Dzogchen Meditation Center

The Dzogchen Meditation Center in Bath, Maine was founded in 2006 in the home of its founder, Tashi Armstrong. Armstrong was a student of both Trungpa Rinpoche and his Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin, beginning his instruction in Buddhism at the age of 21. In 1994, he returned to Maine in order to begin his own Buddhist center, which became the Dzogchen Meditation Center or DMC (“About Us,” DMC website). The DMC is part of the Kagyu tradition, and Armstrong traces the DMC’s Tibetan teachings back to Marpa and Milarepa. Specifically this temple is part of the Surmang Kagyu Order, a “contemplative order” of lay practitioners founded by Tashi Armstrong. The teachings of the DMC note the Buddha nature that is already inside of each person and must only be discovered through a practice of quiet, mind-clearing meditation. Dzogchen meditation, the meditation practice taught by the DMC, is laid out on a page of the DMC website written by Armstrong in which he discusses the four yogas. The meditation practice described by Armstrong includes unbiased observation of the world and of the thoughts that arise in the mind. In the teachings of the DMC, we can see that the goal of meditation is a state of peaceful awareness and acceptance of one’s surroundings. The DMC’s practice also includes deity yoga, though there is not much detailed information on this (“Dzogchen Meditation,” DMC website).

The DMC seems to be focused on the transmission and preservation of teachings from Tibetan masters to western lay practitioners, rather than directing their services mainly to an Asian immigrant community; it appears to be more centered on converts and individuals coming into the sangha rather than a particular preexisting cultural community. The center is heavily focused on retreats and residential programs, as well as intensive meditation practice, as opposed to regular services for the general community, and seems to be structured in imitation of a traditional monastery. In fact, their website asserts that the decrease in residentially-based Buddhist centers in the US “represents a weakening of the Dharma in the west,” and that “authentic” teachings can only be passed on in a residential or retreat context (“Surmang Kagyu Order,” DMC website). The DMC includes housing for residents and offers residential training in which students may pay to reside at the center for one month or a full year. They also offer solitary cabin retreats in which students may rent a cabin for a minimum of one week. Prices for the various types of retreats are listed right in their descriptions, and fall around $700 per month or $50 per night at the center. The website includes a detailed schedule for residents, each hour of the day regimented from wake-up at 6am to lights-out at 10pm. Each day, residents are scheduled for five to seven hours of meditation practice and four hours of work maintaining the center; meals and short periods of free time are also schedules. Residents are expected to leave the center only on days off (“Residential Programs,” DMC website).

Due to their focus on the transmission and preservation of Tibetan teachings, great importance is placed by the DMC upon lineage and the passage of enlightenment from teacher to student throughout time. The DMC emphasizes the teacher/student dynamic and the direct transmission of teachings from an enlightened master to his pupils in the context of a sangha that resides together as a community. Armstrong encourages the notion that the enlightened master is essentially an infallible figure; his argument seems to be that an enlightened Buddhist master is not a moral agent but simply a vessel for wisdom and truth, a holder of enlightenment who must be respected due to the fact that they embody the traditional teachings. This view influences the temple’s response to a scandal that occurred in the late 1980s; the DMC website devotes a significant amount of space to addressing this incident, in which one of Tashi Armstrong’s enlightened teachers, the Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin, contracted AIDS and was accused of infecting a young man within his sangha through unprotected sex without disclosing his diagnosis (“Our Lineage,” Dzogchen Meditation Center website). This resulted in scandal and controversy throughout the Tibetan Buddhist community in the US, creating confusion and stress about how to handle the misconduct of a master. Some chose to disengage themselves from Vajradhatu International due to the actions of the Vajra Regent and some continued to support him (New York Times). The DMC represents the latter position, maintaining that the Vajra Regent is free of blame for the incident and should still be honored as an enlightened master, and that his teachings should still be preserved and passed along. The statement on the matter that is given on the Center’s website claims that they do not believe that it was Tendzin who infected the young man in the sangha. The website also contains a transcript of Kalu Rinpoche’s comments and instructions regarding the incident, a record of students’ questions about the incident and his answers to them. In this record, Kalu Rinpoche, a master from Tibet who spoke on the incident (New York Times) essentially states that Tendzin is not to be held accountable for the incident and that the students should still treat him with the respect afforded to an enlightened master. Armstrong himself claims that “no matter what the conventional appearance may seem the lineage holder is manifesting coemergent wisdom” (“Our Lineage,” Dzogchen Meditation Center website). Armstrong references the deceptive and unreal nature of appearances, using the concept of emptiness to suggest that the actions of Tendzin cannot necessarily be morally judged, and what really matters is the wisdom and teachings held by the enlightened master, who is the source of this wisdom for his students and the vessel through which it is preserved and transmitted across time.

The Dozogchen Meditation Center is an interesting example of a western Buddhist temple that is primarily focused on retreats and residential instruction in meditative practices, and on direct transmission of Tibetan teachings from the earliest days of the tradition, providing opportunities for western practitioners seeking a traditional form of Tibetan Buddhist experience and practice. It is also an intriguing example of one possible way a Buddhist community could respond to allegations of morally questionable behavior on the part of one of the respected leaders within their lineage.



DMC website:

Zaslowsky, Dyan. “Buddhists in U.S. Agonize on AIDS Issue.” New York Times 21 Feb. 1989 (

Indianapolis Zen Center


Indianapolis Zen Center

Report by: Kate VanDerzee, December 2018

The College of William and Mary

The Indianapolis Zen Center is a Buddhist Temple in Indianapolis, IN, and a member of the Kwan Um School of Zen founded by Master Seung Sahn. The Temple is housed in a residence on the North end of the city, where members have the option to participate in residential practice, living with other members of the Sangha. Weekly practices and monthly retreats are offered at the center to members and visitors, who are primarily Western.


Members of the Indianapolis Zen Center come from a variety of backgrounds and religious traditions. Many members of the Indianapolis Zen Center are Indiana natives who came to Buddhism in adulthood. The Center encourages members to participate in regular weekly practice as well as retreats at least once a year and suggests that regular members donate $25 dollars a month per individual or $35 dollars a month per family. For non-members, participation is free and open to all, although donorship to help support the Sangha is encouraged. Members also have the option to live communally in the residence that houses the center in order to strengthen their practice under the tutelage of Dharma teacher John Melvin and Linc Rhodes, JDPSN.

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Weekly Practice

Regular mindfulness practice is central to members of the Indianapolis Zen Center as well as the greater Kwan Um School of Zen Sangha. Every week the Center holds several practice sessions for members to attend. Morning practices at the Center are held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at 6:45am, and include a 25-30 minute meditation followed by a reading and discussion, after which the members are welcome to gather for coffee and a viewing of the sunrise. On Saturdays, members may meet again for 9:30 am practice, which includes chanting and sitting or walking meditations. At 10:30am, after Saturday practice, members are invited to engage in work practice, for which they have a choice of gardening, working in the woodshop, or participating in Dharma room activities with other members. Evening practices are held on Mondays and Wednesdays at 7:00pm and include chanting and meditations, followed by tea and refreshments. For prospective members, Linc Rhodes, the Sangha’s guiding teacher, holds introductory sessions on Wednesdays at 6:30pm.

