All posts by James Erb

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.

BZC Tassajara Sangha Week 1 – June-July, 2023

As you may recall, last summer’s Tassajara Sangha Weeks were canceled due to a Covid outbreak. This year, once again, Tassajara is offering the opportunity for sangha members to come together to practice there for a week. Ryushin Andrea Thach and Susan Marvin plan to bring a group from June 27 to July 2. The week will include zazen, daily work, study time together, and free time to relax in the beauty of the area.
Some of the folks who were signed up for last  summer have committed once again to go this time. There are a few spots remaining. Cost is around $600/week  with shared accommo­dations.
Please email Susan ( and Ryushin ( if you are interested in going and feel certain you can go for that entire week.
The SFZC website has some information about the summer schedule here:

Abbot’s Message: March-April 2023 Sanshin—Dogen’s Three Minds

Sanshin—Dogen’s Three Minds

In 1237, as Dogen Zenji was creating his new monastery in the wilds of western Echizen Province, he composed the Eihei Shingi,* with precise instructions and an overview of temple responsibilities. The first chapter of this manual is Tenzo Kyokun, instructions for the head cook. Tenzo Kyokun is a wonderfully practical text that still guides our own kitchen practice and influences all aspects of our Zen practice.
In ancient China and Japan, the tenzo or head cook was a pivotal position for a senior monk in a monastery. Think about it. The daily care, feeding, and health of many monks or nuns depended on this person. Training monasteries were often deep in the mountains. One could not go to the supermarket or the corner store to get a missing ingredient. In fact, there is a well-known story in which Dogen tells how, on his arrival in China, he encountered a tenzo who had traveled many miles to purchase mushrooms for his community.
The last section of Tenzo Kyokun speaks of “sanshin”—three qualities of mind necessary for the cook: Joyful Mind (kishin), Parental Mind (roshin), and Great Mind (daishin). “Shin” translates as heart/mind, so “mind” here is not strictly pointing to mental activity. I think that most of us in the West tend to see heart and mind as two different organs. But a Buddhist understanding points to the oneness of heart/mind. One commentator explains that these qualities of mind express the “internal world of the bodhisattva.” As such, they are not at all distinct from each other. Rather, we see them interpenetrating and reflecting each other, as heart/mind become our whole life.
While Dogen expresses this in his instructions to the cook, the principle actually applies to anything we do, inside or outside of the temple. This is enlightened activity. Or to put it another way, enlightenment is activity informed by these three minds. This is each person’s responsibility. Dogen writes, “Do not overlook one drop in the ocean of virtue by entrusting it to others.”
If we look at a life of practice, of course we can plunge in at any point, beginning with the expression of any of these minds. But it is provisionally useful to consider how the Three Minds might unfold: Great Mind gives birth to Joyful Mind, which gives birth to Parental Mind.
Great Mind or Magnanimous Mind is grounded in zazen, which itself is vast and boundless. Suzuki Roshi spoke of Big Mind, which is the same thing. This is wholehearted activity, throwing oneself into the house of Buddha with no self-centered thoughts. Commenting on Tenzo Kyokun, Suzuki Roshi said:

First of all the cook must have a big mind, a magnanimous mind to accept criticisms and complaints. He shouldn’t smile. You cannot even smile, because if you smile the monks will be even more angry. Just accept what people say and understand human nature.

Great Mind is like an ocean or a mountain. As Dogen writes:

The ocean does not refuse water; therefore it is able to achieve its vastness. Mountains do not refuse earth; therefore they are able to become lofty. Great Mind calmly and naturally includes every sentient being and even every insentient being.

The expression of Great Mind is gratitude, which gives birth to Joyful Mind. Grateful for the gift of life, for the opportunity to be of use to others, joy arises and flows freely. Dogen writes:

Now we have the good fortune to be born as human beings and to prepare the food that these three jewels receive and use. Is this not of great karmic significance? We should thus be very happy.

In one of his lectures, Suzuki Roshi tells an enigmatic story about Joyful Mind.

Where I grew up in Japan there are many fishermen and fish shops. Besides fish stores, we have people carrying fish and selling them in the street. They are running down the street with a big flag, and they are always full of joy. If they were not happy, the fish would look old. The fish just look fresher if they are carried with joy. When fish become old, their eyes turn from blue to white. But even if the fish are white-eyed, if the fish-sellers are running with joy the fish look fresh.

