at BZC on Dwight Way, and later established his practice as a student of Sojun Roshi in the early 1980s. He was ordained as a Zen priest at BZC in 1989, receiving Dharma Transmission from Sojun at Tassajara in 1998. After serving as Tanto (Head of Practice) and then as Vice-Abbot at BZC, Hozan was installed as Abbot in January of 2021.

What Now?

When I think about the pandemic lately, Michael Corleone’s words in Godfather III come to mind: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

By late June, the whole country seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. Between effective vaccination and approaching herd immunity, many of us thought that Covid 19 was playing itself out. Mask requirements were relaxed, restaurants and public venues were reopening. You could feel energy and joy in the streets again. At BZC we were strategizing a “soft opening” of the zendo—requiring verified vaccination and social-distanced sitting.

Simultaneously, in the spring, a Delta variant of Covid carried a second wave of infection across India. By July it had spread to 124 countries and was found to be much more infectious than earlier variants. Even vaccinated people were shown to be at risk of “breakthrough” infections, capable of transmitting the virus without being themselves symptomatic.

In the U.S. and in the Bay Area, businesses and institutions, including BZC, were rethinking their opening plans, and continue to do so. Meanwhile, other virus variants have taken root around the world, and first cases are beginning to show up in the U.S.

What now? What precautions should we be taking at BZC? Will there ever again be a time of relative safety here and in the wider society? If some version of Covid 19 or another pandemic is the new reality, what does this mean for the warm hand to warm hand Zen practice we love?

I don’t know.

Dizang’s “Not knowing” (Case 20 in the Book of Serenity) can be our guide. Actually, it has always been our guide. Here is the koan:

Dizang asked Fayan, “Where are you going?”
Fayan said, “Around on pilgrimage.”
Dizang said, “What is the purpose of pilgrimage?”
Fayan said, “I don’t know.”
Dizang said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”

Not Knowing echoes though all the teachings. It is Bodhidharma’s response to Emperor Wu—No Knowing, Suzuki Roshi’s Beginner’s Mind, Bernie Glassman’s First Tenet, Master Seung Sahn’s Only Don’t Know.

In the face of a continuing pandemic, what now? I don’t know. Another translation of this case has Dizang saying: “Not knowing is nearest.” This question is very near to me and probably near to many of you. Fair to say, each of us may have a different response. One can see this from exchanges on the BZC listserv and conversations among sangha members. I feel grief for the loss of friends, family, teachers, and all those unknown to me. I feel anxiety about how we will sustain Zen traditions that have sustained us for so long. And, of course, I am stunned by natural disasters, wars, and oppression loosed upon the world.

I am keeping my mind open to multiple perspectives. Are we being overly cautious, not cautious enough, or just right? Are we allowing for personal responsibility, or do our protocols undermine such responsibility? How is it for people who live alone; or who live with others in small apartments; or who have to work and care for small children? Should BZC make significant investments in ventilation for the zendo and community room? And on and on.

But the abbot’s responsibility includes guarding the well-being of Dharma and Sangha. As an individual I may choose to take personal risks. As steward of our practice, the bar is set higher. So far, our collective caution has served us well, despite the fact that some members have had their fill of life on Zoom. As far as I know, there has been no spread of Covid-19 at BZC, and no members have died of the virus.

Going forward, let’s continue to practice Great Patience, the perfection of ksanti. Such patience is the motor of zazen. Practice means sitting with every arising thought and circumstance, even when we might want to jump out of our skin. It means creating new rituals in our homes and online. After all these months, patience is wearing thin for many of us. I’d like to join Fayan on pilgrimage, wandering aimlessly. These days, even driving to Marin County to run an errand feels like a great adventure.

Please be patient and compassionate to yourself and others. Let your mind travel freely on pilgrimage and honor others who follow their own paths and have their own views. Zazen will sustain us. Buddhas and ancestors will support us, even when the world is on fire.


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,