In addition to these practice-oriented gatherings, the Center also hosts family game nights where families and community members gather in the Dharma room to play Go, an ancient Chinese board game dating back to the 4th century (B.C.E.), thought to be the oldest board game still in practice. Mastery of Go, then called yi, was one of the four skills of Chinese gentlemen, called Junzi, during the reign of Confucius. The game is played with black and white stones, called goishi, which are held in the goke, two wooden bowls for stones waiting to be played. A wooden block, called the goban, supports the game board, which is traditionally crafted from the wood of the rare golden-tinged Kaya tree, whose oil is sometimes burnt for lengthened Morning Star meditations in Japanese Shingon Buddhism. For members of the Indianapolis Zen Center, Go gatherings are a time for honing one’s mind and connecting with the community. Go nights are free and open to all, and are accompanied by snacks and refreshments.


The Center usually holds group retreats on the third Saturday of every month. Retreats give members the opportunity to strengthen their practice with extended meditation and work practice. Beginning at 9:30am, members gather for chanting before engaging in alternating sitting and walking meditations until 12:00pm. After a short break, members attend work practice in the garden, woodshop, and Dharma room until the retreat’s conclusion at 4pm. These retreats are understood as a way for members to recommit themselves to mindful practice and exercise extended meditation skills.


Kwan Um School of Zen

The Indianapolis Zen Center is a member of the Kwan Um School of Zen, founded by Master Seung Sahn, the first Korean Master to bring Zen to the United States. The Kwan Um School was founded in 1983, after the opening of Providence Zen Center by Sueng Sahn in Rhode Island in 1973. Today, the school has over 100 centers and 40 authorized Zen Masters in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. The school is well-tailored for Western reception. Practice is at the center of Kwan Um philosophy, with special emphasis on maintaining a beginner’s mind, which Seung Sahn called “Don’t Know”. In addition, the school practices traditional 90-day retreats called “Kyol Che”, in which monks, nuns, and laypeople can practice Zen as part of one of these three-month retreats. According to the school’s website, linked below, a primary motive of the organization is to reach broader audiences and bring Zen to people of all backgrounds regardless of prior experience. Consequently, the school offers a library of teachings and sutras which are free to access on their website. In Korean, Kwan Um means “perceive world sound,” to hear the suffering sounds of the universe and offer help. This, too, is a central tenet of Kwan Um’s mission, and many centers participate in community outreach within their localities.

Seung Sahn Soen-sa

Master Seung Sahn was born in 1927 in Duk-in-Lee, Korea to Protestant parents. As a young man, he became involved in the underground Korean Independence movement, for which he was imprisoned by Japanese police. Upon his release, Sahn attended Dong Guk University, and as political tensions in Korea continued to grow, he was exposed to the Diamond Sutra. Sahn was inspired by the sutra to pursue the path of enlightenment, and in 1948 he left school to become a monk and receive the pratimoksha precepts. In the mountains of Korea, Sahn engaged in a 100-day retreat, during which he is said to have gained enlightenment. His enlightenment was confirmed by Zen Master Kobong of Seoul, who reminded Seung Sahn to always practice with a beginner’s mind.

After opening several centers in Asia, Seung Sahn came to the United States in 1972. He was known for his charismatic leadership and accessibility to Western audiences, including allowing laypeople to wear the robes of monastics. Allowing laypeople to wear long robes, traditionally reserved for monks, was disapproved of by the Jogye Order in Korea, to which Seung Sahn belonged. In 1988, Sahn was the subject of Western criticism, as he was accused of maintaining sexual relationships with several of his students. Sahn preformed two repentance ceremonies after admitting his wrongdoing, and the School has since established a board of ethics and strict guidelines for student-teacher relationships.

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Indianapolis Zen Center Blog

The Indianapolis Zen Center maintains a blog page where community members can write about Zen life, upcoming events, and community values. In one such post, Dharma teacher David Culp describes his experience working with inmates at a maximum-security prison in Pendelton, IN. As community outreach is a core Kwan Um value, David Culp’s work is vitally important to the Center. Every Wednesday afternoon, David leads practice for 10-15 inmates, who practice a combination of Buddhist and Zen practices including meditation, Kwan Se Um Bosal, and the Heart Sutra. He says getting to know  the inmates personally has been incredibly rewarding, and enjoys watching them grow through their struggles into better practitioners of Zen.

Another post featured on the blog contains an interview with Master Bon Soeng of the Kwan Um School of Zen, who discusses his experience watching his niece perform in a high school play about the Holocaust. In the play, children are being held in Prague and are aware that the Nazis are taking them in groups to a concentration camp. Grasping the gravity of the situation, one of the children asks what the point of living is if we know we are going to die. Master Bon Soeng was struck by the poignance of the child’s question, and goes on to discuss how that question arises in a time of strife, but is applicable to the lives of all. Death, he says, hangs over the shoulder of every person, but should not be seen as a threat. Rather, we should understand death as a tutor, reminding us of our impermanence which is suffering, and that the best way to combat our impermanence is to practice mindfulness. Death is a reminder of the vital and potent importance of each and every moment, and we must experience those moments as they arise. The moment is precious, the moment is the point of living.



The Indianapolis Zen Center is a group of practice-oriented Zen followers, who emphasize the importance of mindfulness and presence, work, and community outreach. Support for the center comes from membership dues and donations. Teachings and active discussion are central to life at the Indianapolis Zen Center. Community life is an integral part of the Center as well, with opportunities for all members of the community, of myriad identities and backgrounds, to gather for meals, tea, coffee, and comradery. In the middle of central Indiana, the Indianapolis Zen Center brings peace and balance to a historically Christian area of the United States.

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The Mindrolling Lotus Garden

Michael Alvarez

Situated in the serene beauty of the Shenandoah Valley in Western Virginia sits an equally serene Buddhist retreat and meditation center. Located specifically at 108 Bodhi Way, Stanley, Virginia, the Mindrolling Lotus Garden offers a variety of programs built to not only educate those interested in the Dharma and meditation, but to also collect and preserve ancient teachings from across several different schools of Buddhism.

Overall, the Mindrolling (pronounced min-drol-ling) Lotus Garden exists primarily as a location for both practicing Buddhists and those who are just interested in the Dharma to learn and study in beautiful seclusion. The Mindrolling Lotus Garden doesn’t just follow the lineage of Mindrolling in the classical Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma tradition; rather, The Lotus Garden operates as the North American Seat of Mindrolling International, an international organization dedicated to the preservation and teaching of the Mindrolling tradition.