That is the transformative power of Joyful Mind!
Paternal Mind, or roshin, naturally arises from Joyous Mind. Literally, roshin means “old mind.” Some translators call it Grandmotherly Mind, or Nurturing Mind. Thinking of my paternal grandmother, this is a perfect fit—the one member of my family who seemed to love and accept me without judgment or expectation; who unfailingly fed, taught, and encouraged me. Such a heart/mind is the spirit of service, marked by unconditional love without concern for oneself—which of course returns to Great Mind. A quotation attributed to Kobo Daishi, the ninth-century Japanese founder of the Shingon school, says: You can tell the depth of a person’s enlightenment by how they serve others.”
We have an expression in English: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Zen students have another way. Stay in the kitchen, keep cooking. Sit still, pay attention, bring these three minds of zazen right into the kitchen. As Master Tozan said, “When it is hot, let the heat kill you. When it is cold, let the cold kill you.”
–Hozan Alan Senauke


*Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A Translation of Eihei Shingi
, translated by Taigen Daniel Leighton and Shohaku Okumura. State University of New York Press, SUNY Series in Buddhist Studies, 1995.


Lay Ordination Sewing for 2023

Sewing your rakusu in preparation for Lay Ordination/Jukai and receiving the precepts at the end of BZC’s spring practice period is an opportunity to deepen your practice and relationship in sangha. Each year, sewing-class students engage in the practice of sewing and studying the precepts together, preparing themselves to receive a rakusu/robe and a dharma name. The whole sangha celebrates and supports these new bodhisattvas, affirming their aspiration of continuous practice.

Sewing classes start in the new year. Classes are open to those who have asked their teacher for permission to participate. If you are interested in participating this year, please speak with Abbot Hozan as soon as possible (in dokusan, by phone, or via Zoom)—in addition to one of BZC’s other brown-robe teachers or green-rakusu teachers, if you have a teacher-student connection with one of the latter. After you have spoken with your teacher(s), contact the sewing teacher, Jean Selkirk (

Jizo Ceremony March 19

On Sunday, March 19, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.,  BZC priests Hondo Dave Rutschman and Ryushin Andrea Thach will lead a simple ceremony to invoke, honor, and ask for help from Jizo Bodhisattva, one of the most important figures in East Asian Buddhism. Traditionally, Jizo is understood to be the embodiment of fearless compassion, a protector of children and travelers, of all those who are vulnerable, and of those who find themselves grieving or in hell-realms. Jizo is especially associated with abortion, mis­carriage, and stillbirth.

One ancient story about Jizo is that in a former life he was a Brahmin maiden named Sacred Girl. Sacred Girl’s mother died and went to hell, and out of love and devotion, Sacred Girl sold all her belongings and made offerings to the Buddha of her age. Eventually, because of her good works, she was able to see into hell and learn that her mother had been saved. But as she witnessed the sorrow and pain of all the other beings still there, Sacred Girl’s heart broke and opened, and she made a great vow to work for the benefit of suffering beings until all the hells were emptied. So whenever and in whatever way we find ourselves in hell, we know that Jizo has vowed to be there with us.

The ceremony will take place in person at BZC. During the afternoon, we will draw, write, or sew—creating actual tangible objects as expressions of our prayers. Often those objects are red caps or rakusus, which are then draped onto Jizo statues; but they can also be drawings, written messages, or anything else that feels right. There will be time for sitting in silence, and for sharing and discussion.

All are welcome to attend, especially those experiencing heartbreak and grief. The registration form can be accessed here: A suggested donation of $15 (or whatever you can afford) will cover the cost of materials. For answers to any questions, please email or

Winter Sesshins 2023

Our first sesshins of 2023 will be:

A one-day sesshin on Saturday, January 14, 7:50 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Register here:

A one-day sesshin on Saturday, 18, 7:50 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

A Beginners’ sesshin on Sunday, February 26, 7:50 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

All will be led by Abbot Hozan and will be offered in-person as well as online. A signup form will be posted on the website several weeks prior to each sesshin, and the deadline for registration will be during the week prior.

These sesshins will follow a modified winter schedule similar to that used at our recent Rohatsu sesshin, with three periods of zazen in the morning followed by a dharma talk, and then three periods of zazen in the afternoon. There will be a midday break for bag lunch, rest, and work period. This streamlined schedule is intended to minimize possible transmission of Covid or other seasonal viruses.

For all in-person participants, Covid protocols will apply. We require that you be fully vaccinated and boostered, and that you wear an KN94, N95, or KN95 mask indoors. We also ask that you get tested within 48 hours of the start of sesshin (an antigen rapid test will
suffice), and also that if you have any Covid symptoms such as fever, cough, etc., that you shift to online participation.

