Blue Mountain Zendo is located in Andreas, Pennsylvania and serves the larger Lehigh Valley community. It advertises itself on its website as a “Traditional Rinzai Zen Buddhist Temple”, and although its community is mostly convert, Blue Mountain Zendo’s teachings focus on traditional Rinzai practice and belief. Rinzai is a Japanese Zen school which emerged from the Chinese Linji school and emphasizes meditative focus on “koans”, illogical or unsolvable statements which students discover solutions to in moments of spontaneous enlightenment. Rinzai at Blue Mountain Zendo is taught through the lens of its founder and current Osho (teacher) Rev. Ryuun Joriki Baker. Raised Lutheran in Northern California, Joriki had his first spiritual experience at the age of thirteen when he attended a Native American Purification ceremony and has spent almost three decades studying various schools of Zen Buddhism. First ordained by the Vietnamese master Thich Nguyen in 2001, Joriki was later ordained in the Rinzai school in the lineage of Hakuin, the progenitor of modern Rinzai. At Blue Mountain Zendo, Joriki teaches his students Zen, which the temple, according to its website, understands to be a wholly experiential pursuit based on practice rather than intellectual study.
Although convert communities tend to foreground meditation in their practice to the detriment of other Buddhist rituals and beliefs they deem less essential, Joriki leads the Blue Mountain Zendo community according to traditional Rinzai precepts adapted to work with the contemporary American lifestyle. The temple’s website is well-maintained and regularly updated, acting as a news source for the community, a calendar for upcoming events, a place for beginners to learn about Zen practices and a means for Joriki to share metaphysical, spiritual and philosophical insight through the temple blog. Blue Mountain Zendo eschews the pay-for-classes model popular among meditation centers in favor of traditional dana charity. Indeed, Blue Mountain Zendo holds true to its status as a registered non-profit organization, and the only mention of required payments I could find was concerning payment for participants in the temple’s all-inclusive meditation retreats. The temple hosts zazenkai service which consist of zazen (seated meditation), chanting, walking meditation, silence, formal eating, consideration of koans, private meetings with the Osho and a Dharma Talk led by Joriki. Chanting, private instruction and Dharma Talks all reinforce the importance of Rinzai tradition at Blue Mountain Zendo. In fact, chanting is done in English, Pali and Japanese out of respect for the tradition of the practice. Like in many other convert communities, meditation is a practice of high import at Blue Mountain Zendo, but this distinction comes not from an attempt to remove meditation from its cultural and religious framework as it so often does, but from the central role meditation plays in the Rinzai school as a means of attaining enlightenment. Meditation at Blue Mountain Zendo is practiced within the context of Rinzai Buddhism and the emphasis placed upon it matches what would be expected from this tradition.
Blue Mountain Zendo does not pick-and-choose practices or beliefs from the original tradition to teach, instead embracing the worldview of Rinzai Buddhism, including its cosmology. Cosmology is often the first elimination made by materialist Western interpretations of Buddhism, because it is considered to be little more than a cultural and superstitious framework surrounding the legitimate core practice of meditation. Blue Mountain Zendo accepts and promotes what are often considered more fantastical elements of Buddhism, refusing to dilute experience of the Rinzai tradition. For example, a July 2017 post on the temple’s blog advertises its Obon festival which celebrates and remembers deceased ancestors. The ceremony involves calling the spirits of the deceased to join celebrants in a night of music, food and introspection, drawing the “hungry ghosts” in with a bonfire, lanterns and rice and water. It ends with saying goodbye to loved ones by extinguishing the flames and sending them home. Although I was unable to find any published writings of Rev. Ryuun Joriki Baker, the Osho often draws upon sutras and cosmology in his blog posts on the temple website. Blue Mountain Zendo also offers sutra study courses which look at philosophical interpretations and applications of Buddhist texts. Far from denouncing certain rituals and beliefs as false cultural frameworks, Blue Mountain Zendo spreads the full tradition of the Rinzai school.
Despite the absence of any demographics on the temple’s website concerning its community’s ethnic breakdown, it is safe to say the community is largely convert. The Osho Joriki is himself a convert, and Blue Mountain Zendo’s website is geared toward education and explanation of Rinzai’s core tenets. The home page displays separate tabs for Zen, zenzai and sutra study, each of which links to a page explaining the importance of the practice or term, translating the words and words related to them and providing other helpful background information to give even the most uninformed reader a solid understanding of what occurs at Blue Mountain Zendo. There is even a “what to expect” tab which describes the layout of zenzai services and gives newcomers advice on attending their first Zen meditation. Blue Mountain Zendo’s website as well as its active Facebook page are excellent ways of reaching out to interested secular people and serve more to welcome newcomers into the community than to keep informed established traditional Buddhists. Judging from pictures on the website and Facebook page, most of Blue Mountain Zendo’s members are white, further supporting its place as a uniquely traditional convert community. Although there are no numbers available detailing the size of its community, the temple’s Facebook page boasts over 1,000 likes and followers and an almost-perfect average review score, attesting to its popularity within the community.
Blue Mountain Zendo has no stated formal relationships with any other Buddhist communities but it encourages its members to be active in their local community. In April of 2012, members of Blue Mountain Zendo worked with other community members, faith groups and local government organizations to clean up litter in Allentown’s Lehigh Mountain Park. Joriki wrote on the temple’s blog about the beauty of so many groups coming together without concern for their differences to act as stewards of land that belongs to no one. He emphasizes the importance of connecting with others as well as nature which we are all part of, and this post shows that active community service and outreach are integral to the values of Blue Mountain Zendo. The temple may not advertise formal relations with other Buddhist groups, but its leader advocates connection with members of the greater community without concern for boundaries between faiths.
The religious tenets of Blue Mountain Zendo are manifest in the causes the temple supports. Its stated goal is “to lend aid to anyone who seeks a safe harbor from pain and suffering”. The community offers help to any human or animal in need, valuing the sanctity and miracle of all life. This veneration of life in general is displayed by the temple community’s actions, such as their participation in the Lehigh Valley Park clean-up. The constituents of Blue Mountain Zendo extend their compassion to the oppressed people of the world, including those who are not part of their immediate local community or Buddhist themselves. A September 2017 blog post by Joriki encourages constituents to sign a letter to the government of Myanmar on behalf of the Maha Sangha Buddhist community, petitioning for an end to the genocide of the country’s Rohingya Muslim population. The petition emphasizes that the actions undertaken by the Myanmar government to oppress the Rohingya are contrary to the peaceful mission of Buddhism and have resulted in untold suffering. Constituents of Blue Mountain Zendo are encouraged to help advance the peaceful mission of Buddhism and to ease the suffering of all living beings in whatever way they are capable. Whether done through environmental stewardship, political action or anything in between, the community of Blue Mountain Zendo extends its love to the suffering creatures of the world.
Blue Mountain Zendo is founded upon the Rinzai tradition of its architect and Osho Joriki and successfully brings this storied school into modern American life. Through skillful use of technology, Blue Mountain Zendo educates newcomers and the greater community, keeps its constituents updated and spreads the beliefs and philosophy of Rinzai Buddhism. Its active website and Facebook page give a modern yet legitimate tilt to centuries-old practice. The temple hosts five-day meditation retreats which offer those with careers and families the opportunity to experience prolonged periods of devoted meditation and contemplation. A seamless blend of ancient tradition and modern innovation, Blue Mountain Zendo demonstrates how traditional Buddhism can appeal to and connect with a modern American audience.
Blue Mountain Zendo Website: https://www.bluemountainzendo.org/
Blue Mountain Zendo Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/BlueMountainZendo/