News and updates from the Tenpyozan building project
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Looking for an easy way to help with the Tenpyozan Building Project? Invite your Sangha members, friends, or other interested people to receive Tenpyozan Update newsletter each month, by signing up at or writing to us at
International Soto Zen Conferences and Meetings Hear of Tenpyozan’s Progress
By Myosho Kyle Brown and Chris Douthit

In September, Rev. Gengo Akiba, Tenpyozan founder and Sokan for North America, reported on the progress of Tenpyozan’s administration, construction, and fundraising to the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists (ASZB) at their conference at Zenshuji Soto Mission in Los Angeles.  He discussed the Tenpyozan project again at the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) biennial meeting in Minnesota. During these reports, he was supported by translator Rev. Gyokei Yokoyama, Tenpyozan’s Project Coordinator Rev. Juntoku McCoy, and Interim Development Director Rev. Myosho Kyle Brown.

Akiba Roshi shared that Tenpyozan has become a legal, nonprofit organization and has received its 501(c)(3) designation. This means that it is in charge of its own administration and finances and is no longer under the formal umbrella of the Oakland Zen Center.  Tenpyozan’s Board of Directors has also brought on Margaret M. Russell, Professor of Law at Santa Clara University.  She has served on the boards of many other nonprofits and her experience and skill will be a great asset to Tenpyozan’s development.

Construction of the Tenpyozan continues through the diligence of the master carpenters who will work through the new year.  Their next work will be to enclose the Monks’ Hall and do the carpentry to create its interior.  They also are working to protect the stored lumber until after winter and prepare the roof for its completion in spring.

Fundraising work continues, and it is bringing in new contributors and donors from around the world.  The local sangha continues to be the main leader in the effort and is the main fundraising engine.  We will soon be approaching major donors to match donations from the sangha.  Formally launched at the SZBA meeting, the Kawara-Gaki Roof Tile Inscription Project has been taken up by sangha leaders from around the country.  Many at the meetings also generously donated immediately upon hearing about the project.  We are writing a brief summary describing Tenpyozan’s history and role in Western Soto Zen to share with Western sangha leaders in hopes that it will inspire wider interest and discussion of this historic project.
Zen and the Cries of the World, part 2
By Jisho Siebert

This series explores why Tenpyozan is relevant to our world and its current suffering. The articles in this series are based on the author’s experience in over twenty years of work to prevent sexual and domestic violence worldwide, and eleven years as a student of Rev. Gengo Akiba.

How is training priests going to help with something like climate change, discrimination, or issues like racism and violence? This month, that question feels particularly relevant. I am spending a lot of time on the phone with loved ones in Haiti, as they put the pieces back together after hurricane Matthew.  What could a group of priests staring at a wall possibly have to offer?

More than we think. Haitian friends of mine could tell you some colorful stories about the zillion ridiculous flounderings of non-Haitians as we try to “help the Haitian people.” Often this topic in Haiti turns into a vivid storytelling session, which ends in laughter, shakes of the head, and a chuckled “thanks, foreigners” from listeners.

When Haitians tell me these stories, I take them as dharma teachings. I try to imagine myself listening as I sit at the feet of the Buddha. What are these stories but teachings about what works and what doesn’t to find liberation from suffering?

True transformation of human suffering begins with what we learn in Zen: seeing the world clearly as impermanent and interdependent.

  • If the world is impermanent, we do not expect our “help” to be completed exactly as we planned it, nor do we attach to its outcome. We simply watch and listen carefully and then act, because it is what the moment asks of us.  What else would we do? When we make a mistake, we simply apologize and change course, without justifications or excuses.

  • If the world is interdependent, we do not help someone because the other person is weak and we are strong; we help because none of us can be free when one of us is not free. You and I cannot yet be liberated until all sentient beings wake up with us. We have both problem and solution within us.

What happens when our attempts to alleviate suffering are not grounded firmly in this view of impermanence and interdependence? We burn out, we impose our will, we create a bigger cycle of suffering. For example, for many years I worked on sexual abuse crisis hotlines, and accompanied people who had been assaulted through medical and legal processes, as a support person. Staring totally human-created suffering in the face can make you angry. Anger as a motivator is tricky––it is excellent fuel, but Buddha didn’t call it one of the three poisons for nothing. I began to feel self-righteous and to believe that I would only personally be at peace once rape ended. Are you familiar with that thinking? “If x, then I will be okay.”  The result? You are never okay.

Have you ever tried to truly listen to someone when you yourself are not okay?

True Zen practice with a teacher does not always address these issues directly, but gives a model for living each moment, in which we are quiet and present to what the moment is asking of us. We see clearly the nature of the world, and the nature of suffering. What better place to begin, if we wish to heal the cries of the world, one moment at a time?

Note: If you would like to support hurricane Matthew response, please feel free to contact the author at

D edicate a roof tile at Tenpyozan 
By Juntoku McCoy

The tradition of kawara-gaki or 'roof tile writing' allows individuals and families to share in the merit of building a temple. Your name, or the name of friends, or even your business can be inscribed on the back of the tile before they are placed on the roof this spring. To dedicate a roof tile at Tenpyozan, click here.

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.