All posts by Sojun Mel Weitsman

Hakuryu Sojun Roshi began to practice at San Francisco Zen Center on Bush Street in 1964, and in1969 he was ordained by Suzuki Roshi as resident priest at the Berkeley Zendo. He received Dharma Transmission from Suzuki Roshi’s son and successor, Gyugaku Hoitsu, at Rinsoin temple in Japan in 1984, and was officially installed as Abbot of Berkeley Zen Center in 1985. Along with his responsibilities in Berkeley, Sojun Roshi helped train students and teachers at several affiliated temples. From 1988 to 1997 he served as Co-Abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center. Sojun Roshi gave Dharma Transmission to numerous students, each of whom draws on their experience and understanding in offering Sojun and Suzuki Roshi’s teaching to others all over the country. Hakuryu Sojun Roshi— White Dragon/Essence of Purity— Mel Weitsman peacefully passed from this world to the Pure Land of Buddhas and Ancestors on January 7, 2021. He continues to live in the hearts and minds of all who knew him.

Practice Has No Gaps

Dear Sangha,

Being that we are so well informed, the state of our virus situation needs no more information from me. But what I do wish to talk about is how we manage, or practice as a Zen student in this trying time. We always talk about how in this Saha world (of suffering), facing our trials and difficulties is the ground where our personal dramas are played out. What we are dealing with now is no exception. This is a great test for our practice.

Every one of our lives has been altered. Some will not go back to the way it was and for them life will never be the same. Others will not be so affected. For many of us, both the present and future are tragic and unknown. For some, the shut-down is a kind of blessing; a relief from the day-to-day grind, and a chance to lay down the burden while the curtain is open.

Whatever the circumstances, at this time we all share the imposed condition of personal confinement. The Zen temple, the center of our shared practice with its AM and PM schedule, the talks, interviews, classes, and the immovable bedrock that we are sure is always there suddenly has exploded. The pieces have scattered, and a complete piece has landed in your lap and my lap. For now, each one of us is on our own, confined to our personal hermitage.

We are used to practicing all together in one space in the Japanese fashion. Now we need to adjust to the solo meditation way as is done in other countries. I suggest that you set up an altar where you sit if you don’t already have one, and offer flowers or incense before you sit. When you make a meal, do an offering. This is a good time to study one of those Buddhist books that has been taking up space on your shelf and flashing at you every time you walk by. The fundamental thing is to not dwell on when you are going to be released, but to completely live your life situation right here, one moment at a time.

This is a time to look at the tide pool of your environment and let those things that have always been there but you rarely see, reveal themselves. Everything is significant. This is how we do zazen continuously.

Instead of seeing this confinement as an imposition, it can be seen and be experienced as an opportunity. It’s great that we have Zoom and other forms of communication, and that our practice leadership is working hard to keep the ship afloat. Another suggestion is that we take advantage of the practice leaders’ offering of dokusan and practice instruction. So there are two sides; one is to keep the lines of communication flowing, and the other is to enjoy our solitude.

Blessings to all, and I am always open to your call.

Sojun Mel

from my cozy full service zendo

Letter from Sojun Roshi

Dear Sangha,

I want to express my gratitude to all of you and wish you a satisfying and healthy year in 2020. Although I have nothing against happiness, I avoid using that word here, and maintain that a healthy and satisfying life is a happy one.
I am greatly encouraged by the constancy of your practice and the way the temple has been taken care of while I was on sabbatical last year, and during my recent illness since mid-September. I want to express my gratitude to our board of directors and the leadership of the Vice Abbot, who pay attention to the maintenance, infrastructure, finances, and major issues that effect all of us.
I want to thank all of you members for your willingness to pay your dues and to make contributions: the support that keeps us rolling along. And of course the balance of daily participation among the practice leaders and members willing to take positions, have dokusan and practice discussion, attend classes, dharma groups, and
teisho (lectures). All of this has made for a strong sangha based on mutual encouragement, which has been a great support for me at this time.
Currently I have been tolerating my chemotherapy without side effects, which enables me to move around easily and continue my practice at the zendo. Given the situation of being a 90-year-old with cancer, I do need my fair share of rest. So I sleep a bit late most mornings and have been attending afternoon zazen. I see members mostly semiformally in my office, or informally. I make appointments online.
I remember Suzuki Roshi saying that when what you have to do and what you want to do are the same, your discriminating mind is under control. This is shikantaza: just doing, and a secret of happiness.