Posts from the “Updates” Category

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?

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?

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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Campaign Updates

Groundbreaking for Green Gulch Passive House. Photo by Judith Keenan

Campaign Updates

Widening  the  Circle
a  vision  of  interconnectedness  and  possibility

Public Phase Summary: August 10, 2012
(Download PDF)

Update 3: October  22, 2010
(Download PDF)

Update 2: February 15, 2010
(Download PDF)

Update 1: October 21, 2009
(Download PDF)


White Papers

a  quiet,  yet  powerful  force  is  a  zen   master  arriving  at  the  airport

The First in a Series of White Papers on the Future of the San Francisco Zen Center
By Robert Thomas, San Francisco Zen Center President, November 20, 2009
(Download PDF)

the  zen  practice of balancing  the  books

The Big Picture on San Francisco Zen Center’s Long-Term Financial Sustainability
By Robert Thomas, San Francisco Zen Center President, June 2, 2010
(Download PDF)

Campaign Projects

View a list of all Widening the Circle Campaign Projects.

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Share Your Questions

Share Your Questions

As we build this website we try to address the most common questions we are asked about the Capital Campaign. I’m sure we’ve missed many possible questions, though.

So to help future readers, please ask any questions you might have that we haven’t yet answered.

Leave any comment or question you might have below or email us at and I’ll write back to you with the answer and incorporate the new information into the website.

Thank you for your interest and engagement in helping to make this communication space work for you and for all of our sangha.

with bows,


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A Quiet yet Powerful Force

a true story: a quiet, yet powerful force for good

The unlikely story of the arrival of a Japanese priest and the eventual flowering of a major cultural institution we call the San Francisco Zen Center is important to tell because it is a true story. It is a real-life story with real people. It is an inspiring story of dignity, love, patience, beauty, humility, perseverance, integrity, and personal vow. It is also a story that continues to evolve, unfolding in new ways in each moment.

We look around today and see the word “Zen” showing up across our consumer-driven culture in many ways that have little or nothing to do with anything approximating Buddhist practice. But this hardly diminishes the fact that in the five decades since the founding of the San Francisco Zen Center many of the practices, principles, and tenets of Buddhism are now commonplace, woven into the fabric of contemporary mainstream culture. Fostered by the spread of Zen Center teachers and those of other Buddhist schools and lineages, the practice of meditation and mindfulness now informs the lives of doctors, therapists, management consultants, students, athletes, coaches, songwriters, teachers, parents, and countless others.

I recently heard a story about a woman with terminal cancer who recently came to Green Gulch Farm. Her son brought her there for a two-day stay, and though she was not a Buddhist practitioner, she immediately declared, “I totally get the zazen thing.” She then settled into a very peaceful place, resting among the large trees and the coastal air, with the support of the practicing community, while the events of her life and a picture of the end of her life gradually came into clear focus. She left Green Gulch ready to face the remaining days of her life in a way that she would not have been able to without that experience. She died two months later as, according to her son, a calm and composed, “flag-waving Buddhist!” This is only one of countless stories that could be told of people who have come to Zen Center and Buddhist practice and somehow have found their lives changed forever.
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