News and updates from the Tenpyozan building project
Building and Land
By Juntoku McCoy, Tenpyozan Project Coordinator
Roof and Building

The carpenters are making steady progress on the Tenpyozan meditation hall. The roof decking has passed inspection, and waterproof roofing paper is going on just in time for our rainy season. This should make the building dry enough to work in the interior through the winter. In Spring, a second waterproofing layer will cover this first, then the whole roof will be covered in tile.     

There is still time to dedicate a Tenpyozan roof tile;  for more information, click  here .

Next steps for this building include the installation of the fire-sprinkler system, and fitting the California-mandated earthquake reinforcing and thermal insulation into the space inside the Japanese-designed exterior walls. We are fortunate that our carpenters continue to rise to the various challenges of the project.

With the hope that rains are on the way, we are preparing the site for winter again. This means cleaning culverts, placing erosion control wattles, and remembering how to read the rain-guage. The State of California mandates that active construction sites take serious measures to prevent polluting storm runoff; each rain over one inch requires we follow a “rain event action plan”, outlining monitoring and inspection of the site, measuring the rainfall, and testing the water flowing through the site for possible contamination. Every big rainstorm costs a couple of hundred dollars in professional services, and an hour or more stomping around in soggy boots. But the frogs, salamanders, and struggling pelagic fish seem to think it’s worth it, and building temples would not mean much if we were not good stewards of our watershed.

"Every big rainstorm costs a couple of hundred dollars in professional services, and an hour or more stomping around in soggy boots."


More than a year ago, wildfire swept through our watershed, which thankfully was not a disaster for our infrastructure. I’ve written before about our fire-dependent ecology and the lush regrowth of the forbs and grasses. What impresses me in this season is an abundance of acorns. This year’s acorns are big and tasty-looking, even on the most scrawny and contorted of the Blue Oaks (Quercus douglasii). When seeing these shiny plump acorns, one cannot help but think they look like something good to eat––and when processed by knowledgeable hands they are tasty and nutritious.

Looking out at the abundance of available food in our mixed oak woodland, I cannot believe this landscape is some wild accident. Any gardener who has seen a head of romaine lettuce next to it’s prickly wild progenitor can tell you that this food is a result of deep culture. With this eye, these acorns are just as sure a sign of this land’s past inhabitants as are the old brick chimney and feral daffodils across the road. All of us here now, people and daffodils, are recent arrivals in this ecology and we still have a lot to learn the language and local customs.

It vexes me to no end when I think how our European and American predecessors here were too greedy or ignorant to recognize the profound and subtle cultures that created this landscape. As we approach the ‘Thanksgiving’ holiday, I implore you to critically reexamine our tired pilgrim story, and to seek out ways to protect the tenacious remnants of native ecology in your watershed... and more importantly, to seek out and respectfully support the communities of indigenous people who are fighting to continue the true and sacred story of this Turtle Island.
The Right Tools in the Right Hands
By Chris Douthit, Tenpyozan Volunteer

Many hands, minds, and hearts, including those of skillful craftspeople and artisans, have come together to create Tenpyozan.

Michael O’Hara, carpenter and builder, is one such expert.  Mr. O’Hara notes the importance of the project to the head carpenter, Higo-san.  As a fellow carpenter, Mr. O’Hara says he “would like to help him realize the completion of his work.”

The passion for traditional Japanese carpentry that Mr. O’Hara first discovered in books led him to leave his home in Hawai’i to work for a Japanese carpenter in California.  He then deepened his commitment to the craft by working with a traditional builder in Kyoto, Japan, for ten years.  Of his time in Japan he said, “I was really lucky to have gotten this opportunity.  Most carpenters, even those born and raised in Japan would not have the chance to work at this high level.”  He now brings this wealth of experience and practice to the creation of Tenpyozan.

  “I try to use all the tools I have.  I read once that not using a tool is an insult to the person who made it.”

His family and the intricacies of the craft are his motivators .“I’m really passionate about doing good work; the best work.”  This shows through his dedication to interesting projects and the care he takes for his tools.  Working with good tools, he said, is addictive. “I try to use all the tools I have.  I read once that not using a tool is an insult to the person who made it.” His respect for the tools of the trade and the craft itself imbues the work he does, not onl y with beauty, but also a sense of the sacred.

Mr. O’Hara’s dedication to his craft and to the extended Tenpyozan community is a great asset to this project.
What is Ango?
By Rev. Taihaku Seiren Priest, Shao Shan Temple, Vermont
Editor’s Note: Tenpyozan is being designed to provide opportunities for 3-month intensive retreats called “Ango” which are a central component of year-round temple life. We invited Rev. Taihaku to explain more about what Ango is, and its importance to Zen practice.

The foundations of a Zen priest are formed through the carefully structured activities of Ango.

In many respects, Ango is the Buddhist equivalent of the seminary experience of other religions.  The Soto Zen Order requires priests to receive training-in-residence at a priest-training monastery, such as Tenpyozan, in order to be acknowledged and authorized to hold responsibilities as religious leaders in their communities.

The Ango discipline prepares priests to uphold the practices as taught by the Buddha and Dogen and promotes values and conduct which are in accord with Buddhist understanding.  The skills a priest will need when returning to their temple are learned through repeated use.

"During the Ango, monks are immersed in a communal life of spiritual practice, and a pure mind and heart are chiseled by the rigors of the schedule and supported by zazen the dharma community." 

During the Ango, monks are immersed in a communal life of spiritual practice, and a pure mind and heart are chiseled by the rigors of the schedule and supported by zazen the dharma community.  Contact with the outside is curtailed and the secular world falls away.  The individual is stripped of exterior re-enforcements which we customarily rely on to define who we think we are.  This unique environment allows one to experience the simple core of existence, free from the constraints of personal identity.  Monks are faced with their own actions, attitudes, and how they affect the monastic community within which they practice.

The schedule and rules of conduct do not allow for personal likes and dislikes.  In the traditional Ango structure, monks sleep and eat in the meditation hall, and attend services throughout the day.  Sleeping time is minimized and there is little or no free or unscheduled time.  Private space disappears.  One learns to put aside self-orientation.

As preferences fall away, one realizes that it is possible to have a vivid and meaningful life with very few possessions or material comforts, or even a worldly identity.  So much of the security that is often valued and sought after in life becomes irrelevant.

The condition of mind and heart becomes priority.  The mind becomes free from fear and the hindrances which accompany fear.  One realizes true freedom.

At Tenpyozan, which is architecturally and organizationally structured to be certified as a priest-training monastery, the traditional Ango experience will be available to Soto Zen priests from all lineages and from all countries of the world.  Through these Ango programs, leaders will arise who will be prepared to serve our national and international communities.

What is Tenpyozan ?  

Tenpyozan is an international Soto Zen training and retreat center being constructed 3 hours north of San Francisco, in Lake County, California, under the guidance of Rev. Gengo Akiba. Its mission is to support, encourage, and facilitate the international transmission of Soto Zen Buddhism by offering training for Soto Zen clergy and opportunities for formal practice, cultural and religious study, and community fellowship for both clergy and laity.
There's a place for you at Tenpyozan!  

Tenpyozan's activities are mainly carried out by volunteers, and we'd love to have your participation. You might work on the land, write articles for our newsletter, lend your carpentry skills, help raise money or assist in other ways.  For a current list of volunteer activities, please  contact us .
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