Bearing witness to the streets of San Diego

October 27, 2011 2 comments

This October, I participated in a street retreat with Genro Roshi and three practitioners. The four-day bearing witness practice had us walking all throughout downtown San Diego from park canyons to trolley side soup kitchens. Equipped with less than minimal supplies, my perception of my hometown was changed drastically.

Genro Roshi, an international street retreat veteran from Hudson River Zen Center, led our street sangha (Herb, Ando, Melissa and I). This group became vital for my own sanity. It was a delight diving  into bearing witness to homelessness and still crack jokes with my friends every step of the way.

The meal servings became our retreat schedule. I remember marching up and down, hill after hill to sit in line for an hour. This was followed by an hour to an hour and a half of Christian services and then the meal. The group whose company I enjoyed the most was the City of Refuge. We first spotted them on the MLKjr Park Promenade simply offering snacks and coffee to anyone. The next day we hiked up to their communal house in Logan Heights where we were welcomed and fed. Much to my surprise, I did not go hungry while on the streets. Even during hours when no meals were served, food was available. Vans and trucks routinely pulled up to 17th and Island who passed out fried chicken, clam chowder (delicious by the way), ham sandwiches, juice, water, rice and beans, and fruit.

Sleeping in downtown was quite a challenge. My first night was just short of horrible. We settled on a spot in the Redwood Circle of Balboa Park along 6th Ave. While at first I thought it was well hidden away, many people walked by all through the evening…one person even woke us up to have a conversation. An hour later, the sprinklers doused me head to toe in one fell swoop. I had left my blanket at home thinking the night wouldn’t be cold. The constant breeze took all my body heat away and along with my wet clothes and a jacket I found, I shivered almost the entire night. I’ve dubbed this the coldest night of my life.

Within two hours of getting up for breakfast, I was given a blanket. A store-house just around the corner from God’s Extended Hand takes requests for clothing and supplies then hands them out for free. All I did was simply ask and I was personally escorted. The homeless are more than willing to help and boy are they resourceful!

There are all kinds of people living on the streets. The very first woman I spoke with named Beth just happened to be a past resident of a Zen Center in Colorado. I met a disabled man named Anthony who knew the very best and the very worst places to sleep in all the city. There is no real majority of “type” or “kind.” Every person has a unique situation and an intriguing story. I even came across a woman who didn’t want ANYONE speaking to her at all.

On another side, there are many housed people who didn’t want anyone the streets speaking with them. This was painstakingly apparent during the begging portion of the retreat. Herb and Ando, Melissa and I paired up and set out to ask for money. The trickiest part was letting go of my ideas of who will and who won’t give. There is no way to know this. I held out my worn down cardboard coffee cup and asked for change. First sparingly and then faster as my ideas began to fade.  I felt so embarrassed at first as I begged in front of a busy restaurant with patio seating. What soon hit me was my own invisibility. Most housed people forced themselves not to make eye contact. This stone-walling left me dejected and quite discouraged from wanting to make any communication. At the end of an hour, I had rounded up $2.54 and a couple of pears from a fruit booth. These small tokens yielded a huge amount of appreciation in myself.

A strong element that kept our group grounded was the meditation, council and Day of Reflection services each day. We were given the space to experience our hearts, share from the heart and vow to kept the practice alive throughout the entire journey downtown.

This path has shocked me out of my normal routine and lit up my sense of home to where ever I take myself. If I were to sum up the whole experience in one word, it would be: rich.





Here’s a video of Genro’s Dharma talk on Street Retreats


Sensei Eko

October 27, 2011 1 comment

Sweetwater Zen Center is very happy to announce Herb’s transmission as Sensei Eko. His transmission name is Ein for Eternal Circle. Helping Seisen start SWZC back in 1999,  Herb has been a long time driving force for our Zen Center and the greater community here in San Diego.

On October 9th, 2011 the official changing of the robes “dene” ceremony took place with great attendance. Even the Great Master Zoe made an appearance.

Congratulations to our newest Sensei Eko for the many years of practice and the more to come!

Categories: Meditation, Shiho, Transmission

Being One with All Buddhas in the Abundance spheres

Sweetwater Zen Center 2011 Fundraising Letter

“Being One with All Buddhas in the Abundance spheres, extending generosity, perfection of both body and mind appears.”

At the Sweetwater Zen Center, we chant this Gata on Abundance every Sunday.  We want the energy and power of such abundance to inspire this year’s fundraising.  The universe is giving us everything we need, so please join us in celebrating our full life by donating to the Sweetwater Zen Center.

Since we depend upon your generosity to keep going and maintain our beautiful temple, we want to share some of the wonderful things that are happening due to your support.

While zazen is our main practice, the Sweetwater Zen Center has grown over the years into a diverse community, holding the space for many home-based programs as well as outreach opportunities for spiritual and personal growth.  For instance we continue to focus on communication techniques through workshops on depression and weekly communication groups such as Non-Violent Communication and “Council Practice” (sharing from the heart).  These are essential both for our intentional community and for our Zen practice and most of them are offered free of charge.

We offer a wonderful winter celebration as our annual New Years program at the end of the winter intensive period with a home-dyed sand Mandala in the yurt and fire ceremony.

We have also begun taking meditation to the streets of downtown San Diego each month for day-long sitting practices (or zazenkais) which includes offering meals to the homeless population. Also this October we are very excited to host and participate in a four-day Bearing Witness Street Retreat with Genro Roshi.

