On June 17, San Francisco Zen Center’s Central Abbot Ed Sattizahn, Enso Village Spiritual Director Susan O’Connell, and Green Gulch Farm Senior Dharma Teacher Linda Ruth Cutts officiated in a ground blessing at the site of the soon-to-be-built Enso Village, SFZC’s senior housing project in Healdsburg, CA. For the ceremony Leslie Thiele attended as jisha and Walter Keiser sounded the inkin.
The Kendal Corporation, SFZC’s partner in Enso Village, announced the closing of a green bond sale this month that raised funds to cover development costs, including design, marketing, land acquisition, and construction.
Statement read by Susan O’Connell at the blessing:
We acknowledge the people who lived and walked and played and healed on this land before the Spanish arrived: The Pomo weavers, the Miwok dancers, the Wappo hunters, and the Patwin storytellers.
And the Anglo, Asian, and Spanish workers at the lumber mill who milled the trees that built this town.
We thank all those who said yes to the vision for a new way of honoring our aging process: the caring and creative humans at Greenbrier, Kendal, HKIT, Mithun, Lev Lane, and Gates. The responsible and responsive financial partners at Johnson Foundation, Ziegler, and New Island. The many wise and experienced consultants who continue to guide us, the team that marketed us, the city staff who gave us permission to start, and the depositors who saw clearly and responded.
We also thank all of those who did not share the vision or who said NO. It was thanks to them that we found the most appropriate team and the most beneficial way forward.
As Alan Chadwick said: “When you cultivate the earth, you are opening the ground to starlight.” But although there are benefits to constructing new and beautiful abodes, there is also harm. We want to ask forgiveness from the plants and animals who will be harmed or killed in the process of turning the earth and building in and on it: slugs and snails, gophers and moles, raccoons, rats and mice who may be poisoned and trapped, sowbugs, millipedes, earthworms who will be severed by spades, and numerous microscopic life-forms who will be burned by sunlight. We thank you and vow to continue to learn from you about our interconnected life.
We turn our kind attention to the skilled and diligent people of Weitz who will be on this land and will bring the dream of Enso Village into being. May they be safe from harm, may they free from suffering, may they be happy.
By Tova Green
Cynthia Schrager is the editor of Norman Fischer’s new book, When You Greet Me I Bow: Notes and Reflections from a Life in Zen. A member of Everyday Zen, Cynthia has been a student of Norman’s since 2010.
When Norman was encouraged by Melvin McCleod, editor of Shambhala Sun and BuddhaDharma, to consider assembling a collection of his previously published essays, Norman was interested and knew he would need help. In Summer 2016 he invited Cynthia to work on the project.
Cynthia began with a list of Buddhist journals which, along with Shambhala Sun and BuddhaDharma, also included Tricycle, Inquiring Mind, and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s Turning Wheel. She began by tracking down every article Norman had written, creating a spreadsheet as she went along. In the end there were 75 articles and essays. “Norman was quite surprised at how many there were,” Cynthia noted. Only half of what she discovered is in the book.
Cynthia’s second task as editor was to develop a structure for the book. She looked for “the themes that kept coming forward.” From the beginning, she could see that Relationship (Notes on the Joy and Catastrophe of Relationship) and Difference and Dharma (Notes on Social Engagement) would hold together as two of the four sections of the book. The sections on Form Is Emptiness (Notes on Thinking, Writing and Emptiness) and East/West (Notes on Cultural Encounter) followed.
In response to the Shambhala editor’s request for some new writing from Norman, Cynthia thought of asking Norman to write notes that would precede each section and tie together the essays. As some were written as long as thirty years ago; this gave Norman an opportunity to comment on how his views have changed over the years. Read more
On May 22, Zenko Jordan Montgomery received shukke tokudo (priest ordination) from his teacher, Zenshin Greg Fain, along with co-preceptors City Center Abiding Abbot Tenzen David Zimmerman and Tassajara Tanto Shinchi Linda Galijan. Zenko has been a resident of Tassajara for six years, where he is currently the Tenzo (Head Cook); he is married to Lauren Bouyea.
The ordination ceremony in the Tassajara zendo was familiar and traditional, which felt utterly remarkable in light of the past year. The difference from past ceremonies was that it was streamed via Zoom to allow invited family members and friends to attend virtually. Zenko and Lauren’s 11-month-old daughter, Mirabelle, was also in the assembly, until she made it clear that it was nap-time.
