Our Patio

In the back of the Milwaukee Zen Center we have created a patio and recently installed three benches that were donated by a sangha member and placed a couple of stone statues under the trees. It is a lovely, peaceful space in dappled shade from the tall elm tree and accessible from the side alley. We have already used the patio for Equinox and Solstice ceremonies, and now, with the new benches, it invites everyone for a meditative pause from daily life.


Vigil for Victims of Recent Mass Shootings in the USA

A Vigil Against Hate: A Remembrance of Oak Creek, Gilroy, El Paso & Dayton took place at 7 p.m., Monday August 5, 2019 at Walker Square Park in Milwaukee. Several members of our sangha participated. Many interfaith clergy gave voice to the grief and anger that we all feel and invoked a wish for peace. Especially moving was the presence of a large contingent from the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, where six people were killed by a white supremacist exactly on that day seven years ago. The last sentence of their prayer, which Pardeep translated, says: “In God’s name, we shall be relentlessly optimistic because we want peace and prosperity for all people.” Their credo All are One includes the murderer.

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THOUGHTS on the last day of July

So much comes up at this time, hard to keep track.

I wish the last two Dharma talks (Sunday, 7/21 “Extreme Views” and Sunday, 7/28 “Dongshan”) had posted, but the recording device did not work. Tried to fix the problem, but no success so far. Sorry about that!

The main theme I am grappling with these days is one I have been talking about in the past: The nonduality of relative and absolute aspects of reality. It’s not only the subject of the upcoming Jewel Mirror Sesshin (see calendar), which Dokai Georgesen, Daigaku Rumme and I will be presenting at Hokyoji, but also the foundational teaching of our Soto Zen School. This came home to me in a powerful way during the three weeks of Dharma Transmission. Sekito Kisen(Shitou)’s Harmony of Difference and Unity and Tozan Ryokai(Dongshan)’s Jewel Mirror Samadhi are deep philosophical texts, whose importance may be overlooked since they are written as relatively short poems.

As they are dealing with ideas that cannot be grasped by the rational mind, we need to find a practice that takes us to a level where consciousness opens up to another dimension. Of course, zazen is our main practice, but also devotional practices, creating art, being in nature, and even the use of certain drugs can open access to deeper awareness. (The last one I have not tried myself, but know their efficacy from credible sources.) In the end, it is necessary to let go of the sense of self that keeps us prisoner.

Demitra Copoulos, one of our sangha friends and local artist, is showing her work at the Grove Gallery in Milwaukee: Demitra Copoulos Imaginary Experiences - takes an unserious examination of metaphysics through a visual approach to questions of space and possibility.

Ben Connelly, Soto Zen Priest in Dainin Katagiri’s lineage, takes a group of practitioners on a week-long silent hike in Montana.

The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee explores devotional practices of different faith traditions by visiting places of worship in various communities.

These and many more are examples of ways to get in touch with what we may call truth, and how to incorporate it into our lives.

Recently I listened to a podcast with Jonathan Rowson (Krista Tippett interview https://onbeing.org/programs/jonathan-rowson-integrating-our-souls-systems-and-society/), which has brought the underlying issues into a new focus: How do we live with very different aspects of reality in our daily lives? How can the inner work inform how we are dealing with society issues, politics, justice etc?

Already, in my very first all-day sitting I had an awakening that put my practice in a different perspective, when the head student suddenly reminded the practitioners: “Remember, we are not sitting here for ourselves, but for the benefit of all beings.” The boredom that I had been struggling with suddenly disappeared, and new energy and determination arose that has kept me going for almost 30 years.

Enough for today, but I am sure I will come back to it. Please, share your ideas!


Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee Meeting and News Conference

A new executive director was elected, following the retirement of Tom Heinen, who has led the organisation for 10 years. Pardeep Singh Kaleka, from the Milwaukee Sikh Community, has a national reputation as peace builder. The basic understanding of Sikhism is that All Are One, and even after a fatal shooting at the temple in 2012, the members did not seek revenge, but responded with kindness. Pardeep has befriended a former white supremacist and together with him wrote a book “The Gift Of Our Wounds”. They also founded an organisation Serve 2 Unite. A former policeman, he lectures widely and teaches children about peace and forgiveness.

Members of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee with Tom Heinen (first left) and Pardeep Kaleka (next to Tom)

Members of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee with Tom Heinen (first left) and Pardeep Kaleka (next to Tom)

Thursday, June 27, Alice's Garden

Another warm summer day, and I took the opportunity to visit Alice’s Garden on N 21st Street. My friend Arthur came along and we walked the labyrinth and had a vegan lunch. (Arthur did not trust it; he likes real food.) Some people worked in their small plots and others cut long grass in a wild area.

