Tricycle Film Club

Buddhist films and discussion for the
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Old Plum Mountain

The Story of the Berkeley Zen Center

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Welcome to the Tricycle Film Club!

Old Plum Mountain

Each month, Tricycle Supporting and Sustaining Members will be treated to a select feature-length film, presented in partnership with Alive Mind Cinema and BuddhaFest 2012. The benefits of membership continue to grow, so if you're not already a Supporting or Sustaining Member, upgrade now and watch Old Plum Mountain: The Berkeley Zen Center—Life Inside the Gate as soon as you're ready! And to celebrate our launch, we're screening a second film this month, Being in the World: A Celebration of Being Human in a Technological Age.

Old Plum Mountain (January 3-15) is director Ed Herzog's up-close look at one of the oldest centers of lay Buddhist practice in the country. Established in 1967 by the legendary Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Berkeley Zen Center is now headed by Sojun Mel Weitsman. This 65-minute documentary takes us inside the workings of BZC, both in times of intense practice during retreats, and during the everyday business that keeps the center up and running. Told through the voices of BZC's members, Old Plum Mountain is the next best thing to spending time at Berkeley Zen Center yourself!

Being in the World (January 16-29) Director Tao Ruspoli raises the question of whether we have forgotten what it means to be truly human in today's technological age, and proceeds to answer this question by taking a journey around the world to meet a whole host of remarkable individuals, all standouts in the their fields. By showing how these modern-day masters—a cook, a carpenter and a poet/flamenco dancer—approach life from within their chosen fields, Ruspoli's film celebrates the ability of human beings to find meaning in the world through the mastery of physical, intellectual, and creative skills.

Each Film Club screening includes an online discussion with the film’s director. Listen to a Tricycle Talks audio interview with Ed Herzog here.

If you'd like to support the work of independent filmmaker Ed Herzog, you can order Old Plum Mountain on DVD here.

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melflores's picture

Dear Tricycle,

Like Rene, I wasn't aware that after those days we wouldn't be able to see the film 'Old Plum Mountain' anymore. I'm so frustrated! Is there any chance we might see it elsewhere, just for this time? It's my first time here...
Thanks for your attention,


Sam Mowe's picture

Dear Melissa,

Old Plum Mountain was available for viewing from January 3-15. Sorry you missed it! I'm afraid that we won't be showing it again on, but there is a link to purchase the DVD from the distributor above.

We're now showing Griefwalker (until April 1). You can watch it here:

Starting April 2, we will begin showing The Dhamma Brothers, a film about bringing Vipassana meditation to the penitentiary.

Sam Mowe
Associate Editor

renlow2's picture

Dear Tricycle -

what' happening? I can watch only 3:51 minutes of the Plum Mountain film, then it stops and a message appears: for more information or to buy the DVD, contact... Should I not be able to watch the whole film?
Your help will be appreciated. - Thanks,

Rene Mahlow

Sam Mowe's picture

Dear Rene,

Old Plum Mountain was available for viewing from January 3-15. Sorry you missed it! However, we're now showing Being in the World (until Jan 29). You can watch it here:

Sam Mowe
Associate Editor

garygach's picture

it feels as if maitreya is being born today as sangha === === & a sangha here of which you are a part

clearly you are not filming as a neutral bystander ( helicoptering in & hitting the ground running etc) but rather as engaged in the material -- the flower & its soil -- such that intimacy & genuineness radiate throughout

thank you


edherzog's picture

Dear Gary,
Thank you for your warm comments! You are absolutely right, glad that my feelings about BZC and its sangha came through. One of the joys of filmmaking about the dharma and a place that is infused with love.

Sheryl Hastalis's picture

deep bow,

TW77's picture

i watched it before bed last night...ended up staying up till Midnight cause i had to watch it all. I actually had a challenging day at work today and i kept thinking of all the cool quotes and stories from this documentary and it helped me get through it all. I think you captured the essence and simplicity of Zen. In fact when i ate my breakfast this morning i bowed first and ate as mindfully as possible haha it helped me see that it's ok to be passionate about this stuff...sometimes i feel like i need to hold back when deep down i feel more inline with the people at that center.

