Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Arts & Culture’ Category


Writing Is How I Live, an interview with Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

Zenju by Anna Cummings

Photo by Anna Cummings

By Tova Green

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel is a poet, although to Sangha News readers she may be better known as a Dharma-transmitted Zen teacher and author of several books inspired by her Zen practice. She will be co-leading a poetry workshop on Saturday, September 11, with Ross Gay, “How to Skim the Cream.”

In our interview, Zenju spoke about her lifelong connection with poetry and how she came to see herself as a writer.

Zenju, known as Earthlyn prior to receiving her Dharma name, started writing as an eight-year-old because she felt speechless. Her family had moved to a new neighborhood in Los Angeles and she was attending her first all-white school. Writing helped her navigate the experience. She didn’t think of herself as a writer then. She wrote poems on paper bags, envelopes, anything she could find, and saved the papers in large boxes. She did this from elementary to high school. As an adult, when she was getting ready to move to the San Francisco Bay Area, she discarded the boxes and their contents, in an effort to reduce her load. She later regretted it.

Although high school teachers praised her poetry, and were happy about a poem that was published in a chapbook of the school’s English Literature department, Zenju wasn’t interested in being published and didn’t hold onto her copy of the chapbook. She wrote some essays in high school, though for her it was “poetry, poetry, poetry all the way.”

Zenju attended a college preparatory high school and majored in English literature. She read the classics—Chaucer, Shakespeare, Yeats, Keats, Emily Dickinson, and added on her own Phyllis Wheatley, Nikki Giovanni, and Langston Hughes. Although she started out studying English literature in college, when she saw the reading list she realized she had already studied the texts in high school and wasn’t interested in repeating them. She took classes in Sociology and Psychology but later graduated with a major in Pan-African studies. After being offered full scholarships from major universities in the country to attend graduate school, she chose to stay in her hometown and attend UCLA.

Zenju’s father, born in 1898 in a sharecropper’s family, was illiterate, and her mother, born in 1910, had only completed sixth grade, but later graduated high school at the age of 65. Both parents, having migrated from rural Louisiana, made sure that their three daughters received a good education. It was the path to success for many Black people whose families were farm-workers or servants, with limited access to formal education. Read more


Closed Captioning: Benefits and Limitations

Closed captioning graphic
By Tova Green

Recently, Closed Captioning was enabled for all San Francisco Zen Center’s programs, classes, Dharma talks, and meetings, that is, anything presented via Zoom. Dan Belsky, SFZC’s IT Director, and Brendan Crowe, one of SFZC’s Zoom hosts, worked through some glitches to get it functioning reliably.

Brendan had checked  for the availability of Closed Captioning and found that Zoom users had to pay for a third party transcription service that wasn’t efficient for SFZC’s purposes. While he was hosting a Zoom program on Unpacking Whiteness, he learned from East Bay Meditation Center’s host that Zoom had begun to provide its own automated transcription, with the qualification that it  transcribes only words and terms that are spoken in the English language.

Brendan is impressed by Zoom’s efforts to support users. Zoom can save an entire transcription of an event as well as the visual and voice recording and is planning to make this feature available to all Zoom users this year. He notes that, “When you’re working on making things accessible to a particular group (in this case, those who are hard of hearing or deaf), it ends up being of benefit to everyone.”

Sangha News consulted City Center resident Rev. Keido Keith Baker in preparing this article. Keith, who became deaf while residing at City Center and has been an advocate and resource for offering access to SFZC’s teachings to members of the Deaf Community, commented, “The current offering on Zoom is from the Google AI Transcription Servers. It’s called Closed Captioning by most, but really it’s Live Captioning, or Real Time Captioning. It approaches nearly 100% accuracy when captioning simple English wordings, and about a 75% success rate for ‘off English content.’” Read more


Zen-a-thon Bike & Hike

Group picnicking on lawn

Bike ride in Marin, lunchtime – image by Myles Cowherd

While Covid-19 restrictions prevented San Francisco Zen Center from holding the usual Zen-a-thon Day of Celebration this past spring, sangha members were able to participate in three outdoor activities on Sunday, June 27, with a lunch provided by Greens Restaurant.

A stunning ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, from San Francisco to Tiburon, was led by SFZC priests and avid cyclists Myles Cowherd and Zachary Smith.

SFZC priest Shundo David Haye led an urban hike through San Francisco’s half-block alleys, staircases, slow streets, and some steep unpaved trails.

Melina Bloomfield, a Green Gulch Farm resident, led a hike in Marin, up and over Coyote Ridge, where sangha members enjoyed stellar views of the SF Bay and coastline.

It was a beautiful day in all locations and a wonderful opportunity to be together.

Read more


When You Greet Me I Bow: Interview with Cynthia Schrager

Cynthia Schrager - book cover

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


Roots and Refuge: An Interview with Chenxing Han

Chenxing Han

By Tova Green

For Chenxing Han, the Month of May, which is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, has been bookended by two events, the May We Gather National Memorial Ceremony for Asian American Ancestors on May 4 and the Dharma talk she will be giving at City Center with Rev. Dana Takagi on May 29. She will also, with co-organizers Duncan Williams and Funie Hsu, be speaking about the May We Gather Memorial Ceremony in an online SFZC program on June 26.