The doors and windows were wide open to the bright, cool morning, and bird song filled the valley as Zenko received priest robes, okesa and rakusu that he sewed by hand, traditional lacquered wood formal eating bowls, and the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts. He then received lineage papers from his teacher with his Dharma name, Zenko Isshin (Zen Tiger, One Trust).
After the ceremony, there was a celebratory outdoor feast in the courtyard. The whole day felt all the more special because this was the first significant ceremony that had been held in the zendo in such a very long time. The joy in witnessing Zenko’s ordination was beautifully evident on everyone’s faces.
Interview by Tova Green
Sozan Miglioli became San Francisco Zen Center’s President in January 2021, after serving as Vice President for several years. In this interview he spoke of his vision and priorities for his new role.
Sozan sees that “the world is going through a deep spiritual crisis.” When he was invited by the SFZC Board of Directors to take the President position he felt a deep sense of responsibility and also an opportunity to keep deepening his bodhisattva vows. He has asked, regarding SF Zen Center, “What does it mean to be one of the leading Buddhist organizations in the Western hemisphere in the 21st century, and what does it mean in this time, which is marked by a lot of suffering and division?”
Sozan’s focus as President is to keep making SFZC relevant and accessible for the wider community while ensuring that it is internally sustainable, inclusive, and diverse. By accessible, he means that what we offer must be relevant, although this might look different for different people.
“It’s important to find the connection between tradition and skillful means, between the teachings of Suzuki Roshi and understanding what touches people’s lives today. Both communication and deep listening are essential, opening the channel both ways—communicating what we have to offer in a skillful way and listening. Being accessible means that what we offer is available, approachable, people can relate to it. Zoom offerings bring a new light to the meaning of accessible, making it possible for people to participate in zazen, classes, and workshops who live at a distance from the Bay Area, or who are unable to come to the centers for health or other reasons.
“As we move out of Covid, we are asking how we can keep nourishing all the new connections we’ve made in this time of the pandemic. During this time many people have started asking basic questions, such as ‘What is really important?’ This pandemic has changed people’s personal lives. It is important both for individuals and for the organization to stay close to this question.” Read more
by Tova Green
The SFZC Health and Safety committee was formed soon after the pandemic began. Initially it consisted of the SFZC President and the directors of City Center, Green Gulch Farm, and Tassajara. The committee began reaching out by email to Michael Gelfond and Grace Dammann, both longtime Zen students, for medical advice when questions came up in their meetings. The committee soon began to regularly include the two physicians in their meetings. At first the committee met twice a week; now it meets weekly.
Michael and Grace, who are both retired clinicians, also regularly consult with other physicians on behalf of the H&S committee, including Rick Levine, Frances Herb, Andrea Thach, Robert Brody, and Neal Halfon, all of whom have long relationships with SFZC and Zen practice.
I spoke with Michael Gelfond regarding SFZC’s reopening to the public.
Michael said, “We are trying to negotiate the reopening as safely as possible—and there’s a lot that is not yet known about this pandemic. We’ve all tried hard for fifteen months to provide as close as we could to 100% protection for SFZC residents. We really want to open the doors of the temples but want to do it in a way that protects both the physical health and the sense of safety of the people who live in them.”
City Center, Green Gulch Farm, and Tassajara are not simply religious institutions like churches, Michael noted, because they are places where residents live and many of those residents are in high-risk health categories. The world is in a dynamic state with respect to the pandemic. Some factors are not completely understood or may be changing, for example: How well are vaccinated people protected from new variants? Is it possible for vaccinated people to transmit the virus to those who are unvaccinated? Read more
by Tova Green
The San Francisco Zen Center bookstore has been a wonderful resource for people to visit in person. The new Online Bookstore will enable people to view and search the bookstore inventory virtually.
During the pandemic, people have ordered items by calling or emailing. They could pick up items at a scheduled time or ask for them to be shipped. Since the SFZC Bookstore will remain closed for now, the new Online Bookstore makes it possible to browse the variety of inventory offered and to place orders using a credit card. The orders can be shipped or a time set for onsite pick-up.
The bookstore carries books, cards, and home altar and meditation supplies, as well as items from the Green Gulch Farm Welcome Center and the Tassajara Stone Office. It also carries titles by authors affiliated with San Francisco Zen Center, books for beginning practitioners, for those studying the precepts, traditional Buddhist and Zen texts, books related to programs SFZC is offering, poetry, and children’s books. One of the most-ordered items is SFZC’s boxed incense.