Good job!


edherzog's picture

Dear Trav, Thank you for your kind comments! I too felt the same some days after editing all day long on the film. Often people's comments and insights would come to me during the day, inspiring and grounding me. So glad they encouraged you as well!

Philip Ryan's picture

Hello everyone,

You can listen to my audio interview with Ed Herzog, recorded this past Friday, here.

-Philip Ryan

Susan Picascia's picture

LOVED this.

lilianacrts's picture

Gracias, gracias, gracias! For sharing your vision and those of the BZC Sangha. What an incredible group of individuals! The serenety of the center comes through your lense, again thank you for sharing!

edherzog's picture

Thank you!

Dot Luce's picture

Gassho, Ed, dharma brother,for your tender view of sangha-family community, and sharing it with the large sangha of the world community.

edherzog's picture

You are very welcome! Glad to do it.

zenja's picture

how wonderful! many thanks

James Shaheen's picture

Hi Kosu, Old Plum Mountain runs through January 15. You can also order the DVD (see link in intro above). So good to hear you'd like to share it with your students! James's picture

Hello. Thank you so much for this very accessible and realistic portrayal of western Zen practice. How long will it be available to watch online? I would like to share it with my group of CPE students (chaplains in training). Thanks again, Kosu (Toronto)

ladyjane9's picture

Ed, I feel truly, gratefully indebted to you for sharing such an inspiring, beautiful, and meaningful documentary on the "nuts and bolts" of Buddhist spiritual practice.
As a novice meditator and beginning Buddhist practitioner, this film allows me to decompress from my demanding retail management job and reconnect with the innate spiritual wisdom that lies within me, waiting to be tapped.
Thank you so much.

edherzog's picture

Thank you so much for your note. I agree, that wisdom is indeed within us all.

m.choenden-dhongdue's picture

What a remarkable film - that serves as such an honest and heart-warming tribute to the simplicity of what it means to practice buddhism. The stories of the centre members have inspired me to take a closer look at my own practice, lose the unnecessary complexity, and slowly drench myself afresh in the teachings. A wonderful way to begin the New Year. Thank you.

edherzog's picture

Thank you for you kind support! Have a wonderful new year.

Danzen's picture

Thank you for the story of the ongoing life of the B.Z.C..The peace and the beauty inside and out of the zendo must make it a great place to meditate.Great job on the photography and the interviews.Enjoyed the film. Peace

kschwarz's picture

Thank you for providing members the opportunity to see this film. It is truely inspirational. As someone who has participated in a sesshin (July 2009) at the San Francisco Zen Centre, I would highly recommend the experience to deepen one's practice. Watching this film reminded me so much about that important time in my life. It was like participating in a sessin while watching it. Thank you!

Kurt Schwarz
Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada

edherzog's picture

Thank you. Funny, I felt the same way when I was editing it. It would transport me into the zendo, even though I was in my office editing the film, and I would feel like I had meditated after watching it.
Ed's picture

I was introduced to Zen practice last year. This film immediately transports me back to the emotions I felt that first weekend of practice. I am again inspired to be present in every moment, in every chore, in every situation. This was a lovely story about one Zendo, but it reminds me that practice is right here, right now. T


_/ \_


edherzog's picture

Thank you. You are so right!

MarkG's picture

What a lovely short film. I was struck by the sound as well as the visual quality of the work. You seem to have captured the silence that is between the sounds and the sounds that are part of silence. To me this was in the way that you captured voices during interviews as well as the quiet but audible sounds in the Zendo and during Sesshin. As well, it appears that you have focused on wood tones which (again to me) provide a sense of closeness with nature and calmness. This calmness is also demonstrated throughout the film.

Can you discuss how you envisioned bringing this aspect of sound and the element of calmness to the film?