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The labyrinth is made of flowers and herbs, and the fragrance is part of the meditation.

The labyrinth is made of flowers and herbs, and the fragrance is part of the meditation.

the center of the labyrinth

the center of the labyrinth

Knitting graces the posts; I love it!

Knitting graces the posts; I love it!

Family cooks, great food!

Family cooks, great food!

Refugee Fest at Lynden Sculpture Garden

June 22 was a warm sunny day and a perfect time to spend at the Lynden Sculpture Garden. The event on Saturday celebrated refugees and their stories, art, songs and dances. I had a great time dyeing a piece of cotton with indigo. Arienne, an artist from North Carolina, was teaching adults and children the ancient way of batik. Families held picnics, sampling great ethnic food and coffee. The sculptures were the perfect backdrop for this colorful display.


Milwaukee Action for Refugees

On Monday, June 24, concerned citizens met at the Milwaukee ICS building to protest deportations of refugees. It had started to rain, and we were not sure if anybody would show up. But within half an hour large groups of people gathered, banners and signs were unloaded from a truck, and picket lines were forming around the building, carefully not blocking the entrance. In the video you can hear one of the chants: No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!

There was special dismay shared about the plight of children who have been separated from their parents and are held in unsanitary camps with little unhealthy food, no healthcare and not enough beds.

Police were standing by and did not intervene, even at the end, when the entrance to the ICS building did get blocked by a crowd listening to speeches. Hopefully, the outcry was heard, as our protest merged with others around the country.


New Sanctuary Vigil

The Buddhist Peace Fellowship hosted last night’s vigil for refugees and recent immigrants in our city. Every first Tuesday of the month, people from different congregations meet at Ascension Lutheran Church on Layton Blvd. with victims of violence, who had to leave their countries and seek sanctuary in the US. They often arrive here after staying in holding camps and are in need of basic necessities.

We share poems, songs and prayers, and listen to moving testimonies in English and Spanish. Sometimes, collections are made for food, clothing and furniture. Attorneys offer their services for free. But just showing up for support is highly appreciated.



Just returned from Green Dragon Temple, my spiritual home at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in California.

My teacher Furyu Doshin Nancy Schroeder asked me to do the 21-day Transmission Ceremony in the Soto Zen tradition with her. I had a faint idea of what was involved, but the physical and mental challenge was more than I could have imagined. At one time I said to her: “This is torture.” and she replied: “Yes, and when you are used to it, we’ll have more for you.”

I realized this is Zen practice: You receive small increments of stress, starting with zazen instruction, and gradually more is added. Eventually you learn to be quite comfortable with whatever the teacher demands, develop patience and let go of anxiety. The reward is amazing, and finally you are free!

On the last day at GGF I asked my Dharma grandfather Reb Anderson what his advice would be for me. He thought for a moment and then told me: “When I had finished this process that you just underwent, I thought I could fly. Three weeks later, the apocalypse happened at Zen Center, and I was thoroughly grounded. My advice to you is: Be careful!”

The beauty of the Japanese rituals is stunning, and I was sorry that nobody but my teacher, her attendant, the instructor and I myself could witness it. Transmission is a very private and secret process, the jundo (offering incense and making prostrations at the various altars in the temple) was done before the wake-up bell (starting at 3:45 am) and after dinner. The disciple stays in a remote place and has little contact with the rest of the community, works on the assignments, which are getting harder, and finally has intimate meetings with the teacher in a specially outfitted red room in the middle of the night.

An added bonus was the full moon on the last day, May 18th. Just as I was making the final grand bow on the zendo deck, overlooking the pond, invoking the vow to benefit all beings along with the frog chorus, the full moon rose over the Eastern hills. Later on, when the ceremonies were finished, we walked in silence back to our quarters in bright moonlight. Most of the days had been overcast and it had rained a lot, but that day was clear. From living many years at GGF, I remembered that wild animals are very tame at GGF. Quail and other birds abounded, the heron made daily visits, I saw deer, heard the coyotes howl, and found a mouse family in a drawer in my studio.

I feel grateful that I had this opportunity to be close to my teacher and experience the wisdom that has been handed down through the generations (I am supposedly the 93rd since Mahakashyapa). Somehow the difficulties added depth, and I felt Fu’s love when she commented on a mistake I had made: “It would not be you…” It’s nice to be known so well.

Now I am home again in Milwaukee; Michael Newhall will return to Jikoji, and life at MZC goes on. Work day on Saturday, planning the next board meeting, a new class and the Branching Streams Conference in September. Hope to see you all soon!


