Branching Streams of Northern California: Introducing Occidental Laguna Sangha
A Branching Streams sangha profile
Our sangha started meditating together in 1995 in the small town of Occidental, California; hence the word occidental in our name. The word also means western, which is where the Buddha Dharma is now being established. We are located one hour north of San Francisco and not far from the Pacific Ocean. We currently meet together right next to the beautiful Laguna de Santa Rosa in Sebastopol, California, an important ecological reserve and the largest freshwater wetlands complex on the northern California coast.
Because of our proximity to San Francisco and the Bay Area, there are 10 other Zen sitting groups within 40 minutes of us. This presents a wonderful opportunity for cooperation among the various groups.
The Sangha was formally established 20 years ago when Kanzan Jiru Bruce Fortin moved to Sonoma County to become director of the local hospice program after many years of practice as a resident and priest at San Francisco Zen Center. What began with occasional one-day sittings evolved into a regular practice schedule. We sit together every Sunday morning at the Sebastopol Community Center, a lovely building right next to the Laguna, which offers a wonderful opportunity for outdoor walking meditation. The Sunday morning program includes a dharma talk and service. Many of the lectures can be found on our website. We also have a Thursday morning meditation and an ongoing dharma discussion group on Wednesday evenings. During our Sunday program Zen forms are used more informally, while on our longer sittings the forms are emphasized more.
Longer sittings are held throughout the year, sometimes at the community center and sometimes at Bruce’s home in the country, which has a large living room that can be easily converted into a zendo, as well as a large garden for walking meditation. For our multi-day retreats we sit at a nearby Episcopal retreat center located in the redwoods. Every year, we offer more intensive practice with a fall-winter practice period. Over the years a number of students have taken Jukai. Our membership is now around 35 active members.
The Occidental Laguna Sangha has a close relationship with the Lotus Sangha, led by Hoka Chris Fortin, Bruce’s wife. Twice a year, to celebrate and mark Buddha’s Enlightenment and Buddha’s Birthday, we join with this sangha for more extended retreats. We also come together for a joint New Year’s Eve sitting.
In addition to our formal sittings and service we have incorporated two processes that help bring members together in an intimate way. Periodically we go around the circle and check in about what is going on for each of us in our practice (participation is optional), and frequently after the dharma talk we break into groups of twos and threes, with each group discussing a question that has arisen out of the talk. We also do art projects together (see the photo of jizo statues), and once a month we have an informal tea together. Students who have sat in a committed way with the group for a couple of years are invited to give a way-seeking-mind talk.
The Occidental Laguna Sangha is committed to engaging with the local community. Every fifth Sunday at the local Episcopal Church we host a free lunch for the homeless and a food and clothing giveaway. We also participate regularly in beach cleanups with Stewards of the Coast. Last year we joined with the local Methodist church in a poetry fundraiser to support the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation.
Kanzan Jiru Bruce Fortin, the founder and guiding priest and teacher of the Occidental Laguna Sangha, was ordained by Zentatsu Richard Baker in 1977 and received transmission from Zoketsu Norman Fischer.
For more on our sangha, see occidentallagunasangha.org.
For more information about the Branching Streams network, or to use the directory to find a group near you and read more profiles and news, visit the new website at branchingstreams.sfzc.org.