Sweetwater Zen Center carries your compassionate donations through volunteering efforts to prison meditation, children’s outreach and hospice work. Please participate by giving what you can to aid the center’s outreach services. For sustainability we keep visions of installing a second grey-water reuse system to maintain the beautiful garden to be as green as possible. Since our membership has grown in the past year, so too has the need to meet a larger capacity for a Zen student dormitory allowing overnight stays for sesshin.

Whether it’s just one of the $20 bills the bank teller just handed you or perhaps it’s the $300 rebate you received in the mail, your charity keeps our practice healthy and the legacy of our lineage thriving. For $500 donation we will be honored to display your name on a beautiful tile plaque at the entrance to the Zendo.

We rely on your compassionate giving to accomplish so many wonderful things for our community. All these practices, both traditional and new, have made our community one of the most harmonious practice spaces in Southern California.
We aim to raise $10,000 by the end of this year. Please give as soon as you can and you will see it come back ten fold.

Please use the paypal button below to donate. If you would like to send a check, please make it out to Sweetwater Zen Center and send to 2727 Highland Ave, National City, CA, 91950.

In Gratitude from,

The SWZC Annual Fundraising Team

Chudo and Jisho’s Jukai

On August 3rd, 2011, Margy (Jisho) Brookes and Indulis (Chudo) Tupesis took Jukai from Seisen Saunders Roshi.

Jukai is a formal public ceremony where a lay practicing student takes vows to follow the 16 Bodhisattva precepts. Within SWZC’s tradition, those precepts are the Three Treasures, Three Tenants and Ten Grave Precepts.

This rite of passage requires a precept class, hand-writing the lineage and sewing a rakusu.

Jisho, Chudo and Seisen

Congratulations to Jisho and Chudo!

Categories: Jukai, Meditation, Precepts

Summer Intensive Recap

At first my breathing was my breathing,
Then my breathing became like a clock trying to measure and control time.
Later my breathing returned and forgot it and relaxed.
It took a week.
So it goes.
My experience:

The practice period allowed me to deepen my zen practice and to connect with myself more.
After this experience I feel more enthusiastic about my life. I honestly appreciate each moment much more. I have a great appreciation for MY LIFE as it is.
Thanks SWZC for providing a space where we can come together and support each other.
Roosevelt Roshin Ulloa
Winston missed jukai; is working in the garden.
This summer practice period showed me the spaciousness  of quiet and subtleness.  I have never spent so much time sitting in one spot. It was a consistent pushing myself of to see where I am except I did not need to push at all. My drive and vigor are renewed as I am set, yet again, to make the most out of every moment. This is really what I get out of deep practice periods. This stronger perseverance I take everywhere is my present to myself.

Summer Intensive Training has begun!

Summer training began with a six day sesshin from the 21st to the 26th. The Zen Center looks beautiful from the continued samu practice of pulling the weed’s seeds. The Rock Garden dedicated to Maezumi Roshi also received diligent work practice in realigning the railroad tie borders. Dharma talks were given by Seisen Roshi and Dharma Holders: Herb Deer and Kyoshin Velez.

A special note, the Gate of Sweet Nectar service is being held in the Yurt at 9:30am for the Summer Intensive. The Buddha Hall was converted into a temporary dormitory until August.

To see the Daily Schedule for Summer Intensive Training, click on the menu-bar page next to Contact.

Street Meditation in June

June 17, 2011 2 comments

On June 11th, 2011, SWZC set out on our second downtown meditation of the year. We met up at Horton Plaza’s City Park and sat the corner beginning at 10am. Going into the morning, I had an idea that this day-long meditation would be easier from gained previous experience. This idea was all stripped away by the end of the day.

As the taxis, buses, dogs and pedestrians all buzzed about, we all sat strong. Many people mumbled amongst their group “What are they doing?” “Oh. They’re meditating!”  One man asked us if we needed any money and then walked a few feet away to talk to himself about the Bible and Ron Jeremy. Another die-hard fan of real life irony passed by while imitating car horns and engine sounds right before he screamed at the top of his lungs “SERENITY!!!

Street meditating opens up the world as the zendo. The more I sat, the more it hit me that this experience is not limited to just sidewalks but shopping malls as well! I felt tension sitting the middle of Horton Plaza. I was so certain a security guard was on the way at any second to escort us away…30 minutes later, we arose from zazen and went on our way to the Civic Centre. 

For service, meals were prepared for the homeless. PB&J sandwiches, fresh fruit and water were given throughout the day as our fellow hungry souls appeared. The Civic Centre also served as a staging area for the San Diego Slut Walk, a walking protest against the Toronto Police’s view on sexual assault that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. 

As the street sitting came to it’s ending at 4pm, the exposure of weather and concrete and brick was wearing in. I felt closer to my emotional edge than ever before, as if riding a wave of roughness. It’s all there…the smell of urine stuck to the bottom of your shoes, the consistent passerby gawking, the unrelenting heavy decibel level.

Later that evening at 6pm, SWZC played host for a Pot Luck with the Red Lotus Society! It was wonderful to share a meal and great conversation with our friendly sangha neighbors.

Watch out for the October Street Retreat! We will spend a few days and nights, from 13th to the 16th, bearing witness with Roshi Genro Gauntt.

Categories: Meditation, Street Retreat