May 6, 2021
Branching Streams Flow On
Bell and striker

Photo by Florian Brody

by Tova Green

A line in the Sandokai (Harmony of Difference and Equality) of Sekito Kisen (700 – 790), one of Suzuki Roshi’s favorite poems, reads”the branching streams flow on in the dark.” Branching Streams has become the name for the network of Zen Centers and Sanghas in the United States and 9 in other countries in the Suzuki Roshi lineage.

These groups, which vary greatly in size, age, and location, are led by teachers who trained at San Francisco Zen Center and departed to found or to join fledgling Zen groups. The earliest are Bay Area groups: Berkeley Zen Center, founded by Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1967 in the attic of an old house, and Haiku Zendo Meditation Center, started by Suzuki Roshi in 1966 in a private home in Los Altos, which later became Kannon Do in Mountain View, led by Les Kaye.

Over the years senior SFZC teachers, including Tenshin Reb Anderson, Ryushin Paul Haller, Dairyu Michael Wenger, Eijun Linda Cutts, and Teah Strozer visited and supported these groups in their early stages. Many Branching Streams centers now own their own buildings. One is establishing a rural monastery. Others rent their practice spaces or share spaces in churches or yoga studios.

Eight years ago when Steve Weintraub became the part-time liaison for Branching Streams, he created a website to strengthen communication between groups, sent email newsletters to teachers and leaders, established annual contributions, and organized a conference every two years to bring groups together. Steve passed the liaison role to me two years ago with great care and I have done my best to follow in his footsteps.

Steve encouraged me to visit as many groups as I could in my first year as liaison. My first trip was to Rome, to attend the mountain seat ceremony of Dario Girolami when he became Abbot of Centro Zen l’Arco, and to Belfast where I spent a week with abiding teacher Djinn Gallager and Black Mountain Zen Centre. I combined visits to some groups on the East Coast and Midwest with other events.

The 2019 Branching Streams Conference hosted by Milwaukee Zen Center was the impetus for visits to MZC and Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago. After a meeting of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association in New York State, I visited Brooklyn Zen Center and All Beings Zen in Washington, DC. Most visits were to groups in the Bay Area.

My last trip before Covid-19 made travel impossible was to three Branching Streams centers in San Antonio, Austin, and Houston. During the pandemic, my occasional newsletters have become weekly “Newsettes,” in which I glean and share news of interest to teachers and sangha leaders. We have held a weekly Zoom skills clinic hosted by New Orleans’ Mid-City Zen member Jon Voss. Branching Streams also hosted its first online course, Unpacking Whiteness, led by Crystal Johnson, last summer and offered an online gathering in December called “10,000 Joys and 10,000 Sorrows.”

Jon Voss, with the assistance of SFZC’s tech wizards Dan Belsky and Greg Bilke, recently refreshed the Branching Streams website. One of its features is an interactive map of Branching Streams centers and a list of their websites so it’s easy to see if there is a center in any given location. I invite you to take a look and read some of the weekly Newsettes, sangha profiles, or feature articles. I welcome your questions or feedback: