Posts by Anne-Marie

Why I support Zen Center.

“I believe that throughout history monastic groups such as the Zen Center have survived through difficult times to care for and maintain the best products of human nature.”

The GriffinsJim and Pat Griffin are part of the diverse community that helps sustain Zen Center. Not only are they some of the original donors who helped kick off the Widening the Circle capital campaign, Jim also donates time in advising the Board of Directors on plans for improving the accessibility of Zen Center buildings.

I was delighted to be able to interview Jim to share with you his perspective on why they value and support Zen Center.

How did you first come to Zen Center?  What drew you?

Buddhism came to me fifty years ago in the form of a contract to build a Buddhist “Church” for the American Buddhist Churches of America (ABC), a Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land) form of Buddhism practiced by many early Japanese immigrants to California.
An interest in Buddhism developed and took me on a path that included two months studying with a Theravadan monk in Katmandu, assisting a Berkeley Tibetan Lama in the early stages of the construction of Odiyan, the Tibetan Temple in Mendocino County, and finally in the mid-seventies to Tassajara.  At the San Francisco Zen Center I found a practice that seemed to be the best expression of Buddhist thought in America that I had been exposed to.

 

What impact has Zen Center and Zen practice had in your life?

The study of Buddhism has contributed to a transformative experience for me and along the way fundamental changes have come about in my life and my approach to family, personal and business relationships.

 

Why did you decide to become a donor to Zen Center?

We want to do what we can to support and help sustain the economic health and growth of the organization.

I believe that throughout history monastic groups such as the Zen Center have survived through difficult times to care for and maintain the best products of human nature.

 

Zen Center celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2012.  With things today as they are, what kind of impact do you think Zen Center will have in its next 50 years?

I do believe that the only hope for the future is that a common understanding and practice of the teachings of Buddhism be integrated with one’s own historic persuasions.  I think the work of the San Francisco Zen Center can help.

 

Jim and Pat are just two of the many people who make up the Zen Center community. What about you? What impact has Zen practice had on your life? Why (and how) do YOU support Zen Center? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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A Monk’s Point of View on the New Tassajara Retreat Hall

It’s a building in the valley that creates a space to offer a whole vast variety of wholesome activities. It enriches the experience of being in the valley.”

Around this time of year there are many comings and goings at City Center, Zen Center’s urban temple in San Francisco. With the Tassajara guest season concluded, many students and monks are passing through.

So I was delighted one day to see and get to chat with Dan Belsky, Tassajara’s Head of the Stone Office in 2012. Dan has an unusual (and inspiring to me) dharma path. He was hired to the staff of Zen Center in 2007, fell in love with the community and practice, and has lived as a student at Green Gulch and Tassajara from 2009 until now as he departs Zen Center for new adventures.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Dan, you may have read about him in a recent Sangha News article that mentioned his lay ordination and memorable dharma name, “Joyful Lion Boundless Heart”; a name, I find, he fully inhabits.

I was curious about how the Retreat Hall, the first major project of the Capital Campaign to be completed and put into use, was affecting life in the valley, and wanted to find out about his experiences with it.

 

Anne-Marie: The primary reason for building the Retreat Hall was to provide better space for retreats and workshops. What have you heard about the benefits of the Retreat Hall for guests?

Dan: I think there were about 16 workshops in July. That’s huge. You can only do that because there were two places people could meet.

So many people would tell us, “The new retreat hall is so good for what we’re doing. And it’s cool, not hot.” People [used to] say the yurt was uncomfortably hot. I never heard any negative feedback from retreat leaders. I think people are really happy with it.

The cork makes a soft floor; it is really good for yoga. All kinds of retreats were in the large room [not just yoga.]

 

Anne-Marie: The retreat hall has been completed since the summer of 2011. What were some benefits during the practice period?

Dan:  It was so nice to use it in the mornings when it was cold during sesshin. We had an hour break and to go there and stretch was priceless.

Before the Retreat Hall you only had your room which was cold. To have a heated structure [passively heated by piping hot spring water through the floor]… some people thought it was too much luxury. In my eyes it’s just being clever.

 

Anne-Marie: And did residents continue to use it during guest season?

Dan:  When a workshop happens the yoga teacher can invite students to participate in it. Because the space is so big, they can invite more students to join the workshop. That makes a big difference and supports the students. It was wonderful.

I play guitar and… oh man… I don’t know if it’s an appropriate place to practice, but it’s a great place to practice. The small room has such good acoustics. I ended up jamming with a guest this summer. He brought a rare, one-of-a-kind, 1950s guitar. We ended up jamming for an hour and a half in the small room and it was so much fun. And practicing for skit night, that was key. You need a place to practice.

We had our community meetings in there. It used to be held in the dining room, which was not big enough. We were able to have more community meetings; we usually have two and this summer we had five [which we were able to do] because it was such a comfortable space.

 

Anne-Marie: When there was a special sesshin for the 50th anniversary in May, the Retreat Hall was converted into a zendo for residents to practice. How was that experience?

Dan:
It was very nice. The Ino came up with it and I found it to be really peaceful. It was away from the central area. You weren’t listening to the kitchen, or to the samovar. You typically hear those sounds when you’re in the zendo. It was surprising… I didn’t think it was going to be a good place to sit, but it was wonderful. I kind of missed it when we moved back to the zendo.

 

Anne-Marie: In general, how has it affected the valley?

Dan:
The Retreat Hall helps attract a wider range of people to come and it allows for bigger events to happen. Many people come and say, “I feel this settled peaceful energy when I come here. “ Or, “It’s my first time here and I really feel this settled.” Anything in a wholesome way to bring people into the valley is doing [Zen Center’s] mission.

What it is … What is a retreat hall? … It’s a building in the valley that creates a space to offer a whole vast variety of wholesome activities. It’s just one part of that, that enriches the experience of being in the valley.

I thought it was a really good idea to build it. It is a good thing in my humble opinion.

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Completed Campaign Project: Green Gulch Farm Passive House

Completed Campaign Project:
Green Gulch Farm Passive House

Identifying the necessity for more and better student housing nearly a decade ago, Zen Center has completed a building to meet the needs of Zen students who have chosen to devote their time and energy to residential practice at Green Gulch Farm.

Green Gulch Farm Passive House

Green Gulch Farm Passive House

The focus of this project is to meet the housing needs of eight mid-level staff, allowing them to make room for new students.

The architectural firm of JSW/D was engaged to design the structure, led by Helen Degenhardt, and Ken Sawyer, a former Green Gulch resident and principle of Sawyer and Son Construction was the project contractor.

From the beginning of the long-term vision and restoration plan for Green Gulch, the Green Gulch Farm community has been fully engaged in discussions regarding the design process of the student housing, and their requests and needs were folded into the architectural drawings.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held in October 2010 and an opening ceremony was held in September 2011.

A First in California

This building is the first multi-person dwelling to be certified as a passive house in the state of California. Passive housing design results in an energy consumption decrease of 90% over normal to-code buildings.

The completed project will be assessed by an organization called Build-it-Green, which will give Zen Center a green score based on items such as gray water runoff and the use of recycled materials. This score will serve to set a standard for all future Zen Center building projects, allowing us to measure the success of our intentions and commitment to sustainable practices.

Although this project is complete, we are continuing to raise funds to undergo significant remodeling to Cloud Hall, the residence for newer residents and practice period students. Learn about the Cloud Hall project.