Be the Refuge book coverChenxing is the author of Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists published by North Atlantic Books in January 2021. Her articles have appeared in Buddhadharma, Journal of Global Buddhism, Lion’s Roar, Tricycle, and elsewhere. She was formerly a Buddhist chaplain; after studying chaplaincy at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, she worked in spiritual care at a nearby community hospital.

In our interview, Chenxing spoke of the connections between her book, the May We Gather event, chaplaincy, and her upcoming Dharma talk at SFZC. Read more


Pamela Ayo Yetunde and the Buddhist Justice Reporter Project

Pamela Ayo Yetunde

By Tova Green

Pamela Ayo Yetunde, a Community Dharma Leader, Zen practitioner, chaplain, and author, was living in St. Paul when George Floyd was tortured and murdered. She experienced the unrest in the Twin Cities and elsewhere in the weeks and months after this event and paid close attention to the George Floyd/Derrick Chauvin trial in March. She was concerned that if Chauvin was found not guilty it would have serious repercussions for the safety of communities of color. She could not have just sat on her cushion without finding a way to respond.

Ayo, along with BIPOC Zen and Insight practitioners in the Twin Cities, founded Buddhist Justice Reporter: The George Floyd Trials to address the role Buddhists could play in criminal justice reform. This project is the focus of an online SFZC program Ayo is offering on Thursday, June 10, from 4 to 6 pm PT. She will engage participants in a discussion with an aspiration to tap into the compassionate and creative energies that already exist in Buddhist communities. Read more


Duncan Ryuken Williams and the May We Gather Memorial

Duncan Williams

Duncan Williams is a Soto Zen priest and the author of American Sutra, which tells of the internment of Japanese American Buddhists during WWII. He works closely with Tsuru for Solidarity, a nonviolent, direct action project of Japanese American social justice advocates working to end detention sites and support front-line immigrant and refugee communities that are being targeted by racist, inhumane immigration policies. He will be offering the online Dharma talk at San Francisco Zen Center on Sunday, May 2, 10 am PT.

Williams, along with co-organizers Chenxing Han and Funie Hsu, has been instrumental in organizing May We Gather, a national Buddhist memorial ceremony that will take place online on Tuesday, May 4 at 4 pm PT/7 pm ET. The ceremony marks the forty-nine day anniversary of the Atlanta shootings in which eight people, of whom six were of Asian descent, were killed, and arose in response to the need for mourning and renewal in the face of ongoing anti-Asian violence. Read more


How a Zen Priest Contributed to the Oscar-Nominated Film “Soul”

Daijaku Kinst

Daijaku Kinst

by Tova Green

It is unusual to see the name of a Zen Buddhist teacher in the credits of a Disney/Pixar animated film. Many people have noticed Daijaku Kinst’s name at the end of Soul, a recent release that has been nominated for three Academy Awards. Daijuku is a Zen priest who trained at San Francisco Zen Center. She currently teaches at the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) in Berkeley and co-leads Ocean Gate Zen Center in Santa Cruz. I interviewed Daijaku to learn about her relationship to the film.

A December 2020 review in the New York Times by A.O. Scott describes Soul as “an inventive tale starring Jamie Foxx as a jazz musician caught in a world that human souls pass through on their way into and out of life, Soul tackles some of the questions that many of us have been losing sleep over since childhood. Why do I exist? What’s the point of being alive? What comes after? It’s rare for any movie, let alone an all-ages cartoon, to venture into such deep and potentially scary metaphysical territory.”

About four years ago Daijaku received a call in her office from Pixar asking if she would consult with them about a movie. They wouldn’t say how they found her or what the movie was about. When she visited Pixar in Emeryville, CA, she was invited into a large room with a storyboard on the wall. Peter Docker, the film’s director, and four or five other people were there. She found the staff humble, kind, gentle, welcoming, and really curious. They wanted to know about what Buddhist beliefs are concerning what happens after death. They were speaking with people from different faith traditions about this. The movie was still in the early stages of conception. Read more


A Time to Heal: An Interview with Jenée Johnson

Jenee Johnson

Photo Credit: Mindful Magazine

by Tova Green

“You can be authentic, grow yourself, and claim your right to flourish,” says Jenée Johnson, who will be offering A Time to Heal: Insights on the Path to Healing Racialized Trauma, a four-week online class beginning May 6.

The class will introduce participants to an understanding of trauma, investigate the culture of white supremacy, explore practices to cultivate response-ability and resilience, and engage in the power of envisioning. It will include meditation, music, journaling, and racial affinity break-out groups.

Jenée draws from several spiritual traditions in her approach to healing trauma, including mindfulness, HeartMath practices, Christ-centered ministry, and the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Read more


1,000 Wishes – 1,000 Cranes: An Interview with Paula Pietranera

By Tova Green

For Paula Pietranera, a resident of San Francisco Zen Center, the pandemic began just as an exhibit of her paper folding art pieces and her sumi-e paintings was about to open at the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco. The exhibit was installed as the doors to the embassy were closing to the public. Paula wondered how to share her art work and connect with people.

“It was a moment when people were struggling so much all over the world”, explains Paula. She has family in Argentina and Spain and was in touch with friends in Japan and other countries. We were all going through this pandemic together. Read more