When paying for sesshin, please indicate  on your check or in the PayPal note field that your donation is for the sesshin or sesshins
that you will attend. The suggested donation is $15 per day (or whatever you can afford). Mail a check to the BZC Office Manager at 1931 Russell St., Berkeley 94703, or pay through the website using the “Sits/Classes” tab on the “Donate” page. Please also consider an additional donation to Berkeley Zen Center above the suggested fee, to help us maintain our practice.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the sesshin director, Rob Lyons, at

Board Members Confirmed

As of this writing, the votes are more than 90% in and we are able to confirm three new Board members for the 2023‒2024 term: Fulani Offutt, Heather Sarantis, and Rob Walker. Welcome!

We express deep gratitude for the service of the three members-at-large who are transitioning off the board after two terms of service: Sue Oehser, Linda Hess, and Dean Bradley. They
have served us with steadfastness, reliability, and skill. Nine bows to all three. We are grateful for the continuing services of Laurie Senauke as Treasurer, Hozan as Abbot, Helen Cheng as Office Manager, and Joe Buckner as Archival Assistant.
Bows and  gratitude for all.

New Year’s Eve at BZC

Y’all come to BZC’s annual contemplative New Year’s Eve celebration!

New Year’s Eve celebration begins at 8:00pm in person and online. Given our physical zendo capacity, the in person program is open to BZC community only. All attending must showing proof of Covid-19 vaccination and booster if not on existing list for this. Zoom participation is open to all. Come and go or stay for the duration as we sit and walk (zazen and kinhin) and listen as a ceremonial bell is rung 108 times. The night ends shortly after midnight with chanting the Heart Sutra. Then, those in person come together in the courtyard for hot cider, tea, and cookies beside a bonfire. Those online may greet one another.

We will release into the fire memorial cards from the year for those who have passed. Participants are invited to release traces of the last year and offer wishes for the year to

Lay Ordination

On Saturday, October 15, nine members of the BZC sangha received Lay Ordination (Zaike Tokudo) from Abbot Hozan, Peter Overton, Gerry Oliva, and Ryushin Andrea Thach. This ceremony takes place once a year at BZC and is a significant rite of passage for each
participant and for the whole sangha. We have the feeling that we are all together witnessing and participating as the ordinees receive
Buddha’s precepts. We welcome these friends into the lineage of Shakyamuni Buddha and Suzuki Roshi’s family. Great thanks to Sewing Teacher Jean Selkirk, along with Hannah Meara and Kabir Nabi. Laurie Senauke did a wonderful job working out the many details for this ceremony.

Hozan’s ordinees:

Helen Cheng—Jinkai Tatsugen/Renhai Dayuan
(Ocean of Compassion/Reach the Source)
Heather Sarantis—Kokai Seigō (Vast Ocean/Manifest Awakening)
Yoni Ackerman—Wakai Shōnin (Peaceful Ocean/Luminous Person)
Joe Buckner—Genkai Shinyū (Subtle or Dark Ocean/True Courage)

Peter Overton’s ordinee:
Diane Ritchey—Myōgetsu Jinsei (SubtleMoon/Compassionate Essence)

Ryushin Andrea Thach’s ordinees:

Nick Robinson—Ro-un Meishi (Buoyancy Cloud/Illuminate Stillness)
Nathan Britton—Tokushu Egen (Virtuous Shelter/Wisdom Manifest)

Gerry Oliva’s ordinees:

Phillip Sherard—Yakusan Yūshin (Medicine Mountain/Brave Heart)
Ten Bartholomew—Kyokin Shōdō (Great Diligence/Illuminating the Way)

Suzuki Roshi Memorial and Buddha’s Enlightenment Ceremony

During Rohatsu sesshin we will commemorate two significant ceremonies—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s memorial (his passing was on December 4, 1971) and Buddha’s Enlightenment. Suzuki Roshi’s memorial ceremony is an opportunity for sangha members to remember and appreciate our root teacher. Our ceremony this year will on Monday, December 5, at 3:30 p.m., the first day of our seven day Rohatsu sesshin.

Our Buddha’s Enlightenment ceremony will be on Saturday, December 10, right after the lecture. It is a time to celebrate and express gratitude for our practice passed down through Shakyamuni Buddha. Both ceremonies will take place in the zendo for Rohatsu participants and can also be attended through BZC’s Zoom link. All are welcome to join and participate.