July 22, 2014
Local Zen: Places to Practice in San Francisco

Local Zen Map_x600Having featured Branching Streams sangha profiles for four affiliated member groups in far-flung locations over the past several months, Sangha News turns its focus local, to the many Soto Zen groups within the Suzuki Roshi lineage that have sprung up right around SFZC. This first local article provides a flavor for five such sanghas just within the city limits, while future articles are planned to address other parts of the Bay Area. Below are brief descriptions of the colorful San Francisco sangha life from these groups beyond 300 Page Street.*


dragonsleapDragons Leap Meditation Center
(Branching Streams member)

Led by: Dairyu Michael Wenger

What it’s like:
Dragons Leap is a refuge for all beings. A small warm center offering zazen, brush works, and Dharma study groups, it comes from the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition, yet doesn’t exclude anybody. It is a place where creativity and compassion are cultivated, where we deepen our inherent connection with each other and our intimacy with what is.  Recent studies have focused on Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, Eihei Dogen’s Genjo Koan, and Michael Wenger’s 49 Fingers, A Collection of American Koans. During half-day and one-day sits, extended kinhin (walking meditation) takes us within view of the mighty Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Where it’s at: 2100 20th Avenue (at Quintara).

When it happens:
Daily zazen: Tuesday through Friday, 6 – 7:15 am.
Sunday Program:  Zazen at 6:30 pm. Talk by guiding teacher Dairyu Michael Wenger or visiting guest teacher at 7:05 pm.  Tea, refreshments and conversation at 7:30 pm.

How to join (Can I just show up?): Please stop by and visit us for zazen, a class or a talk.

More info: Call Dragons Leap at (415) 504-6085. Also visit Dairyu’s blog for more information on his art and creative process, at elephantwaltz.blogspot.com. See also: dragonsleap.com.


Issanji_welcomeHartford Street Zen Center (Issan-ji)
Led by: Myo Lahey

What it’s like:
Issan-ji (One Mountain Temple), Myō shū zan (Wondrous Practice Mountain), is a neighborhood temple and residential practice center located in San Francisco’s Castro district that welcomes all. Founded in 1982 by Rev. Issan Dorsey in the Soto Zen lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, HSZC was also the birthplace of Maitri Compassionate Care, the first US AIDS hospice. Further back in the temple’s history it housed the Gay Buddhist Club, and prior to that the building was a Tibetan practice center.  Rev. Myo Lahey is the current abbot and guiding teacher.

Where it’s at: 57 Hartford Street.

When it happens:
Monday morning: Zazen 7 am; service 7:40 am.
Tuesday – Friday morning: Zazen 6 am & 6:50 am; kinhin 6:40 am; service 7:20 am; soji 7:40 am.
Monday – Friday evening: Zazen 6 pm; service 6:40 pm.
Thursday evening: Study hour 7:30 pm—currently reading The Book of Serenity (drop ins welcome).
Saturday morning program: Zazen 6:30 am; service 7:10 am; soji 7:30 am; zazen 9:25 am; dharma talk 10:15 am; tea & cookies 11:00 am.

In addition to our Soto Zen practice, HSZC offers space for Friday evening Meditation in Recovery, Meditation in Recovery for Women on first Thursdays, and AIDS Sitting and Support Group Thursday and Friday mornings.

How to join (Can I just show up?): Walk-ins are always welcome!

More info: (415) 863-2507 / hszc108@yahoo.com / hszc.org.


Mt Source sesshin May 2014Mt. Source Sangha
Led by: Shinko Rick Slone

What it’s like—by Dan Gudgel:
Mt. Source Sangha was founded by Taigen Daniel Leighton more than 15 years ago, and is currently led by Shinko Rick Slone. We are a friendly, way-seeking group, focused on bringing the dharma to fruit within our everyday experience. Our group includes long-term practitioners from the foundational years of Suzuki Roshi’s time in San Francisco, as well as beginning sitters just becoming acquainted with Zen. We are currently studying Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, with many pauses along the way to examine our own experiences and the teaching that arises out of our lives. At a time when global circumstances are telling us that newness is a sign of value, we are joyfully turning toward ways of being that connect us with centuries of heartfelt, dedicated practice. Our group welcomes all beings, whether for one visit or many.

Where it’s at: Saint James’ Episcopal Church, 4620 California Street (between 8th & 9th Avenues), downstairs in the Parish Hall.

When it happens: Every Wednesday night. Zazen at 7:30 pm. Service and dharma talk following zazen, until 9 pm.

How to join (Can I just show up?): All sittings are open to walk-ins and first-time meditators. Orientation and meditation instruction available before any sitting. Contact in advance suggested but not required to arrange instruction.

More info: Contact Dan Gudgel at (415) 302-5448 or webmaster@mtsource.org. See also: mtsource.org


zachary_smilingNorth Mountain Zendo
Led by: Zachary Smith

What it’s like—by Zach Smith:
The idea of the group is that everyday, neighborhood sitting supports us all and forms a local network of continuous Bodhisattva practice. There’s a feeling of intimate engagement between the participants that’s wonderful to experience. On Fridays, after I give a short talk, we go to a neighborhood cafe for pie and discussion. Zen and Pie. And, the morning sun lighting up the buildings of Russian Hill like a great mountain of marble and bone. North Mountain.

Where it’s at: Hosted by Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center, 660 Lombard Street.

When it happens: 7 am every weekday save holidays. On Fridays there’s a short talk starting at 7:25 am.

How to join (Can I just show up?): Open to all comers. Walk-ins welcome.

More info: Email zachary@stupahead.com.


Photo: Linda Tanner

Presidio Hill Zen Group
(Branching Streams member)

Led by: Steve Weintraub

What it’s like—by Paul Fox:
About a year ago, I came across the phrase, “shut up and sit down.” So I did. I began a daily sitting meditation practice. I started to study Zen in particular, and naturally came across Zen Mind Beginners Mind. I was kind of scared to go to Page Street, being so new to practice. The question arose, where is a person to practice with others in the big city?

We need places where we can sit, listen and look at our lives. When we experience this in our Sangha we experience the Buddha and the Dharma as well. And we are able to take refuge in the Buddha, the teaching and each other. Presidio Hill Zen Group is such a place.

From day one, Steve and the sangha welcomed me wholeheartedly. I was instantly struck by the group’s kindness and openness. Steve’s teaching is a direct line back to Suzuki Roshi, and his humor, compassion and knowledge of the Dharma is a joy to be a part of every Thursday.

Where it’s at: St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 25 Lake Street (at Arguello).

When it happens: Thursday evenings, 7 – 8:30 pm.

How to join (Can I just show up?): All, including new-comers, are welcome.  If you are new to Zen practice, you can contact Steve for orientation and instruction.

More info: Email steve@presidiohillzengroup.org. See also: presidiohillzengroup.org


*The lists in these Bay Area articles are not meant to be exhaustive.
For more information about affiliated sanghas specifically in the Branching Streams network, see our Branching Streams directory and world map.

Image credits: SF map designed by Chris Shelton; Presidio Hill photo by Linda Tanner.