Category Archives: Musings

Tuesday Evening Tea with Hozan

Selected Tuesdays from 7:00 to 8:15 pm

Beginning Tuesday, October 20

then November 17, December 1, December 15

Contact Hannah Meara for a place in the room:

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.



BZC Dharma Groups
Passcode: bzc

Meeting ID: 939 998 180

Berkeley Zen Video—Consent & Privacy

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:

Video recordings, as they are created and posted, can be found on our new YouTube channel: “Berkeley Zen Video”

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

A New Normal

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.

Take Shelter in Practice Discussion/Dokusan

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.

Meet and contact BZC’s Abbots and Practice Leaders

Who Holds It All?

When you wake up to a new and terrifying reality
When everywhere you look you see maps and charts
Displaying what feels like an inexorable progression of sickness and death
When your crops are being devoured by locusts
And you wonder if you will be able feed your children
When you look at a smoggy sky,
garbage washing up on the shore
Tearful and heartbroken about the earth’s destruction
When you awaken in the night, short of breath
Struggling to inhale
When your throat is sore, and your head feels hot
Thinking “Is this IT?”
When you’re in a hospital bed attached to multiple devices
Terrified and not knowing where you are
When you’re waiting at home for news of a loved one
When no one will answer your calls and you can’t visit
When you work in the hospital every day
Always aware of the risk of contagion
When you enter a store and feel the terror
Of getting too close to others, touching anything
When your job puts you in danger everyday
But you can’t support yourself without a paycheck
When you’re homeless, vulnerable, scared, forgotten
When you’re in an immigrant detention center
A nursing home, a home for the mentally or physically disabled
Understaffed and people around you getting really sick

Overcome by the enormity of it all
Is it possible for us to finally awaken?
To our universal interconnectedness
A connectedness of spirit, of compassion
That holds it all
Gerry Oliva
April 11, 2020


After zazen on Wednesday mornings (at 8:10 am) we will hold an ongoing well-being service.  Due to the limitations of Zoom, congregants will be muted while we each chant along with the doshi/kokyo.  If you would like to have a name added to the ongoing well-being list, send your request by email to Co-Zendo Manager Hannah Meara:

In addition, all are welcome to request a personal service for an individual when there is need for prayers for well-being or when someone has died. Hannah is also the contact person for these requests.

All-Sangha Gatherings Every Other Week

For the time being, we are holding All-Sangha gatherings on Zoom.  The meeting will last 60–90 minutes and be facilitated by a pair of practice leaders and long time students. Meetings may take a variety of shapes, including a focus topic announced beforehand and possible break-out sessions. See calendar for dates.

Meeting with a Teacher at BZC

The stable platform of Zen practice rests on four strong legs: zazen, work practice, study, and meeting with a teacher. Down through the centuries, meeting with a teacher has offered an opportunity to deepen practice, reflect on studies, and apply Zen practice to your everyday life. It is an essential part of the teachings as you develop an understanding of yourself. Master Dogen writes:

Visiting teachers to ask about the way is practicing Zen. This state of fine simplicity is transmitted from the ancients.

In the Zen tradition, dokusan (sometimes called sanzen) is a private, formal meeting between a student and an authorized teacher. At BZC, Sojun Roshi, Hozan Sensei, and dharma-transmitted teachers regularly offer dokusan, and authorized senior students—lay people and priests—offer “practice discussion,” which is similar in form and content to dokusan. Additionally, you may meet with teachers and seniors for an informal conversation over tea, or coffee, or sitting under a tree. But what happens at this meeting? Whether formal or informal, this intimate space belongs to the student. Student and teacher—face to face. Bring yourself completely into the interview room. Sit down, establish your breath and posture. When you are ready to speak, bow and begin. You may come with a particular question about practice, or with an inquiry that is not yet clear in your mind. Sometimes you may not know what to say. In that case, sit together and pay attention to what arises in body and mind. A Zen teacher writes:

The best way to go to sanzen is simply to look into your heart, to present your practice to the teacher and trust the process. How are you practicing? What is most alive for you? What do you notice? What are your obstacles, your insights? . . . Open up to new points of view.

BZC teachers welcome the opportunity to meet with you and potentially to build relationships that support students and the sangha as a whole. Feel free to talk with any of the senior students, with Sojun Roshi, or with me. Our contact information is available on the Teachers page.

—Hozan Alan Senauke

Up a Tree

The faithful girl left home at night to search
in the forest
for the tallest tree; from the top she would see
all the world clearly and things as it is.

Thorns bloodied her arms and legs, rocks
pierced her feet,
she struggled until she found the tree.
Her limbs useless, she climbed with her eyes,
her ears, her nose, her lips, her tongue,
her teeth, her heart, her lungs, her breasts,
her loins

all the way to the top. Then she saw things
clearly as it is and heard
a voice down below, a monk in brown robes,
calling up to her,
“Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?”

The faithful girl laughed when wings sprouted
from her shoulders and lifted her into the sky,
she called to him as she flew higher,
“Because they could!”

—Benji poem by Maria Winston
at Shuso Ceremony for Carol Paul

Practice Period

In Dogen Zenji’s Eihei Koroku this is recorded: “Dogen held up his whisk, and with it drew a circle in the air. He said, ‘Practice period goes beyond this.’ ”

For thirty years Berkeley Zen Center has offered a six-week practice period. These have been led by our founding teacher, Sojun Weitsman Roshi. As vice abbot of Berkeley Zen Center, I am honored that Sojun Roshi has invited me to lead this year’s practice period.

In the Zen tradition, the word used for practice period is ango, which means “peaceful abiding.” In China and Japan this would be a three-month residential intensive, with its own root in the early Buddhist “rains retreat,” when wandering monks and nuns would gather in their home temples during monsoon season.

Our practice period, in the springtime when the circle of life turns in joyous renewal, is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the practice of living an enlightened life, to renew our beginner’s mind. Dogen Zenji speaks of “practice realization,” meaning that our Zen practice does not so much aim toward a goal of awakening, but rather that practice expresses the enlightenment that is always within and available to us. Practice period includes sitting, walking, chanting, cooking, serving, eating, working, resting—all of this is enlightened activity, woven into whole cloth by zazen.

BZC is not a monastery, so our members have jobs, families, and responsibilities outside the gate. Our practice is as much at home and in the world as in the zendo. This is our ongoing Dharma experiment—dedicated lay practice, sitting with everything. During practice period, we have recommended requirements, but as Sojun Roshi has written, “within these requirements each person can create his or her own schedule. This is the nature of lay practice. Some will be able to do only the minimum, while others who have the opportunity will be able to extend or stretch themselves much more.”

We may wish to do it all, but each of us must be realistic about our capacity. The important thing for each of us—during practice period and throughout the year—is to clarify and set our practice intention, and do our best to keep to that intention. You don’t have to break your bones to do practice period. But don’t be slack with yourself either. With Right Effort our practice edge comes into view. What is the Middle Way? Whatever commitment and schedule one comes up with, we are all practicing together intimately.

Not everyone in the sangha will be able to clear the time and energy to participate in practice period. That is completely understandable, and everyone, of course, is welcome to come to the zendo when they can. All of us are supporting and being supported by the practice period—peaceful abiding. These six weeks can then extend throughout the year. As Dogen says, “Practice period goes beyond this.”