The Saturday Sangha has been an important and vital part of City Center’s practice life for the past twenty years. Before the Covid-19 pandemic closed the temple to visitors, each week non-residential practitioners came together on Saturday mornings to provide a variety of services: greeting newcomers, helping in the kitchen, and supporting in the zendo for zazen and the Buddha hall for lecture by sounding the liturgical instruments that signal the times and chants. They met during lunch, ate together, and engaged in study and discussion led by a senior priest.
The original inspiration for the group came from Teah Strozer who was Tanto (head of practice) of City Center at the time. When asked about her reasons for starting it, she said “I wanted to find a teaching venue for myself as head of practice and to support lay practice (non-residential in this case) more consciously and specifically.”
It was also a way for practitioners who did not live at SFZC to become more involved in the running of the temple, to meet other members, and to feel more integrated into the life of the community. Teah recalls, “The residents felt too stretched doing zendo jobs and kitchen jobs on Saturday, as well as throughout the week. I thought we could offer some respite from that and give lay people a way to train.”
The program has been a great success, providing many practitioners with a way to feel at home at City Center. Leadership passed from Teah to the Tantos who came after her and currently the group is led by Zachary Smith, a SFZC priest and teacher who lives in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood.
With the pandemic closures, circumstances have changed: zazen and lecture are offered online and there is no public lunch. Saturday Sangha, with 15-20 members, continues to meet via Zoom.
As Zachary says: “We start meeting as soon as the Q&A after the Saturday Dharma talk winds down. The first 20 – 25 minutes is usually a discussion of the talk. We then read a koan aloud, including the commentary, followed by discussion. The koans, or Zen stories, are from the book The Hidden Lamp, a collection of stories by and about women with commentaries by modern women teachers.
“We encourage and welcome newcomers and invite anyone to drop in after the Dharma talk and Q&A to continue the discussion with us. There are no requirements or prerequisites to join, except for a curiosity about the Dharma and a wish to engage in Sangha.
“In my experience, the meetings are lively and fruitful. Of course, Saturday Sangha, which used to be the backbone of the Saturday program, has had to adjust to mainly being a study and discussion group and a few people have fallen away for now but those who remain participate avidly and find it nourishing.”
We are grateful to Zachary for helping the group to continue, to its members for so many years of constant practice and service, and we look forward to the time when they are, once again, standing at the open door at 300 Page Street, welcoming the many visitors who come seeking the Dharma.
For more information about the Saturday Sangha, please go here.