The Mindrolling Lotus Garden is situated in a secluded area just outside the town of Stanley, Virginia. The 200-acre grounds are comprised of a large walking garden, conveniently named Buddha Park, several buildings that house teachers, practitioners, and visitors, and a few other structures in which practitioners can pray and receive teachings. The majority of the property is made up of the Dechen Gatsal, the area of the property devoted to wilderness retreats, in which visitors can venture into by themselves or with a teacher. The Lotus Garden is currently in the process of building a massive Temple in the heart of the property. The Temple, known as Mindrol Gatsal, began construction in the summer of 2015, and is expected to be finished sometime in 2019 or 2020.

The Mindrolling Lotus Garden was founded in 2003 by Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, a lama of the Mindrolling tradition. Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche was born on August 19th, 1967 to the 11th throne holder of the Mindrolling tradition, Kyabje Mindrolling Trichen Gyurme Kunzang Wangyal. In the Mindrolling tradition, the daughters of the Trichen, the throne holder of the lineage, are referred to by the title of Jetsun. This tradition of Jetsunmas began in the mid-17h century with the founding of Mindrolling itself, with the founder of the tradition, Chogyal Terdag Lingpa, and his daughter, Jetsun Mingyal Paldron. Throughout the history of Mindrolling, Jetsunmas have been regarded as some of the wisest and greatest teachers of the tradition. At age 2, Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, already a member of the Nyingma tradition, was recognized by Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa of the Kagyu tradition, as the re-incarnated Great Dakini of Tsurphu Monastery, Urgyen Tsomo, one of the most respected female teachers of this era, as well as the consort of Khakyab Dorje, the 15th Karmapa. This rare distinction of being a direct member of both the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions allowed Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche to dedicate her life to the advancement and teaching of the Dharma, and the Mindrolling tradition in particular. In 1994, Rinpoche traveled to Baltimore, Maryland from her native India in order to give teachings to some 20 or so practitioners at the Baltimore Shambhala Center. In the intervening 9 years, Rinpoche, accompanied by her Lopons (teachers), as well as her sister and fellow teacher, Mindrolling Jetsun Dechen Paldron, continued to teach across the country and eventually led to the founding of Mindrolling Lotus Garden, the new headquarters of the Mindrolling tradition in the United States. Today, Rinpoche spends her time travelling between the United States, India, and Europe, teaching the traditions of Mindrolling, in addition to general teachings on the Buddha and the Dharma. Her sister Jetsun Dechen Paldron operates as her second in command within the Mindrolling organization. Paldron spends six months out of the year at Mindrolling Lotus Garden, running the day-to-day operations. Rinpoche herself comes back to America during the summer months, and leads the largest organized retreat that the Lotus Garden offers every year, the Mindrol Lekshey Summer Program, a 6-week intensive Buddhist retreat that runs from the middle of July to the end of August.

The school of Mindrolling finds its roots in the oldest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma school. The teachings of the Mindrolling school therefore follow the same basic structure as that of Nyingma traditions, which spends much time focusing on tantric meditation and study. The school of Nyingma was established roughly in the late 8th century CE by the great Indian Buddhist teacher Padmasambhava when he came to Tibet at the request of the king of Tibet, Trisong Detsen. Detsen also ordered the mass translation of numerous Buddhist texts into the Tibetan language. These translations would not only shape the teachings of the Dharma in Tibet for centuries, it also helped to create the basic foundation of the modern Tibetan language, as the translation of the texts brought about various new phrases and styles of speech.  Together, Padmasambhava and Detsen established what we know today as the Nyingma school of Buddhism, which, like all forms of Vajrayana (the over-arching school of Buddhist thought that the majority of Tibetan Buddhism stems from), believes in the idea of the “diamond vehicle”. The “diamond vehicle”, literally the translation of Vajrayana, is the school of Buddhism that sees itself as an amalgamation of all schools of Buddhism, taking various practices from both Mahayana and Theravada traditions, as well as adding newer, more specific practices. One of these practices is the idea of tantric meditation. Tantric meditation uses mantras and other forms of meditative practice to create a peaceful state in which one can study their own mind and the dharma. This is not unlike other forms of Buddhist practice, however, the central idea of Bodhicitta is where the two differ. This idea of Bodhicitta is the practice of not just achieving enlightenment, but to see one’s self as a Buddha and seek the betterment of all others through loving kindness and compassion. These ideas are the foundation of what Rinpoche and her Lopons teach at the Lotus Garden.

While the Mindrolling Lotus Garden finds its roots in the near 1500-year history of the Nyingma tradition, the modern-day Lotus Garden has co-opted a more generalized mindset. The teachings involved at the Lotus Garden are numerous, with the majority of teachings being those in basic tantric and meditative practices. These group sessions are usually taught by the four in-house Lopons who live on the grounds. These four Lopons interestingly are all Americans, each having been trained in the Buddhist tradition for at least 20 years. All four Lopons have been students of Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche since her first visit to the United States in 1994. If one were to take any of the courses offered at the Lotus Garden, one of these trained practitioners will most likely be the instructor. Throughout the 8-month period in which the Lotus Garden is in operation (The campus itself closes for the season from early January to mid-April), numerous lessons can be taken, all of varying time, intensity, and commitment. The two most popular programs would be the lessons in meditation, as well as retreats. Meditation sessions are taught by all four Lopons. Some lessons are low-key. These focus on the basics of meditative practices, such as understanding the concepts of a mantra or Bodhicitta. These lessons can be made by appointment with the Lotus Garden, and are low-commitment. However, for those looking for a more intensive practice, meditative classes that meet regularly and look at the more advanced materials of the practice are available year-round. Retreats are also a big hit at the Lotus Garden. Led by a retreat master (A Drupon), these excursions into the 200-acre wilderness are a classic form of meditative practice. These retreats are available to both a group or an individual, and both can be accomplished throughout the year during operation. Two large retreats are planned each year, with the largest, the Mindrol Lekshey Summer Program, led by Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche herself. Occasionally monks and nuns from the Mindrolling Monastery in India will travel to the Lotus Garden for a few weeks and give teachings. The arrival of the monastics usually coincides with one of the larger retreats.

While many of the practitioners who attend the Lotus Garden are converts, the largest group that the Lotus Garden caters to would be lay people with very little to no knowledge of Buddhism or its practices. The Lotus Garden, and Mindrolling International as a whole, have made it a primary goal of the Lotus Garden to educate and provide people who are curious about the practice the ability to experiment in relative seclusion. All knowledge of the Dharma is welcome at the Lotus Garden, but the primary goal of the institution would be education and further studying of the texts. This lines up with the general mission statement of Rinpoche’s Mindrolling International organization, which looks to spread the ideas of Vajrayana as a whole, and Mindrolling in particular, throughout the world, as well as to continue to discover, translate, and understand Vajrayana and other Buddhist texts, teachings, and histories. The Lotus Garden’s impact with other communities can be seen in this vein as well. Mindrolling International has other campuses throughout America, Europe, and India, all dedicated to the same purpose that the Lotus Garden embodies.