Tibetan Monks in Milwaukee

We were lucky to have a group of wonderful Tibetan monks here with us in Milwaukee. They created a sand mandala in City Hall over four days and “destroyed” it ritually on Friday afternoon. More than thousand people came to watch.

Last night, they performed rituals at the Tripoli Shrine Center. They actually just shared with us what they do in their normal daily life at Drepung Loseling Monastery in India.

Tripoli Shrine Center in Milwaukee

Tripoli Shrine Center in Milwaukee

Tibetan Monks
Mandala in City Hall, unfortunately the video of the deconstruction is too big to copy here.

Mandala in City Hall, unfortunately the video of the deconstruction is too big to copy here.

Social Action

Shakyamuni Buddha set out to find a way to relieve human suffering. He realized that it needs a major shift in consciousness. But before that can happen, basic needs must be met: food, shelter, and safety are necessary for peace of mind.

The Buddhist Peace Fellowship is a national organization, and there is also a local chapter here in Milwaukee. We meet once a month to enjoy each other’s company, and make plans for peaceful events of social action. On the second Monday of every month a meal is cooked and served for homeless men at the Milwaukee Guesthouse.


On the first Tuesday of every month, we meet with other interfaith members at a vigil for refugees and immigrants at the Ascension Lutheran Church at 1236 S. Layton Blvd. The New Sanctuary Movement invites everyone to witness the stories of recent new residents in our city. We collect furniture, food, and clothes for people who often come with nothing. Every month a different faith group leads the program with a short service. http://newsanctuarymke.org/en/home/

Last week I listened to a talk by Dr. Barbara Ransby, who is a professor of African-American studies and Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The event at Marquette University was well-attended, and there was a lively discussion afterwards.

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This Fall, Milwaukee Zen Center hosts the Branching Streams Conference, which happens every other year at a different place. Branching Streams is a network of Dharma Centers in the Shunryu Suzuki lineage. A Planning Committee has been formed, which recently met for the first time at Siena Retreat Center, where the event will take place. This is a great honor for our sangha, and we are looking forward to welcoming many practitioners from all over the country. The theme for this year’s conference is SOCIAL JUSTICE.

Annual Meeting

Today, March 31, we held the Annual Meeting for Milwaukee Zen Center.

After the usual Sunday morning practice, the Dharma talk concerning Sangha, we set up tables, enjoyed donated refreshments - thank you, Chiyoko, for home baked coffee cake and Japanese milk buns! … also Demitra for Vietnamese sweets!

Susan Winecki, President, and myself recalled the highlights of last year and put forth plans for the coming year, which include setting up the new library upstairs, a new altar, new practice opportunities and teacher visits.

We had a lively discussion about making slight changes to the schedule in order to be more accommodating to guests and at the same time allowing seasoned practitioners access to advanced teachings and practices. Nothing is going to change for now, but please keep checking the website.

As you may have already noticed, Shoho Michael Newhall will be the Resident Priest for a month in my place, while I am at my home temple for Dharma Transmission. This should be a wonderful opportunity for everyone to enjoy the presence of an experienced teacher in the Kobun Chino lineage. I met Chino Roshi at Tassajara and in Santa Cruz, when my daughter was babysitting his children. I think that Shoho has inherited his enigmatic teaching style, and I am just disappointed about not being here to witness it, while he is at MZC.

A small group of us is part of a Planning Committee for the Branching Streams Conference, which MZC is hosting in September. Since our temple cannot house the Gathering, we have reserved space at the Siena Retreat Center in Racine. I am going to keep you posted on how our plans are unfolding. It may in the long run be necessary to ask for more help from sangha members.

On a personal note I would like to share with you my happiness about a new grandson in California, who I will visit in a couple of weeks! He is a beautiful addition to my daughters family, and I just have to add a photo here…


March 2019

Hello Friends,

Welcome to my first blog post on this site! I will try to update it frequently and let you know about what’s happening at MZC and also personal stories that may concern the Sangha.

Most of you know that I live in an apartment on the second floor of this house that is owned by Milwaukee Zen Center. I am usually at home, and when you are in the area, please feel free to check in any time. You may sit in our beautiful zendo and enjoy the peace and quiet, even outside of the schedule.

Since September of 2015, I have been the Resident Priest at MZC, and I love the city and the Buddhist community here. After having lived for 35 years in California, I had to adjust to the Midwest. Maybe it was easy for me because of my being German. I enjoy experiencing the seasons and the clear light near Michigan Lake, especially now as the days are getting longer again and Spring is in the air!

You’ll hear from me soon again…

In gassho, Reirin