Let me go back to the very beginning before Green Gulch Farm was established. When the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was finalized, George Wheelwright made land available to San Francisco Zen Center. Some of the members of the Zen community were looking over the ranch houses on the property. I visited Green Gulch because I had started an organization called Enterprise for Youth, for high school students, and I was looking for a place in Marin for the students to spend a summer in the country.
I saw these black-robed Zen people, the way they moved, just their way of their being, and I felt an instant connection. This was in the 1970s. I’d been a very loose Episcopalian, not really believing in it. But this seemed to be so nourishing … In 1982 I decided that I would become a member of the San Francisco Zen Center. Spiritually it fit like a glove over my hand and it still does.
I would get up in the morning to meditate half an hour before I went off to work. My husband wasn’t averse to it but he could never spit out the word “meditation” — he would call it “exercises.” As in, “Are you going to do your exercises?” I meditated faithfully in the mornings and evenings. That carried me for many years.
I’m originally from Argentina and I practiced Soto Zen for many years in the Deshimaru lineage there. Back then I already knew about SFZC and had read Suzuki Roshi’s book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I remember thinking at the time how “far away” San Francisco Zen Center felt. Who would have guessed I would be writing this? Read more
How did I first come to San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC)? It’s kind of a funny story. I was going through a lot since my mother had passed away. I was suffering quite a bit. I knew my spiritual path had started whether I liked it or not.
I was going to a meditation group in my neighborhood, but I started to feel like it wasn’t the right fit, especially since they were pressuring me to do a lot of work for them. One day they said if I didn’t want to volunteer with their group, I could go to SFZC. They were trying to put SFZC down but it actually led me there, since I had never heard of it before. Read more
Sojun Mel Weitsman was invited to start the Berkeley Zendo in 1967 by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. He’s served as the head teacher and Abbot since that time, bringing forth and nurturing the active and flourishing urban center and community that is Berkeley Zen Center. He is now passing on his responsibilities as Abbot to his disciple, Hozan Alan Senauke. Read more
Engetsu Lefevre first came to SFZC’s City Center in 2013. After several years of Zen practice in her native Brazil, she was looking for a Zen center for long-term residential practice in the US.
I took the night bus from LA to San Francisco, and arrived really early in the morning,” Engetsu recalled. “When I walked through the front door at City Center, I left my backpack in the office and went straight into the Buddha Hall to join the morning service. We were chanting the Heart Sutra in Japanese, the Makka Hannya Haramitta Shin Gyo. Many of the sanghas I had already visited in the US didn’t chant the Japanese version.
In that moment in the Buddha Hall, I felt connected by chanting in Japanese like we did at my home sangha in Brazil. I didn’t have a connection with SFZC before this, and from all the Zen centers I visited that year, I had the shortest stay at SFZC, only a week. But because of that feeling of connection, I came back to SFZC as a resident the next year.
Carla Walter already had a dedicated spiritual practice when she visited Tassajara for the first time in 2018, and she “had no intention of becoming a Zen practitioner.” She tells the story of how she changed her mind and became increasingly involved with San Francisco Zen Center.
My first experience with SFZC was in August of 2018. I went with my sister to Tassajara, where she had been going for years. I went along because I really just wanted seven days of not being online, not being a wife, not being anything, just doing absolutely nothing. But once we got there, I was affected by the way people were and the way they interacted with me, my sister, and each other, and of course the food didn’t hurt, and the stars at night; it was just phenomenal.
By Cat Li Stevenson
Kyoshin Wendy Lewis has been practicing at San Francisco Zen Center since 1987, including living for six years at Tassajara. She was ordained by Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1997, and completed Dharma Transmission with Eijun Linda Cutts in December of 2012. She will be teaching an online class this Fall on The Ten Oxherding Pictures 10/08-11/19.