Overall, The Mindrolling Lotus Garden in Stanley, Virginia stands as one of the more authentic and intimate Buddhist experiences in the region. Incorporating the teachings of masters of the Vajrayana tradition, as well as occasional teachings by a lama and a spiritual leader of the Nyingma tradition, The Mindrolling Lotus Garden combines wise teachings with the serene isolation of the Shenandoah Valley to create one of the more interesting Buddhist communities in the United States.



“Mindrolling Lotus Garden Homepage.” MINDROLLING LOTUS GARDEN, Mindrolling                  International, 2018,

“Mindrolling International Homepage.” Mindrolling International, Mindrolling                                    International, 2018

“Her Eminence Mindrolling Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche.” Her Eminence Mindrolling Jetsn                Khandro Rinpoche, Mindrolling International , 2018,                                                


Zen Monastery Peace Center



The Zen Monastery Peace Center was founded by Zen practitioner Cheri Huber in 1987. It stands within the wilderness of Murphys, California, approximately 150 miles inland of San Francisco. Nestled in the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the monastery is a residential community designed to “challenge the voices of egocentric karmic conditioning, pay attention in a kind and safe space, and realize our authentic nature.” The town of Murphys itself began as a gold mining operation in the mid 19th century and is now a modern community of approximately 2,000 residents. Huber’s center provides workshops and retreats to the general public in addition to offering a visiting monk program for more advanced practitioners. As could be deducted from the name, the Peace Center focuses on the Zen tradition. Huber’s personal emphasis is on awareness meditation as she herself is a member of the Soto School. Derived from the Chinese Coadong School, started in the 9thcentury by two Chinese monks, the focus for the Soto School is meditation without a goal and awareness as a means by which one can live mindfully in all aspects of life. This form of meditation is “an all-inclusive experience that includes and accepts everything that comes into awareness, by resting in awareness itself.”



Cheri Huber is an American author and has studied Zen Buddhism for 35 years. Having written over 20 books in her career, Huber is well known within her community. She founded her first center  – Mountain View Zen Center – in 1983, followed by the Zen Monastery Peace Center in 1987  and her non-profit organization called Living Compassion in 1997. Not only is she the founder of two Zen centers, but she also serves as a resident teacher at the Peace Center. Her practice is centered around Zen Buddhism within the Soto School, the focal point being the practice of self awareness. According to her Wikipedia page, she “likely studied Zen for some times under Jay DuPont.” However, she has no formal lineage within her school listed on her website or any other forum related to her practice. This is odd as Zen Buddhism is rather concerned with lineage. It is unclear as to exactly how Huber became involved with Zen or awareness practice. Her personal testimony is not specified in any of her published writings beyond that she has studied the subject for over 35 years. Very little is listed in her biographies both on her own website and when listed as an author or expert on other websites. Hay House Publishing claims “Cheri has been acknowledged as the country’s foremost expert on depression and spirituality” yet it is unclear upon what this statement is based.


Huber has several online venues she continually uses in order to engage her larger audience with awareness practice. For example, Huber’s “Practice Everywhere” initiative allows her followers to sign up for reminders to be more aware via email, text, and twitter. Her twitter page has 17,500 tweets with over 3,000 followers. A key aspect of awareness practice is being continually mindful and aware of your daily actions so Huber’s program is intended to guide you throughout the day with this in mind. Her Practice Blog also includes postings about her own experience with the practice. She coins phrases the “Huber Cure” which is a way to approach mindfulness. Huber’s nonprofit organization Living Compassion is also an ongoing project for both her and the local Sangha.


The community at the Peace Center is rather unique. Truly a cross between the traditional and the modern, the Center offers a wide range of opportunities to engage with Buddhist teachings and awareness practice. Upon your first visit to the monastery, you will be guided during an orientation which you are instructed in the basic postures of meditation. Classes are offered for both the local public and a more national or international audience. Additionally, classes may be virtual or physical. Huber offers the unique option of “email” classes which take on the format of formal instruction via assignments and reflections. A more traditional option would be enrolling in the visiting monk program, designed for those heavily involved in awareness practice. The duration of this program can be as short as a month or as long as a year. Week long retreats are also available and intended to further explore the practice of awareness. Other options include group coaching, meditation groups, recording and listening training, and Zen awareness coaching.


Based upon the 2010 census conducted by the U.S. government, the larger community in which the Peace Center rests is comprised mostly of white (92.4%) females (54.6%) with the median age of 56. Constituents of any Latino or Hispanic descent are the next largest ethnic group, claiming 10.1% of the total population (2,213). The people of Murphys, California are arranged mostly in nuclear families. It is evident from the data gathered by the U.S. government that Murphys is not a first or second generation migrant community. Murphys constituency is mostly older white folks, likely with European descent. This data is important because it provides context for the area in which the Monastery was established. Many, if not all, of the local practitioners are members of the Murphys community as well as the Sangha and therefore it is likely the Monastery’s ethnic composition reflects that. Based upon the profiles following Cheri Huber’s practice blog the community is predominantly white Americans. This agrees the data discussed above. It is then reasonable to conclude that Huber’s Sangha is comprised mostly of American, potentially Christian, coverts.

Clearly, the constituents of Zen Monastery Peace Center are not concerned with recreating an authentic Asian Buddhist experience, but rather extrapolating certain practices and teachings in order to improve their lives. Interestingly, a majority of the programs offered are not aimed at the local population but rather point to a national audience. Physical meditation periods and reflection groups are offered of course, but most of the initiatives and programs are directed outwards to a larger Sangha. Huber’s approach to Buddhism is as a philosophy rather than a religion as supernatural or metaphysical doctrines are not emphasized. In other words, the cultural attachments, and therefore a large portion of religious attachments, are absent.

However, Huber includes Buddha in her teachings and ascribes to the Soto School specifically. The way in which she interacts with the practice does not indicate that she or the Peace Center Sangha view what they are practicing as religion in the formal, Western sense. There is an air of spirituality yet, this is entrenched in certain American cultural assumptions and common practices.Those who attend the Monastery are not focused on achieving enlightenment in this lifetime, or in any lifetime. Rather, they are concerned with minimizing suffering throughout their lives. The Zen Monastery Peace Center is not meant to recreate the Buddhist experience within an Asian context but rather it is a place for a new audience to engage with new ideas and philosophies about the way in which we should live our lives.

As the government in America is not structured to give support to monastic communities, the Monastery must develop a way to make ends meet. Similar to the way a university would function, the Monastery functions by charging enrollment fees for their virtual and retreat programs. Yoga classes are also offered for a small fee. In order for the community to continue, members must participate literally and monetarily either through donations or enrollment. However, there is no official fee for the teachings themselves. Huber writes “We cannot and we will not attempt to sell our spiritual practice; It cannot be sold and it cannot be bought.” In her blog post she further explains that the biggest obstacle for the Sangha being able to participate is financial. Retreats, books, and classes are expensive so Huber turned to technology to make practice more accessible to practitioners.


