All posts by James Erb

Interview with Paul Discoe

In a short Zoom chat on August 15, I asked Zengyu Paul Discoe if he had further comments to make after his BZC lecture ten days earlier. During that lecture Paul talked about his work as a temple and gate builder and his work in Japanese carpentry, as well as how he came to BZC and how he is doing in his retirement. His book Zen Architecture: The Building Process as Practice is available at our book table on Saturdays.
      In our chat Paul reviewed some of his life and work. When BZC started out on Dwight Way, Paul ran the center during Sojun’s time as shuso at Tassajara. His family had three industrial acres in Oakland. Paul housed a sangha of his own on that land, but eventually had to sell the acreage due to lack of money and energy.
      He lives with his wife Brenda in Oakland near Mills College, where they have a large vegetable garden. He also teaches via Zoom at Taigen Leighton’s Ancient Dragon Zen Gate center in Chicago.
      Paul’s teacher is Tenshin Reb Anderson at Green Gulch Farm. He is invigorated by his attendance in an ongoing class on The Flower Ornament Sutra. Paul has fatigue and mobility problems and asked Tenshin what he should do in retirement. Tenshin told him to sit by the road and talk to people. Not so many people

walk by his garden in Oakland, and BZC looks like a good place to sit and practice. We are delighted to have him with us.
      I asked Paul what he thought would be important to carry Buddhism forward. He has studied the precepts most intently the last few years and thinks they are the main thing Buddhism has to contribute to society. Precepts shape society and are an asset to society—the Eightfold Path, including right livelihood, addresses racial discrimination as well as social and economic injustice. He believes that Buddhist precepts offer a new paradigm beyond socialism and capitalism. They allow us to be one with our neighbors, and are more relevant than the focus on being as safe as possible or making the most money. Paul pondered the question of enforcing the precepts in society. If precepts or laws are broken in our society, someone might lose money. In Russia, someone might be shot. What enforces precepts in a Buddha Land?
      Paul mentioned Case 86 in the Blue Cliff Record: “The Temple Gate, the Kitchen, and Light,” which he says is most beautiful to him. The Gate is our entry to practice. The Gate focuses our attention and helps us carry out our vow to practice. If we stay for a while we have to eat as well as breathe. So the Kitchen is the power house. The Tenzo’s role is most basic. To breathe, to sit, to practice, it is necessary to eat.
      And that reminded him that it was time to cook dinner, so we stopped the discussion there.
                                                          —Sue Oehser

Sejiki—Feeding the Hungry Ghosts

On Saturday, October 28, BZC will again celebrate Sejiki, a traditional Soto Zen ceremony, calling forth and feeding hungry ghosts, spirits of the departed, and hungry ghosts within each of us. Weather permitting, the ceremony will take place outside in the courtyard with an altar filled with fruit, cakes, and other food offerings for the ghosts.  Children are welcome and participate with adults in making loud clashing sounds with noise-makers (some are provided, and you can also bring your own) so that hungry ghosts know they are very welcome. Children and adults are welcome to wear Halloween costumes (or not). Abbot Hozan will lead the ceremony with welcoming music and words.
      At this ceremony we will also read the names of all those who have died since last year’s ceremony. Please send names you wish to be included to Hannah Meara at
      The talk and ceremony will start in the zendo at 10:15 a.m. All are welcome to join the work circle at 7:45 to help set up the altar.

Sangha Work Day

On Sunday, October 22, we will be having a Sangha Work Day. The day will open with coffee and pastries at 8:00 a.m., then zazen from 8:15 to 8:40 and work circle at 8:45, with work starting at 9:00. Lunch will be provided by our tenzos from noon until work circle at 12:45 p.m., and we’ll wind up with informal zazen 3:45‒4:00.
      If you would like to join us (or if you have any questions), please contact Greg Denny ( or 510- 402-8282). Please also let him know which of the following categories of work you are able to participate in: cleaning; gardening; painting; and simple carpentry or building-related tasks (possibly using tools like drills or saws). Some work may get you dirty. Dress appropriately.

Dharma Transmissions

On Friday evening, July 28, we completed the joyous ceremonies of Dharma Transmission (Shiho) with Hannah Meara (Kijin Seisho— Resolute Love/Clear Illumination) and Carol Paul (Shiken Seigetsu—Clear Intention/Serene Moon). On the same occasion Zenshin Greg  Fain completed these ceremonies with Curtis Fabens (Daishi Zenkai—Great Resolve/ Complete Openness).
Transmission recognizes the maturity of their practice as Soto Zen priests, acknowl­edging their enlightened activity within the sangha. During a week of intensive work and ceremonies, we were supported and literally nourished by dharma sisters and brothers. Bows of gratitude to Shosan Victoria Austin, Nyokai Laurie Senauke, Jean Selkirk, Judith Putnam, John Busch, Susan Marvin, Penelope Luminous Heart Thompson, Liz Horowitz, Preston Evers, Ross Blum, Helen Cheng, Sue Dunlap, and more. Thank you all.
(For more details about these cere­monies, and about the meaning of Dharma Transmis­sion, please see Abbot Hozan’s longer article at the end of this newsletter.)