Thank you,

edherzog's picture

Dear Mark,
Thank you. You mentioned one of the real joys of sitting in our zendo, its silence and closeness to nature. The lovely colors and immediacy of the wooden beams, floor, alter, doors, skylights, and windows blend into the flowers and fauna on the grounds—you forget you’re in the middle of the city until the horns of the cars racing by shock you back into the present. There was a point during our interview with Mel that someone starting banging a hammer outside, but we just kept on going. All part of practice!
Am not sure my intention was bringing calmness into the film, I think it was more giving space to what was already there. There is a stillness that comes over you when you come inside the gate. By the time you walk to the zendo and sit on your cushion you are transformed, the activity of the city and your life drops away until you are just there, especially during sesshins. I tried to bring that stillness into the film by holding some shots longer than I would probably do in a film that was more action oriented. I actually wish I did more of that. We did a lot of shooting of the grounds at BZC, and nature changes depending on the season. So I had a lot of shots to choose from. It was a challenge to offer that sense of quiet and calmness but not bore people. I think the music also helped do that. I loved the music. It’s so important in any film, conveying emotion and feeling. I hope that answers your questions.

misterbob's picture

Thanks for making this film. It's a real 'back to basics' view of practice, and the how an organisation based upon the dharma can actually function. The frankness of the participants in describing their practice, and how very challenging it is, was refreshing. I have a question for you; what are the most serious challenges that BZC is currently facing? Is BZC sustainable in its current form? Is it able to have an impact in the hard-to-reach groups in the area?

With thanks again.

edherzog's picture

Thanks for your comments. You are right, one of my intentions in making the documentary was to make practice available to a wide audience, both its joys and its challenges. I tried to put myself into a beginner’s mind frame of reference and portray zazen (meditation), as well as the other spiritual activities, as something we can all do.
In terms of the challenges we face—our sangha is an aging and so we are trying to appeal to young folks as well. We offer a 20s and 30s dharma group for example. But as you saw in the film we don’t advertise and sometimes people have a difficult time finding us. It’s a fine line, wanting new people yet not pushing. In our practice, we welcome all but you need to make the effort.
We are doing well. We have an active sangha of around 200 or so, many of whom have been practicing at BZC for twenty or more years. We are also fortunate to have two wonderful teachers: Abbot Sojun Mel Weitsman and Vice Abbot Hozan Alan Senauke. But fund raising is always a concern, we have building and leadership funds to ensure the sustainability of our center’s structures, this is earthquake country, and to pay our teachers. But the property is paid for, we had a mortgage burning party not to long ago, that was a relief!
As far as reaching out—on Saturday we have a morning program that is open to the public. It includes zazen instruction and a public lecture. Twice a month we prepare and serve dinners at the local men’s shelter, and we offer several dharma study groups that meet regularly, one of which is the socially engaged dharma group. I am a member of that group. We look at the issues of the world from a Buddhist perspective that also includes going ‘outside the gate’. We also get involved in such things as vigils, marches, and demonstrations, while also trying to maintain our own inner peace.
I hope that answers your questions. Thank you so much for your interest.

misterbob's picture

Thanks Ed. You have made BZC sound even more vibrant and appealing now! Soto-based communities are quite rare here in the UK, and there is nothing on the scale of BZC, unless any other contributer knows different. Being true to one's roots - and your roots are so special - as well as true to the precepts, whilst keeping your heads above water must be a constant challenge. As a group of people you are an inspiration. Now, where's my cushion.....?!?!?!

nimbleberry's picture

I began more committed practise at BZC and am English now returning to England. Ask Throssel for your nearest group.

Quolh's picture

...if you're in the London area you could check out who sit in three locations: Highbury, Warren Street & London Bridge.


edherzog's picture

Thank you! Sticking to the precepts is not easy. But somehow, when we are in it together, it makes life's challenges a little easier to bear. Good luck on finding your sangha.

pbantoine's picture

If you are looking for Soto groups in the UK, check out Throssel Hole Abbey. they are a Soto monastery with affiliated temples and meditation groups around the UK. Check them out on the internet.
In Gassho.

misterbob's picture

Thanks for the link, I'm on to it.

