Category Archives: News

Our Approach to Practice Period

Since 1989, Berkeley Zen Center has had an annual six-week practice period in the spring or fall. Sojun Roshi regularly offered words of encouragement and perspective for those intending to participate. For our Spring 2021 Practice Period, I offer a similar message, drawing on Sojun’s expression and my own.

Practice Period has roots in Buddha’s time and continues through our Soto Zen tradition. In India and Southeast Asia, the Buddha established a Rains Retreat each year. During the monsoon season, monks and nuns would cease their wandering and gather in monastic centers for collective practice. This tradition migrated through East Asia and continues today. In Japan there is ango, which means “peaceful dwelling.” Practice period at BZC translates ango into our urban setting.

This spring we can concentrate our effort, renewing the practice of beginners’ mind. Study will center on zazen and basic Buddhist teachings. The practice period has some minimum requirements, but within these requirements each person should create his or her own realistic schedule. This is the nature of lay practice. According to the demands of our whole life, some will be able to do a minimum, while others can stretch themselves further in formal practice. In general, sangha members are not required to participate. You are free to come to zazen, even if you are not signed up for practice period.

The schedule you sign up for should incorporate zazen into your rhythm of  life as an intention rather than as a special activity. When we design our schedule for these six weeks, taking into consideration the other factors and responsibilities in our life, we have a foundation for practice, honoring all our commitments.

Sojun Roshi wrote: “I like to think of the spirit of practice period as the wish to do it all, and then narrowing it down to what is practical or possible, rather than simply picking and choosing pieces of it based on preference or convenience.  This helps to create an edge; something to push against but not enough to be inhibiting. When we all have this attitude, it creates a strong sangha feeling of mutual support and encouragement. We also manifest the spirit of zazen in our home and work life as continuous, well rounded practice; not just something we do on the cushion”

This provides an encouraging atmosphere for those who sit from day to day but are not in a position to throw themselves into this practice period. Please remember that we are all practicing together.

After this strange year of isolation, practice period can prepare us for the renewal of our intimate practice together.

—Hozan Sensei

Visit with Reverend Ryoko Osa Berkeley Higashi Honganji Temple

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.

Anti-Racism at BZC

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.

For more information, please contact Heather Sarantis (heathersarantis@gmail.com), Karen Sundheim (ksundheim@gmail.com), or Mary Duryee (maduryee@icloud.com).

Young East Bay Zen Update

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.

Upcoming meetings:

  • Monday, May 3, 6:30‒7:30pm (check-ins and open discussion)
  • Saturday, June 26, 11:30am‒1:00pm (Hidden Lamp discussion)

Spring Practice Period 2021

Our annual spring practice period will take place online this year, beginning with a one-day sitting on Saturday, May 8, and continuing through a three-day sesshin on June 18 to 20. The schedule will include a Thursday evening class, Small Group Teas with the Abbot, a mid-practice period Skits and Music Night, and more.

Topic Schedule

Talk Sat 8 May—Fukanzazengi…Hozan

Class Thursday 13 May—Refuges…Hozan

Talk Saturday 15 May—Fukanzazengi…Hozan

Talk Saturday 22 May—4 Noble Truths…Laurie Senauke

Class Thursday 27 May—8-Fold Path…Hozan

Talk Saturday 29 May—3 Marks of Existence…Hozan

Class Thurs 3 June—16 Bodhisattva Precepts…Ryushin Andrea Thach

Talk Saturday 5 June—5 Skandhas…Hozan

Talk Saturday 12 June—4 Immeasurables…Peter Overton

Class Thursday 17 June—6 Paramitas…Hozan

Talk Sesshin Fri 18 June—4 Foundations of Mindfulness…Gerry Oliva

Talk Sesshin Sat 19 June—T.B.A….Hozan

Talk Sesshin Sun 20 June—T.B.A….Hozan

BZC Bookstore is on Bookshop.org!

https://bookshop.org/shop/berkeleyzencenter

Bookshop.org is a prosocial company that sells books online and gives a cut of all earnings to independent bookstores and affiliate organizations. They launched recently and are offering themselves as an alternative to Amazon. They work with independent bookstores and publishers as a more equitable and less exploitative partner.

Bookshop.org enables affiliate organizations like ours to create an online storefront on their website, and receive a percentage of all sales. BZC’s Bookshop has been set up by us to include books Zen students will be interested in, including books by BZC’s own authors. We’re open to suggestions and will continue to add books over time. Here’s the link to our Bookshop:  https://bookshop.org/shop/berkeleyzencenter

You can also find the Bookshop link on the Recommended Reading page, under the main menu item Practice.

Thanks to Ben Clausen and Hozan Alan for the legwork on this!

 

Bag Lunch Project

We had two drop-offs of twenty bag lunches each during February to the Women’s Drop-In Center on Acton Street in Berkeley. The center has stopped inviting homeless folks inside as a result of the pandemic; food, supplies, and information are given through a window. As a result, they are very grateful for our contributions to what they are able to offer right now.

We stopped offering bag lunches in the downtown corridor in Berkeley when the lockdown was announced. We plan to revisit starting up again in March if all goes well.

Our drive to collect and offer scarves, hats, mittens, and gift cards is on hold too. Right now we are researching two other ideas—first, the possibility of supporting Dorothy Day House in some way. They serve 200 homeless people daily with meals and services.

If you are interested in joining us and/or have ideas and/or contacts to help with the above projects, please email Susan at lai_hang@yahoo.com.

If you would like to make a donation, please send your check to the BZC business manager, Helen, and note “Bag Lunch Project,” OR go to the BZC site and make a donation there. In that case, be sure to then send Helen an email  (bzcofficemanager@gmail.com) to let her know it’s for the Bag Lunch Project.

Mountain Seat Ceremony for Hozan Senauke

The Board of Shogaku-ji – Old Plum Mountain
Berkeley Zen Center s pleased to invite you to:

Shin San Shiki – Mountain Seat Ceremony for

Hozan Kushiki Alan Senauke
January 31, 2021, 3 pm PST

The ceremony will be live streamed in BZC’s Online Zendo

Meeting ID: 657 798 2914
Passcode: bzc

Your congratulations can be posted to our online board for Hozan Alan:

https://www.kudoboard.com/boards/omxxPytM

or sent by email to abbot@berkeleyzencenter.org

Hakuryu Sojun Roshi’s passing

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:

https://www.kudoboard.com/boards/UbWiuAKA