Early in our period of quarantine, Abbot Hozan and I received an invitation from Reverend Ryoko Osa to visit her Jodo Shin Buddhist Temple at 1524 Oregon Street in Berkeley. The temple was built in 1926 to serve the Japanese immigrant community, and continues to do so.
The temple is affiliated with the prominent Higashi Honganji Temple in Kyoto. Reverend Osa, a warm, lively, and articulate teacher, trained in Kyoto and in Los Angeles before she became the Minister of the Berkeley temple.
The Jodo Shin tradition is lay-oriented; its core practice is chanting the name of Amida Buddha and seeing how Dharma is revealed in everyday life. Services on Sundays are in English, with a short talk in Japanese. During the Covid pandemic, services and classes have been held via a Facebook link (available on their website).
As a young woman, Reverend Osa was deeply interested in Buddhism. She wanted to come to the United States to practice. The three of us had a lively conversation about mutual acquaintances and practices in each of our traditions. She was delighted with our zendo and grounds and plans to return.
The temple community is predominantly Japanese-American, with some Chinese-Americans and Caucasians. Members have understandably been concerned about violence against Asian-Americans and are being mindfully cautious about safeguarding themselves.
Last fall we invited anyone who wished to participate in a self-led group of BZC members to explore how to address racism in our sangha and the larger community. We warmly welcome any BZC members to join us for meetings, which happen approximately monthly. The next meeting is May 2. If you would like to attend, please contact the group facilitators (see emails below). Please watch the calendar for upcoming meetings beyond May.
Racism touches our lives in innumerable ways. It can take the form of systemic racism—such as the policies that shape people’s access to education, home ownership, community safety, food, and economic opportunity. It can also take the form of overt and subtle forms of racism at the personal level. Our society is designed to perpetuate racism at every level, from national policy to cultural norms.
Berkeley Zen Center, like all organizations, is not immune to/from these dynamics. Even with the best intentions, any of us can still act and talk in ways that harm or exclude others. Many of us struggle with knowing how to respond if we see racist acts. Sometimes we do not even know if what we say or do is causing harm. The purpose of this work group is to see what can be done about this, on the individual level and on the interpersonal level, and how BZC can respond and work with the community and other faith-based organizations.
Despite the pandemic—or possibly because of it—the Young East Bay Zen group is thriving! Over the past year, we’ve enjoyed the participation not only of active BZC members, but also people from other sanghas worldwide. We’ve also had a number of new-to-Zen people join us in recent months, and we’ve heard that YEBZ has provided them with a meaningful way to engage with other young practitioners during these isolating times. Through our regular group check-ins, dharma discussions, and occasional (socially distanced) outdoor activities, we’ve cultivated connections and spiritual friendship—even though many have never met in person!
We have regular meetings and open discussion twice a month: on the first Mondays and third Thursdays. On the last Saturday of each month we have our dharma discussion facilitated by a practice leader. In 2021 we are exploring The Hidden Lamp, a collection of “stories from twenty-five centuries of awakened women.” Thus far we have investigated “Chiyono’s No Water, No Moon” with Gerry Oliva and “Maurine Stuart’s Whack” with Susan Marvin.
We encourage participants to join us as much as they feel comfortable—all group activities are drop-in and no advance signup is required. While the group consists primarily of people in their 20s and 30s, anyone who identifies as “young” is welcome.
To encourage participation in the spring practice period we will pause YEBZ activities after May 3 until June 26. To receive email updates, please visit our page, where a link is available to join the YEBZ Google Group.
Monday, May 3, 6:30‒7:30pm (check-ins and open discussion)
Saturday, June 26, 11:30am‒1:00pm (Hidden Lamp discussion)
Berkeley Zen Center is now offering zazen instruction online every Saturday morning 8:40 to 9:20 am. Note that the instruction will NOT be held in the online zendo, but in its own separate online zoom room:
With great sadness the sangha of Berkeley Zen Center announces that Hakuryu Sojun Roshi—White Dragon/Essence of Purity—Mel Weitsman peacefully passed from this world to the Pure Land of Buddhas and Ancestors, at 5:30 pm on January 7, 2021. He is survived by his wife Liz Horowitz Weitsman and their son Daniel, along with uncountable disciples, students, friends and acquaintances across the United States and around this wide world.
Some recent words:
“I am able to not hang on to anything. That’s my secret. I believed my teacher when he said “Don’t get caught by anything.” I really believed it. And then, not only did I believe it, I started acting it out. So that’s where I’m at. Don’t get caught by anything. I’m able to not dwell on something. The news is what the news is. My anger is what my anger is. That’s all. And I try to do what I can to assuage my…everybody’s anxieties. I don’t have much anxiety. I’m gonna die. I’m on my way. What should I do, worry about it? Everybody does this. Nobody escapes. This happens to every single person that’s ever lived. What should I worry about? What’s there to worry about? I am just not that kind of person. This is what I decided when I was young. I said, “I’m just gonna live my life all the way up to the end. And when it’s time to go, I go.” That’s part of..that’s life. Life is death. So we experience it every moment. Here we are. Next moment, here we’re not. This happens every moment.”