The Online Bookstore website was developed by City Center resident Joshin Shaevel, who has a background in website and applications development, as well as graphic design. He spent days in the bookstore taking photographs of all the items, and used an online store platform to categorize and inventory them. Joshin will feature items on the website and let people know what has newly arrived. Read more
By Tova Green
On Saturday, June 19, Juneteenth, the most prominent emancipation holiday in the United States, Jarvis Masters and Lee Klinger Lesser will be giving a livestream Dharma talk. Jarvis will be calling in to Lee’s cell phone from San Quentin State Prison, where he lives on Death Row, convicted of a crime he did not commit. Jarvis was offered several dates for the SFZC talk and chose Juneteenth.
Jarvis Masters is a longtime meditator and Buddhist practitioner and the author of two books, Finding Freedom and That Bird Has My Wings. Lee Klinger Lesser has been leading workshops in Sensory Awareness for over 45 years. She began studying Zen in 1978 and appreciates the deep interconnectedness of these practices.
Lee and Jarvis’s friendship began in an unusual way. Lee brought a copy of Jarvis’s first book, Finding Freedom, to Mexico in 1997 when she went there to participate in a Sensory Awareness course with Charlotte Selvers. Lee read the book as she was listening to the sound of ocean waves. “This book crashed into me,” she said.
Jarvis’s address at San Quentin was in the back of the book, and Lee felt moved to write to him—the first time she had ever written to an author whose book had impacted her. Jarvis wrote back. This was the beginning of many years of correspondence. There was a resonance between them. In his letters Jarvis shared what he was thinking about. In her letters Lee shared what her days were like. She saved all his letters.
After some time, Jarvis let Lee know that she could visit him. Although San Quentin is only a fifteen-minute drive from her house, Lee had never been there. She was overwhelmed by her first visit, beginning with going through the gates and security clearance. Jarvis was then in the adjustment center of San Quentin, also known as solitary confinement. He was kept in isolation for longer than any prisoner in California—24 years. They met through a glass window, speaking on phones to one another. Read more
Statement from San Francisco Zen Center Leadership, in collaboration with the Central DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) Committee and CAIC (Cultural Awareness and Inclusivity Committee)
Since early last year, this country has been battered by a series of ongoing crises and events. We have experienced heartache after heartache from a global pandemic to instances of brutal racial violence to increasing numbers of mass shootings. It has been one year since George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was murdered while in police custody.
At this time, we want to acknowledge that Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by the hardships of the last year and to offer our support.
The economic impact of the pandemic has meant that households of color, already over-represented in low-wage “essential” jobs, have often been first to lose incomes and the last to regain employment. While this has been the case in every economic downturn, the inequality is especially glaring this time since the economic pain of Covid-19 has cut so deep. Today, Black households struggle with the highest rate of unemployment in the US today while being twice as likely to die from Covid-19.
Income inequality has also been coupled with violent policing and an assault on voting rights for the poor and communities of color. Black Americans have also suffered from adverse mental health due to generations of collective trauma. In some areas of the country, suicide mortality among African Americans nearly doubled in the past year while decreasing substantially among white Americans.
These are symptoms of the systemic racism that has been designed into the institutions and culture of our country. While a small measure of justice was served to the family of George Floyd for his murder, his life remains lost, to them and to us.
No one should feel afraid for simply existing. For far too long, economic, physical, and emotional abuses directed toward our Black brothers and sisters have gone ignored. We want to say that we see you, we care about you, and we are committed to cultivating the conditions in which you can feel safe, respected, and at ease anywhere you may wish to be.
We resonate deeply with the words of Lilla Watson, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” However, the real power of encouraging words is not in the feelings they evoke, but in the positive actions they inspire, the commitments we make and uphold, and the work we do together.
Hate is a cycle, but so is peace. Thus we vow to interrupt hate, intolerance, and division wherever we encounter them and instead plant seeds of loving-kindness, inclusion, and unity. Using our voices to speak out, we will bear witness to the suffering caused by systemic racism and to act as allies. May we continuously manifest the truth of our profound interdependency as we work together for the liberation of all beings.
San Francisco Zen Center Leadership in collaboration with Central DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) Committee and CAIC (Cultural Awareness and Inclusivity Committee)
Resources and references…