Within the Larger Community:

According to the the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, there are 48 other organizations within California that are affiliated with them. Huber founded the Mountain View Zen Center before founding the Peace Center and these two communities engage with each other on local and regional levels. Both groups have the opportunity to attend several of the same workshops and retreats. As already discussed, Huber engages a much larger Buddhist audience through her virtual presence on twitter, through email, and via blog posts. Living Compassion, the nonprofit Huber founded in 1997, demonstrates a different way to relate Buddhism. Huber’s teachings focus on diminishing self hate or egocentric karmic conditioning and promoting self love which then leads a gratitude that fosters the desire to give. Her organization is centered around providing aid the community of Kantolomba, Zambia in terms of education, healthcare access, and food scarcity. December 1, 2018 marks the 17thannual Bridge Walk, a way for the community to celebrate the project’s progress. This is an example of the way in which the Peace Center interacts with the global community.

Nationally, Huber addresses her Sangha through the modern form of social media.  Her books are sold nationally and online and she appears on different podcasts which are available and accessible to all. You also do not have to be a consistent member of the Peace Center to participate in retreats or classes as long as you have the means to pay. Huber’s Sangha and her works are especially accessible to a national and international audience because of her use of technology. As her Twitter following outnumbers the total population in Murphys, California, it is safe to say that she has extended beyond the physical confines of the Zen Monastery Peace Center.


Here is a link to a phone interview conducted with Cheri Huber as an example of her approach to Buddhist thought:

Here is a link to a 2006 article covering a retreat offered at the Monastery. It offers more information about the Monastery itself.

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About Murphys

Soto Zen

Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple

Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple

Members of the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple practice Shin Buddhism. As such, this community conducts itself in alignment with the Western Pure Land school, placing staunch faith in the figure Amithaba. Through his worship, members of the school seek to, facilitate a rebirth which enables them to practice Buddhism to its fullest extent, beyond the obstructions presented by a particular birth in the delusional realm. In other words, members of this faith desire rebirth into a world constructed by Amithaba himself, catered to honing one’s karma and ultimate merit. This achievement, to practitioners, presents itself upon the consistent recitation of a chant, particularly one that refers to their patron: “I am calling Amida Buddha” (Hart 1). As well as with aligning to the Buddha’s sutras, members of the Western Pure Land school invest significant faith into Amithaba himself, whose name means “infinite light” and whose Mahayana doctrines are said to precede those even of the historical Buddha.

This school of Buddhism, especially in Japan, accounts for a great portion of Buddhist practice around the world. It makes sense, then, that Western Pure Land would spread into North America from a migratory perspective alone. Additionally, other features of the Western Pure Land tradition attest to this sect’s prominence on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Despite being just one of two in all of Oregon, this Shin temple strives to promote those tenants which originated within Japan 758 years ago, and as a constituent of the Buddhist Churches of America, boasts, “a place where the people know and trust one another and where there is social harmony; it is harmony that gives life and meaning to every community” (Buddhist Churches of America 1).

History & Scope

While preserving a centuries-long tradition, the Idaho-Oregon Temple developed against a backdrop heavily contextualized by events of the second world war. Formally dedicated on April 13, 1947 in Ontario, Oregon, constituents of this temple congregated after relocating from the Pacific Coast to Ontario in May 1942. The relocation was forced upon the members as a result of the United States’ effort to place Japanese-Americans into labor camps during the war. Presented as an alternative to the camps, some Japanese-American farmers already working in the Ontario area made an appeal that laborers on the coast would instead be brought to Oregon and help farm the land. As a result, Japanese-Americans found a concentrated presence in this new community, and (since many of this demographic were first generation, or “Issei”) expressed cultural values which they had taken from their native Japan. Some of these values, of course, were expressed through the practice of Shin Buddhism, and before long a decision was made to form a proper congregation.

That there was Issei presence in Ontario prior to interment is noteworthy, as they provided the means through which a sizable Buddhist community could take shape. In fact, this community actually started laying the foundation for its growth in the interwar period, with the construction of a community center which allowed Japanese-American youth to participate in athletics and social activities in the 1930s. Eventually, through this smaller community’s intervention in labor camp relocation, the Japanese-American and, subsequently, the Buddhist communities in Ontario establish themselves to become a larger hub for Shin Buddhist practice in the Western United States.

Despite this particular temple springing from unique ties with American history, the Idaho-Oregon Temple is still connected to the international Buddhist community as well. As previously stated, the temple is a member of the Buddhist Churches of America as part of the northwestern district, and is overseen by Reverend Jerry Hirano, who is based out of the Salt Lake City Buddhist Temple, and oversees the Idaho-Oregon Temple’s minister assistants. On its website, the temple lists its affiliate organizations, other Buddhist temples local to the northwestern United States. Furthermore, the temple maintains ties with Japan as well, as the community’s mother temple resides in Kyoto. This mother temple “provides leadership worldwide” for the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji (the sect’s formal name) tradition of Buddhism (Idaho Oregon Buddhist Temple 1). Communications between the two institutions ensure the perpetuation of authentic Shin Buddhism, which has been effectively maintained for more than half a millennium.

Teachings & Practices

The mother temple, the Nishi Hongwanji, provides essential teachings, discussed to some extent in this report already, which comprise the Shin doctrine. Jodo Shinshu, the teaching’s proper name, espouses faith in the three Pure Land Sutras (The Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, The Sutra of Contemplation of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, and The Sutra of Amida Buddha) delivered by Shakyamuni Buddha, a Mahayana name for the historical Buddha. The Sutra of Amida Buddha describes that Buddha’s world of pure bliss where one can do nothing but focus on the three jewels, an ideal world. Writings by founder Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) effectively offer a path toward that world by way of Nembutsu, the frequent practice of chanting Amithaba’s (or in other spellings, Amida’s) name. Other religious practices include walking meditation, demonstrated in a video below:

Chanting as a means of focus is unique amongst Shin Buddhists, and differs from traditions such as the Theravada which seeks enlightenment through meditation on the concept of no-self and nonexistence. Nevertheless, in line with the tradition of loving-kindness, Shin Buddhists seek entrance into the Western Pure land only so that they may attain Buddhahood and, upon doing so, return to the delusional world to guide others toward enlightenment. Thus, the Western Pure land is not exactly analogous to the heaven depicted in puritanical Christianity. It is interesting, though, that Western Pure Land has gained such notoriety in the United States. Perhaps to those unfamiliar with the nuances of the doctrine, Western Pure Land presents a more digestible conception of the world, as some elements reflect, at least to some extent, the heaven-earth construction present in Christianity.

We can better understand how Shin Buddhism has evolved in wake of its spreading onto the American continent by observing, in our example, the ways in which members organize and present themselves to the larger local community. Rather than identify by the term “venerable” as we might have expect, temple leaders, such as Jerry Hirano, go by the title “reverend”, not unlike those who hold similar positions within Methodist and Presbyterian communities, for example. Adapting Christian elements into their organization reflects a desire to reflect certain western values so as to appeal to a larger American population.