Yours in peace.

Anicca1956's picture

Thank you! I needed that.

Daisymom's picture

Oh how lovely. I wish I lived there, but the practice is everywhere isn't it. As I watch this it speaks to me of wanting to belong and feel belonged and cared about. A good lesson in giving to others as we all want these same things.

edherzog's picture

Yes, I think that is one of the wonderful things about BZC, you do feel cared for and accepted. It's not perfect by any means, but for the most part people do their best to stay open and work through their difficulties with compassion and awareness. There is a lot of support for engaging in the challenging path of practice.

lotusrainfive's picture

Very nice, Thank you for sharing this wonderful glimpse into the B.Z.C, I very much enjoyed the new film club and look forward to more inspiration to come. :-)

worthmoremusic's picture

2 thumbs up !

Gassho Ed for doing this film...for enlightening us to the Story of the Berkeley Zen Center Seeing the dedication, the discipline, the simplistic practice in such a loving envionment. I really loved it and I especially loved seeing all the old footage of Suzuki Roshi at Tassajara...and in the original Zendo in the attic in Berkeley.

Seeing interviews with some of the people I have now met and meditated with like Norman Fischer, and Sue Moon meant more than just seeing a face on the screen.

The film tuly depicts a beautiful, loving Zendo...


edherzog's picture

Thank you! I was really excited when the footage of Suzuki Roshii was given to us to use in the film. Fortunately, BZC has kept many of the old photos from the first zendo. What a treasure trove! One of the reasons I wanted to make the documentary was to interview people like Norman and Sue. They have so much to offer! It is a loving place. Am so glad that came through in the film!

nancy p's picture

Beautiful, and inspiring. Thank you.

edherzog's picture

Dear Nancy,
You are welcome. Thank you!

ttran144's picture

Dear Ed,
For some reason, i can not access the video on Old Plum Mountain. I contacted customer service, and got confirmation that my membership to Tricycle is active. This is the message i got when i click on the video link.
The creator of this video has not given you permission to embed it on this domain. This is a Vimeo Plus feature"

Could you please help me?
Thank you.

Sam Mowe's picture

Thank you for this beautiful film, Ed. May I ask what inspired you to make it? Can you tell us a little about your Buddhist & film background? Many thanks, Sam

edherzog's picture

Dear Sam,
Thank you for your kind words. I have been making documentaries for around 25 years for labor groups and for social justice/social change. I've been practicing at SF Zen Center Green Gulch and Berkeley Zen Center since 1999.
When I started sitting regularly and became more a part of the sangha at BZC, as a fiilmmaker, I was first moved by the visuals in the zendo: the light as it streamed through the windows, the beauty of people sitting together, eating and serving oryoki, and chanting and bowing together, and its history. BZC has been around since 1967 and there was a treasure trove of pictures and video of Suzuki Roshi that was available to me. Key was permission that was granted me to film inside the zendo during sesshins and at other BZC events and activities. That support and encouragement I received from BZC sangha members was instrumental in completing the film.
I was also motivated by a desire to spread the dharma and show what was possible when people practiced together in a place inspired by compassion and care for each other. I also wanted to show how lay people who work regular 9-5 jobs can create a place in their lives where it's also possible to have a deep spiritual practice. That commitment to practice is inspiring to me and I wanted to do my part to tell that story.

nimbleberry's picture

Dear Ed, I became a member in part in order to watch this film. Am I out-of-date to watch the film now?

Many thanks,

Sam Mowe's picture

Dear Naomi,

Old Plum Mountain was available for viewing from January 3-15. Sorry you missed it! However, we're now showing Griefwalker (until April 1). You can watch it here:

Starting April 2, we will begin showing The Dhamma Brothers, a film about bringing Vipassana meditation to the penitentiary.

Sam Mowe
Associate Editor