Carol, Hozan, Hannah



Aspects of Practice, Fall 2023

All sangha members are warmly invited to join Aspects of Practice, our fall practice period, which will open with a one-day sesshin on Saturday, October 14 (led by Gerry Oliva), and end with a one-day sesshin on Saturday, November 11 (led by Carol Paul). The theme will be the Genjo Koan, which will be studied in four classes on Thursday evenings as well as in Saturday lectures and WSM talks.
Ten senior students will be leading Aspects of Practice. Please consider your schedule and responsibilities in order to determine your participation, and try to attend as much as you can along with zazen.

All events will be held in person as well as online.
Register for Aspects here

Remember: In addition to the Practice Period sign-up, you will need to register separately for each sesshin and for the class.
We look forward to practicing with you during this special yearly time.

Benji Poem for Jumyo Seishin Sue Oehser

Benji Poem
Jumyo Seishin Sue Oehser

Here we are again, as always,
for now. Our whole lives
we’ve been praying for peace
and finally the world has grown
quieter than silence. The main gate
squeaks open. In the kitchen,
a carrot is chopped like a finger.
Who ever said that harmony
wouldn’t hurt?

And so we sit together,
the afternoon sun sneaking
through the zendo blinds,
specks of dust tumbling down
streams of light. You see,
our skin is always dying, always
taking flight from the body
and becoming this air
that we breathe.

The Buddha heaves a sigh.
On the altar, the candle flame
burns upright and restless.
What are we waiting for?
we ask ourselves and each other.
What is the orbit of this dream?
Out of the corner of our eye,
a bright, bitchin’ pearl
accomplishes nothing
with her friends,
falling awake.

Let us hear from the shuso!

—Preston Evers

Board Nominations

Board Nominations

Are you interested in serving on the BZC Board? Or is there someone you would like to nominate? If so, please contact the Board Recruitment and Elections Committee ( and include any relevant information about why you or your nominee would make a good BZC Board member.

Every year the BZC sangha selects up to three at-large members to two-year terms on the BZC Board. This year we have one vacancy. Board members may serve a maximum of two consecutive two-year terms. Elections take place in October and the new term starts in January 2024. The Board will present its nominees at the All-Sangha Meeting on Sunday, September 17. Nominations can also be made by sangha members at that meeting.

Some of the various skills the Board seeks in nominees are oral and written communication, organizational experience, information technology, money management, fundraising, engineering, building maintenance, and non- profit law. Nominees should be members of BZC. Board members attend about ten Sunday morning meetings a year plus an all-day retreat in the first part of the year, and serve on at least one working Board committee: Finance; Buildings & Grounds; Development; Electronic Communication & Social Media; Archive; and Elections & Nominations.

Practice Period Class—Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind

Practice Period Class—Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind

This spring our practice period class will draw upon the riches of Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Beneath the warm and inviting tone of Suzuki Roshi’s words are boundless depths that appear anew with each reading. Over nearly fifty years of teaching, Sojun Roshi never reached the limits of this book’s Zen wisdom. So, we begin again. We will share a selection of chapters, which will be announced. Practice period members, in fact all BZC practitioners ought to have a copy of this book. And a pdf of the whole text can be found at this link.
Classes will be held in the zendo and online at 7:15pm, for five Thursday evenings from May 18 to June 15. Suggested class fee is $50. No one is turned away for lack of funds. See you in class.

Please register for the class by clicking this ink: Class – Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind – Sign up
COVID restrictions will apply. If you have questions, you could reach out to the Class Coordinator Ryushin Andrea Thach at

Coming-of-Age Program

Coming-of-Age Program

BZC is offering a Coming-of-Age program for
youth ages 12‒14. Participants will receive a
basic introduction to Buddhist teachings, learn
about mindfulness, precepts, and meditation,
and celebrate their journey toward adulthood.
The program will meet one Sunday a
month for two hours from September 2023
through June 2024. For more information,
please contact Marie Hopper at

2023 Spring Practice Period

BZC’s 2023 Spring Practice Period will go from an opening sesshin on Saturday, May 13, to a five-day sesshin and Shuso Hossen on Sunday, June 25. We are very happy to announce that the shuso for this year will be Sue Oehser, Jumyo Seishin (Bright Pearl/Pure Faith).
While details of the practice period are still to be worked out, we will have our usual activities, including Shuso teas, Hozan’s practice period class, a mid-practice period dinner and skit night, and—of course—zazen. Stay tuned for further information.