We have created a Memorial Wall through the app KudoBoard, where you can post your stories, remembrances, feelings and thoughts. Access that here:
In the midst of a pandemic that keeps many of us in our homes, interrupting our face-to-face practice for eight months now, experiencing the disturbing realities of climate change and racial injustice, and facing a presidential election that may well bring unprecedented challenges to our nation, BZC moves towards its first formal leadership transition at the end of December.
I would like to create a safe and informal setting where we can meet over the next few months—where you can express your interests, questions, and concerns to me, and where we can talk among ourselves about things that concern us all: the continuity and shape of Suzuki Roshi and Sojun’s practice, our sense of and needs from the BZC community, and the state of our ever-changing world.
Rather than dokusan form, this would be more like sitting around in the living room or around the kitchen table, except for now, it will be on Zoom (see link below). It will not be open to the wider public and won’t be recorded.
For the sake of intimacy, we will have up to eight available slots each evening, for roughly an hour of discussion among those present. All your words and views are welcome.
Since the start of the pandemic this winter, Berkeley Zen Center has moved onto a digital platform for zazen, lectures, classes, and meetings. This platform utilizes Zoom technology, which allows us to record high-quality audio and video of our public teachings.
The audio recordings are easily found on the BZC website by clicking on “Dharma” at the top of the page, then clicking on the submenu “Talks.” Recordings stored there go back to 2008. The direct link to those audio talks is: https://berkeleyzencenter.org/talks-2/.
We recognize that some members have understandable concerns about online privacy. BZC has enabled a “recording consent disclaimer” which appears on participants’ screens any time the host is recording a session. If one does not wish to be recorded, this allows an option to leave the session. The language of the disclaimer is:
By continuing to be in the meeting, you are consenting to be recorded. Please understand that question-and-answer sessions following dharma talks are also recorded, and the questioner is highlighted. If you wish to ask an anonymous question, please “chat” to the Saturday director.
In addition to the onscreen message that appears on each participant’s screen, the Saturday Director will make a brief announcement that we are recording. Please note that only the speaker or the questioner appears on screen. Questioners on the video are not identified by name.
If you have further comments and concerns about privacy or about this new project, please contact Hozan Alan Senauke at email@example.com.
The Covid-19 infection rate in Alameda County is still increasing, even as Berkeley officials plan to reopen retail businesses, outdoor dining, religious services, and more, while they urge continuing use of face masks, physical distancing, and limited contact with people outside one’s “social bubble.”
At Berkeley Zen Center we miss the intimacy of the zendo and other community activities. In March, responding to the pandemic, BZC acted quickly to move our practice onto a digital platform. More than three months later, we have an “online zendo,” with daily zazen, a Saturday program, lectures, classes, dharma groups, day-long sittings, practice discussions, and regular all-sangha meetings. Many members are working hard to keep all these new forms going as smoothly as they are. It would take the rest of this page to name everyone involved and delineate the responsibilities they have taken on, but we do want to give a shout-out to the tech team: Judy Fleischman, Gary Artim, Laurie Senauke, and Kelsey Chirlinn, for supporting all of us in this transition.
Meanwhile the Coordinating Team—Gerry Oliva, Mary Duryee, Sojun Roshi, and Hozan Sensei—along with the Practice Committee and Senior Students group, have begun to discuss how to make a slow transition back to face-to-face practice. We are consulting closely with BZC’s Health and Safety team, which is tracking directives from the California Department of Public Health, translating the CDPH’s evolving policies into safety and sanitation protocols for our community.
BZC is planning a careful and gradual transition to a new normal. When we do choose to restart activities on Russell Street, attendance will be limited, social distancing will be in place, and thorough cleaning and sanitation will be integral to our practice. Meanwhile, we will certainly maintain the robust digital practice created on Zoom and other platforms. No one knows what normal will look like, but, having opened the digital door and seen what it offers, we will continue to explore that space. This may well be necessary, because we have no idea how long the pandemic will last. Chances are we’ll have to continue distancing and wearing masks for in-person encounters until a reliable vaccine emerges, and maybe beyond that.
So, we will sustain Suzuki Roshi’s Zen in ways he could not have imagined. We will do this together, with gratitude to all those, near and far, who work to keep us well and creative.
Buddha called dharma friendship, “All of the holy life.” Sitting with a seasoned dharma friend and talking about that which is close to your heart in practice and in your life is rare and precious. And it is simply what our lives in practice thrive on.
During this shelter in place time, we are less busy with the vicissitudes and “things to do” of our lives. In that quiet unfilled space, the deeper, creative and unexamined of our lives are more intimate and accessible. This can be a good time to spend time with a practice leader/ senior dharma friend to talk about what’s important to you.
Besides the Abbots, all of the senior students listed on the Practice Leaders web page are available to meet with you by phone, video-conference or in a walk. The meeting itself sets a container for an exchange, holding the light of practice for both people and touching more deeply together what might not be apparent otherwise. It can be a way to take in what different experienced practitioners hear in a question you are exploring, to connect with someone you would like to know better or perhaps be seen and see anew. Together, we bring forth the dharma when we sit and open ourselves to each other.