Furthermore, worship services and activities take place on a weekly basis every Sunday, aligning with the Western notion that this day be reserved for the spirit. These services, as well as the ceremonious events that take place throughout the year, are open to all who wish to participate and do not require temple membership. For those who desire to, “practice locally”, The Boise (their designated term for Sangha) meets weekly on Tuesday at a local Methodist church, and like all other meetings, is open to the public (Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple 1). The open-door policy, so to speak, further affirms the notion that the communally-oriented Idaho-Oregon Buddhist temple has ambitions to maintain accessibility on a great scope so that it may diffuse its doctrine thoroughly around the world, particularly on the North American continent.


The temple’s membership/community primarily hails from eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho. Under the particular circumstances which saw to this community’s formation, one would expect to see a significant percentage of Issei (or Issei descendants) within its congregation. Still, Sunday services are given in English and the temple’s open-door policy indicates that English speakers are often in attendance for those services at least.

As we’ve discussed in our course, Buddhist communities in the west do not necessarily vie for total conversion to Buddhism. Those individuals interested can pick what resonates with them and adapt it so that it can fit within a person’s belief system. The Idaho-Oregon temple promotes individuality, as well. This is evident from the fact that membership is not required for participation in religious events. Reverend Hirano himself attests that there are thousands of paths towards enlightenment and that the individual must choose which one would best serve him or her. Thus, Buddhist ideals can manifest in unique ways to coincide comfortably with the individual’s life.

Open-mindedness extends beyond the topic of religion in this Buddhist community as well. This past November’s installment of a monthly bulletin published by the temple reflects on election season and the divisiveness it can bring into our worlds. Through Buddhist teachings, one must acknowledge the poisonousness of voting and still acknowledge the poisonousness of apathy. One should do his or her best to vote with a morally good conscious, to “humbly and honestly consider what is best, not just for ourselves, but other people in our region, around the region, and the world” (Anne Spencer 1). Not only does this serve as another example of members contemplating western society with a Buddhist outlook, but also expresses a tolerance for differing opinion within the Idaho-Oregon Temple community. Indeed, Assistant Minister Spencer acknowledges such diversity in the community at the beginning of her discussion. Overall, present in this community are values of open-mindedness, tolerance, and shared pleasure taken from pursuing the Amida Buddha’s Western Pure Land, and at the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple, people from all over are welcome to share in this endeavor.

Works Cited

Buddhist Churches of America. Web 4 December 2018.

Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple. Web 4 December.

Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji. “The Essentials of Jodo Shinshu- My Path” Web 4 December 2018.

Hart, Sean. “Shin Buddhism: Namo Amida Butsu.” The Argus Observer, 3 March 2010. Web 4 December 2018. butsu/article_5f92ccc3-9f6a-541c-9393-bf7f4f51f365.html

Spencer, Anne. “Politics and Buddhism.” IOBT Bulletin November 2018. Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple. Web 4 December.

American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Association

Posted by Xinyu Zhang

Located on Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton, Massachusetts, the central temple of the American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Association is housed in the former First Unitarian Parish of Brighton. As a historic landmark of Brighton, the temple participated in the 2007 200th anniversary celebrations of Brighton. The stone steeple and impressive stained glass windows evoke the former function of the structure. Now, large signs and images of Shim Gum Do forms grace the outside walls, welcoming the public to participate in the martial arts classes offered.PLM-Temple

Founding Master

Shim Gum Do Founding Master Zen Master Chang Sik Kim was first introduced to Buddhist teachings at a young age when he was given a koan by Zen Master Seung Sahn Lee (founder of the Kwan Um School of Zen in the Chogye Order). “A great Zen Sword Master saw the reflection of the moon in a pool of water. He drew out his sword and cut the reflection in half and the two halves separated. How is this possible?” Zen Master Seung Sahn Lee told Zen Master Kim that he could find out the answer to the koan and attain martial art enlightenment if he came to live at his temple and follow his teachings. Following this meeting, Zen Master Kim entered the Hwa Gye Sa temple in Seoul, Korea and began his formal training under Zen Master Seung Sahn Lee at the age of 13. At the temple, Zen Master Kim’s days were filled with practice. The Dharma was taught through the experiences of the daily life of the temple. Zen Master Kim’s temple work of cleaning and cooking symbolized the importance of clearing the mind, taking care of the basic necessities of life and not wasting food or energy. In 1965 at the age of 21, Master Kim undertook an intensive one hundred day retreat. During this retreat, the Master attained Mind Sword Enlightenment, through which the practice and forms of Shim Gum Do were revealed to him.

In 1971, Master Chang Sik Kim officially introduced Shim Gum Do with the Proclamation of Shim Gum Do, the doctrinal explanation of the Mind Sword Path as a Zen Buddhist practice and path. He established the Korean Shim Gum Do Association and began teaching Shim Gum Do in Korea. In 1974, Zen Master Kim came to the United States and established the American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Association unifying all of the worldwide Shim Gum Do Associations.DSe4v_0VAAAt5gA

Currently Zen Master Chang Sik Kim lives and teaches at his temple Shim Gwang Sa, the Mind Light Temple in Brighton, Massachusetts. Zen Master Kim is also accomplished in other Zen arts – the art of calligraphy and of poetry – through which he continues to express the power of the moment. He is a published author of a number of books: 17 Poetry books that have been translated into six languages and “The Art of Zen Sword, A History of Shim Gum Do” and “The First Star Black Belt Forms of Shim Gum Do Zen Sword, The Manual of Course Material from White to First Star Black Belt.”

Dharma Lineage and Community

Dharma lineage of Shim Gum Do traces back to India, where it starts with the Buddha Shakyamuni, Mahakasyapa and Ananda. It then passes down to Nagarjuna and Bodhidharma and gets spread to China to the 29th patriarch Hui Ke and 33rd patriarch Hui Neng. The lineage stays in China until the 56th patriarch Shih-shih Ch’ing-kung and spreads to Korea to the next patriarch Tae-Ko Bo-Wu. Shim Gum Do Founding Master Zen Master Chang Sik Kim is the 79th patriarch in his lineage.

There are approximately 150 active members including ten live-in residents. Daily classes usually have between 5 and 15 students, and workshops will have about 50. Approximately 50% of the regular members are Euro-Americans, about 65% are men and 5-10% of the members are children. The remaining members represent the ethnic and religious diversity of the Boston area. The Shim Gum Do community is a diverse group of people including children, teenagers, students, college students, graduate students, and adults from all walks of life. In addition to the central temple in Brighton, there is a Shim Gum Do school in Pennsylvania, a club in New Jersey, teaching centers in Korea and an Italian group based in Milan.



