June 15, 2023
A Spring Visit to Four East Coast Branching Streams Zen Centers
All Beings Zen Sangha

All Beings Zen Sangha

By Tova Green

An aspect of my role as Branching Streams liaison that I enjoy most is visiting Zen Centers and sanghas in the Suzuki Roshi lineage. In mid-May I traveled to Zen Centers in Washington DC, Beverly and Somerville, Massachusetts, and Brattleboro, Vermont, visiting four unique centers that convey the spirit of Suzuki Roshi’s teachings to their communities.

I planned the trip after Inryu Ponce-Barger, the founding and guiding teacher of All Beings Zen Sangha in Washington DC, invited me to visit her sangha to assist her with a ceremony. Since I was flying to the East Coast, I decided to include visits to other nearby Zen Centers in our lineage as well and chose to go north to visit three groups I had not yet met with.

Inryu was preparing for a ceremony for the head student, Koryu Naomi Knoble, at the end of All Beings Zen’s three-month spring practice period. SFZC teacher Shosan Victoria Austin also came to assist with preparations and attend the ceremony. We spent several days going over the script with Inryu, attending rehearsals, and having conversations with sangha members over meals. I also gave a Dharma talk based on a passage from the text they had been studying, Eihei Dogen’s “Tenzo Kyokun” (“Instructions for the Head Cook”).

Inryu has become a Dharma friend during her many visits to City Center and Tassajara, where we were both sewing teachers for the Fall 2016 practice period. She has been a householder and yoga teacher during the 25 years of her Zen training with Dairyu Michael Wenger. Emerging from the pandemic, her sangha has grown and is meeting in person as well by Zoom. It was wonderful to experience the friendliness and strong practice of her sangha and the hospitality of Inryu and her husband Curt.

Joan Amaral and Tova Green

Joan Amaral and Tova Green

I flew from DC to Boston (I noticed, sadly, because of the carbon footprint, flying was much less expensive, as well as faster, than taking the train) and was met by a member of Zen Center North Shore, located in Beverly, a small city north of Boston, near the ocean. Myozen Joan Amaral, the founding and guiding teacher, wrote about my visit.

“When Tova reached out that she’d be on the East Coast and asked if our sangha would like a visit, I immediately responded yes! We saw, and experienced, a visit from the Branching Streams liaison as a beautiful opportunity to share practice together and to be witnessed in our own unfolding expression of Suzuki Roshi’s way. As both the founder and sangha leader, I felt immensely supported and energized by Tova’s visit.

“It happened to be Mother’s Day weekend, and that’s when we honor both the birth and death of my teacher Zenkei Blanche Hartman. It also happened to be the weekend for our monthly all-day retreat. How wonderful to sit next to Tova for oryoki! It brought back so many Tassajara memories from two decades ago. The sangha also enjoyed the chance for practice discussion with Tova.

“I have found it very helpful to receive visiting teachers, particularly those who manifest quite differently from me. It feels both healthy and energizing. Now that we are coming back into physical practice, a priority for me is to invite more guest teachers to spend some time with us as we explore the intersection of zazen, social justice, and creativity. Please get in touch with us if you have any plans for visiting New England, we would enjoy hosting you.”


Tova Green with Hakusho Ostlund

My next stop was Brattleboro, VT, where Hakusho Ostlund founded Brattleboro Zen Center in 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic, encouraged by his teacher Furyu Schroeder at Green Gulch Farm and by Zoketsu Norman Fischer. Their website notes, “It was started with the intention of building a Zen practice community that provides sanctuary to anyone looking for guidance, friendship, and structure on the Buddhist path.”

Initially Hakusho met with a small group of students online. Gradually the sangha began to grow. Hakusho formed a board and, when meeting in-person became possible, found a shared space. In early 2023, BZC moved into its own zendo at Centre Congregational Church in downtown Brattleboro. They meet both in person and by Zoom. Hakusho invited me to give a Dharma talk during my visit. Every cushion and seat (sixteen altogether) was filled that evening. The majority of attendees had previous practice experience before the group formed and others were new to Zen. All seemed grateful to have a local sangha.

I stayed with Hakusho and his wife Marie, who works with formerly incarcerated people, creates pottery, and tends their beautiful garden. The next day Hakusho and I hiked with their newly adopted dog Bailey to the top of Putney Mountain and had a conversation about how he is balancing his multiple roles. In addition to leading his sangha, Hakusho is working as a chaplain, completing Clinical Pastoral Education to become board certified, and is finishing an MDiv online through the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley. Hakusho will return to Green Gulch Farm this summer to receive Dharma transmission from Furyu Schroeder.

John Bailes

Kotatsu John Bailes; photo by Tova Green

I returned to the Boston area to visit One Heart Zen in Somerville, MA, whose founder and guiding teacher is Kotatsu John Bailes. John began Zen practice at SFZC in his early twenties and stayed for twelve years. He was priest-ordained by Zentatsu Richard Baker. After leaving SFZC, John studied International Political Economy at Harvard University and was a principal in a financial services organization for ten years. He then learned to sail, became a professional sailboat captain, and sailed in an Around the World Race. He reconnected with the SFZC community through Zoketsu Norman Fischer, from whom he received Dharma transmission.

John moved to Somerville and created a zendo in the carriage house behind his home in the historical Prospect Hill neighborhood. “One Heart Zen exists because opening to the Boundless Heart of Being cannot be done alone.” Since the pandemic most of One Heart Zen’s offerings have been online. I sat with John in the carriage house zendo my last morning on the East Coast, while others participated on Zoom. I enjoyed getting to know John and his wife, artist Jesa Damora.

I was inspired by the perseverance, creativity, and dedication to practice of these four teachers and their sanghas. If you find yourself in Boston, Brattleboro, or Washington DC, consider visiting them.