Shim means mind. Shim Gum Do believes that all things are created by mind alone. According to the Proclamation of Shim Gum Do, this means that if you want to understand the true way “you must perceive where name and form come from and you must understand that name and form are created by mind”. They believe that in this world, one by one, each thing is complete; one by one, each thing has substance. If you cut off all thinking, return to before thinking then this is your substance and universal substance. They call this “primary point”. If you “keep this mind, you and everything, you and the universe, become one”. “Clear like space, without name and form, without opposites, that is the Absolute. “That is also “Mind or Buddha or God or Truth or Energy”.

Gum means sword. They believe that there are two kinds of Gum: a killing Gum and a life-giving Gum. Their Gum chases evil away, helps goodness, makes the correct way, manifests Great Love, Great Compassion, the Great Bodhisattva Way and fights for the cause of justice. Sometimes this Gum appears as “a steel sword, sometimes a wooden sword, a fist sword, a mind sword or a no-name-no-form-energy sword”. The Proclamation says that “on the outside, it repulses enemies of peace; internally it cuts off our ignorance, makes our bad karma disappear, enables us to get complete freedom and to find the True Light”. If we function correctly then this is the Gum of correct function. Any place anytime, if we follow the situation then what appears as dirty water becomes a clear and pure world.

Do means path. They believe that everyday mind is the path, the true way. According to the Proclamation, “If you make your opinion, your condition and your situation disappear then your true self appears and finding the correct opinion, correct situation and correct condition are possible. Then all that you can see, hear or smell is the truth, all is ‘Do’.” “Do not make ‘I, my, me’, then everyday life is the truth and the path.” Then you will get the Great Bodhisattva Way and it will be possible to save all beings from suffering. The name for this is Do.

Shim is Buddha, which is clear like space.

Gum is Dharma, which is the correct function of energy.

Do is Sangha, which is Great Love and Great Compassion.

The Practice

Shim Gum Do practice is very much about mind and body energy alignment. The American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Association uniquely combines Zen ‘non-action’ with action meditation and forms of martial arts. Shim Gum Do or ‘Mind Sword Path’ includes six basic arts—Sword, Shin Boep or ‘Body Dharma’(a weaponless art form similar to ‘karate’), Ho Shin Sul or self-defense (involving breaking grabs and offenses, throwing, rolling and pressure points), Long Stick, Short Stick and Two Swords. Within these six basic arts, there are approximately 1,000 forms. Students follow the Shim Gum Do path with bi-monthly tests, marking their progress through the thirty-three black belt levels. Students of Shim Gum Do begin studying either Sword or Shin Boep, and may study one of the other forms after their first year of training. Students first learn the basic forms to develop strength and flexibility. Ultimately training in Shim Gum Do goes beyond the realm of martial arts by putting Zen into action.Through the Shim Gum Do forms, practitioners develop their internal energy and balance body and mind. The Shim Gum Do action and non-action clarify the mind and transform the practitioner. It is an avenue towards getting enlightenment.

Daily, weekly and monthly classes are offered to men and women with a separate course available for children ages 5 and up. All classes at the Mind Light Temple include warm ups, training in the different forms, meditation and readings from Zen Master Kim’s Dharma talks. Students first learn the basic forms– standing, moving one’s energy and stepping. From this point, students learn forms or whole sequences of moves.

The Temple also offers a residential training program focusing on the deeper incorporation of Shim Gum Do into daily life. Residents at Mind Light Temple do not practice a monastic lifestyle and may continue to participate in worldly activities and maintain an outside job. The residents wake each morning to bow, practice meditation and Shim Gum Do martial arts. Upon returning in the evening, classes are held for the public and taught by Zen Master Kim and Headmaster Mary Stackhouse Kim. Residents also practice Shim Gum Do during the day on the weekends. Through the learning, practice and study of the forms of Shim Gum Do, one aims at developing the strength and techniques to fight the internal enemies of ignorance, desire, opinion and ego. The Shim Gum Do path of martial arts is learning to fight the demons and bad habits within oneself and build a clear direction and strong compassion.


Works Cited

American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Association. The Pluralism Project. Web. 2 December, 2018.

Shim Gum Do-Mind Sword Path. Web 2 December, 2018.

Master Seung Sahn Lee, Master Chang Sik Kim. “World Shim Gum Do Proclamation 1971”. Web 2 December, 2018.

The Mountain Cloud Zen Center

By: Jasmine Boehnke

The Mountain Cloud Zen Center

The Mountain Cloud Zen Center

The Mountain Cloud Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was founded in 1981 by Philip Kapleau and hand built by himself and a handful of his students who volunteered to create a Sanbo Zen center that emulates a Japanese zenbo. As a result, it features a blend of traditional architecture and instruments with Southwestern viga beams, straw-and-adobe walls, flat roofs, and softly rounded corners. The center is tucked away on two dozen acres of land in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains off Old Santa Fe Trail and its environment is conducive towards sesshins where practitioners are stimulated by the grasses, sun, desert wind, and New Mexico climate to discover the miracle of each moment.

It is small, but appealing, with a zendo inside the front door which seats 22 people on a raised tan and contains artful wooden carvings on the viga panels. Practitioners say it “has a very handcrafted feeling to it” and serves as a training facility for lay students in the local community.

Buddha statue at the face of the center

Buddha statue at the face of the center

Kapleau chose this location because he preferred the New Mexico climate to the Rochester winters he was accustomed too. Eventually he left and returned to the Rochester Zen Center he established 40 years earlier. For 28 years, Mountain Cloud was maintained by its devotees and without a teacher. Their membership declined over time and the center was largely unused until Henry Shukman aided in its revival in 2010. He was recruited as Head Teacher after embarking on his own personal Zen journey and is the first teacher to have taught since its founder.

The center shares in the “Zen Buddhism Dharma of the Sanbo-Kyodan lineage based in Kamakura, Japan, using koan study and shikantaza, or ‘just sitting,’ and offers weekly dharma talks.” The Sanbo-Kyodan lineage of which the center is founded in, has three primary objectives. These are:

  1. To bring back the actual experience of deep awakening and the heart of Zen,
  2.  To offer intensive koan study along with meditation training, and
  3. To make training available to lay practitioners

The Mountain Cloud Zen Center fulfills these objectives through daily evening meditation at 6:30 p.m., Sangha meetings, all day sit, yoga and zen workshops, weekend meditation retreats for both students and teachers, and welcoming diversity in their students. This is present in their student body, whose ages range from people in their 20’s to people who are 60 or 70 years old. It prides itself on popularizing Sanbo Zen in the United States through its inclusivity, especially to Westerners, and the Three Pillars of Zen, authored by its founder Philip Kapleau.

Winter at the Mountain Cloud Zen Center

Winter at the Mountain Cloud Zen Center

Each season is accompanied by a seasonal sesshin and Sunday mornings rotate between a meditation, zen talk, or tea time. There are 4 cabins available that can accommodate 20 people during sesshins. Everything at this time is done in silence, but as one student puts it, “you feel supported, so you don’t give up as easily.” Private ‘dokusan,’ or interviews with Henry, are available throughout the week for prospective students. You can become a student by regularly attending meditation sessions and having attended at least one sesshin. In becoming a formal Zen student, you commit to having Henry as your primary guide.

Since its practitioners are well-versed in poetry and literature, the center also offers author talks. One such talk was with Stephen Jenkinson, author of Die Wise – A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul. His primary focus of study is grief and dying in North America and he provides insight into what it means to live and die well, and how to do so. His rhetoric is based on his personal experience and firsthand account with dying people and their families. He emphasizes the center’s aim of living kindly and its dedication to serving those in hospice.

Kazuaki Tanahashi with a hand-painted Zen circle

Kazuaki Tanahashi with a hand-painted Zen circle

Yet most creatively, the center hosted a weekend workshop with Henry Shukman, and Japanese calligrapher and Zen teacher, Kazuaki Tanahashi. He is an author and translator of Buddhist texts from Japanese and Chinese to English, most inspired by Dogen. During his time at Mountain Cloud, he participated in meditation, Dharma talks, discussion on Dogen, and demonstrated his prowess in calligraphy. The center is not short on producing creative events for all to attend and enjoy.

Kazuaki Tanahashi demonstrating his calligraphy

Kazuaki Tanahashi demonstrating his calligraphy

Additionally, Mountain Cloud offers several member group programs that allow practitioners to extend their practice beyond mindfulness and meditation to serving the local community in acts of service and kindness. Among these are the Three Treasures Prison Project, which teaches yoga and meditation to inmates at the New Mexico State Prison (PNM), Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) that provides workshops on non-violent communication with inmates and community members, Mountain Cloud Care Network for members facing personal emergencies and difficulties, and several hospice care outlets. The most distinguished program is the Rio Grande Mindfulness Institute (RGMI).

The center trains teachers and educators in the area to practice mindfulness in the face of increasing stress and anxiety in the workplace among students, paperwork, teacher evaluations, and day-to-day pressures. Known as the ‘Heart of Teaching’ mindfulness retreat, it encourages teachers to meditate and breathe in silence, including at lunchtime during a period of ‘Noble Silence.’ It fosters confidence, morale, and reminds teachers to slow down and focus on the present task than on all the chaos. Teacher mindfulness can positively influence students as well. Breaks from classes or set meditation periods can help ground students and increase focus, attendance, and better social behavior.


The Mountain Cloud Zen Center teaches beginners to focus on their breathing during meditation and provides guidelines on their website for how to best practice. Among these are to maintain a daily sitting practice and sit still on either a chair or cushion, and pay attention to the present moment. Practitioners are encouraged to wear comfortable clothing, welcome every state of mind during this time, and be kind towards themselves as they practice letting go. After beginners master meditation, they are introduced to koans. According to Henry, “Koans are able to untie things we didn’t know were tied and to open things we didn’t know were closed.” One of the most famous that beginners are introduced to early on in their practice is:

“You know the sound of two hands clapping. What is the sound of one hand?”

Mountain Cloud's raised meditation seating

Mountain Cloud’s raised meditation seating

Through training, beginners learn that Zen is a moment by moment practice, and is about self-reflection and living in awareness. People gain peace of mind and an appreciation for life through routine practice, no matter how long is spent in meditation. It regards itself as not a religion, but a practice of meditation that can be integrated in all aspect’s of one’s life, including business. This allows itself to have far-reaching effects in the West because it is easy to adopt. There are no deities, belief systems, and not a lot of ritual. It is truly a non-monastic practice. As Yamada Ryoun Roshi says, “Sanbo Zen is really true Zen, independent of any divisions,” and is compatible with any faith or none at all.

The center’s website offers a range of free resources for beginners, including intro to Zen talks and a Zen podcast series that is also available on iTunes. The podcasts are influenced by the center’s Thursday evening ‘teishos,’ or dharma talks. These teach students to practice listening, offer core Zen training, and supports the center’s Prison Project to work with inmates, the community, and international sangha. They provide training on the three fruits of Zen practice, present-moment awareness, the Buddha’s five hindrances and how to remedy them, and the three essentials of Zen practice: Great faith, great doubt, and great determination. The website also features a bulletin that is updated regularly with messages from Henry that discuss dharma and Buddhist teachings.


Master Yamada Ryoun Roshi, left, and Associate Zen Master Henry Shukman recite a re-dedication together

Master Yamada Ryoun Roshi, left, and Associate Zen Master Henry Shukman recite a rededication together

Two years ago, Mountain Cloud celebrated its 31st year amid a crowd of over 100 people with a rededication to represent a re-awakening of the center. The ceremony began with a teacher using a feather from a calligraphy pen to symbolically open the eyes of a statue Buddha sitting on an altar. There were knocks on woodblock, the ringing of a bell, and the chanting of the Heart Sutra to honor its founding teachers, in accordance with its Sanbo Zen values. Yamada Ryoun Roshi of Japan headed the ceremonies and commemorated the connection between the center and its Sanbo Zen lineage of Zen Buddhism. He spoke of his father, Yamada Koun, and of his desire for Mountain Cloud to become the principal center for the Sanbo Zen in North America. Yamada Ryoun Roshi honed in on his father’s will, expressing that he places a great importance on expanding Sanbo Zen in America and especially from the Mountain Cloud Zen Center. Just last year, he led the North American Sanbo Zen Sesshin, an annual five-day silent meditation retreat, and with it, encouraged the center to participate in this large gathering of both Western and non-Western Buddhist practitioners.


The Zen Center entered mainstream politics over the summer during the uproar of the separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Henry Shukman added his signature along with over 200 others, to a statement produced by Western Buddhist teachers that addresses the US Customs and Border Protection’s practice and calls for an end to the practice. It condemns the practices as a contravention of basic human rights and as “against the principles of compassion and mercy espoused by all religious traditions.” In response, it suggests defenders visit border crossings and child detention centers to experience the effects of their decisions. Eventually the statement was posted on as a petition so others could add their signature.

Works Cited

Website: Mountain Cloud Zen Center
Facebook page: Mountain Cloud Zen
Google Plus: Mountain Cloud Zen Center, Santa Fe

  1. “Explorer’s Guide to Santa Fe & Taos: A Great Destination (Eighth Edition) .” Explorer’s Guide to Santa Fe & Taos: A Great Destination (Eighth Edition) , by Sharon Niederman, Countryman Press, 2013, p. 117.
  2. U.S.-Mexico border dispute
  3. Calligraphy with Kaz Tanahashi
  4. Mountain Cloud Zen Center and Henry
  5. Rededication Ceremony
  6. Rio Grande Mindfulness Institute
  7. “Insiders’ Guide to Santa Fe.” Insiders’ Guide to Santa Fe, by Nicky Leach, Insiders’ Guides, 2010, p. 288.