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  • Writer's pictureStanislas Wang-Genh

Dharma Rain Zen Center

Updated: Jan 21

August 12-24, 2022

© 2022 Dharma Rain Zen Center

It takes four days to get to Portland, Oregon, from Vancouver Island, British Columbia (Canada). I cross the sea border on the MV Coho Ferry between Victoria and Port Angeles. From there, I got back on the saddle and followed the direction of Highway 101, which runs along Dabob Bay. I could have gone by the coast, it's nicer. But I have to get to the Dharma Rain Zen Center in time.

The community was established in 1986 by Kyogen and Gyokudo Carlson, both disciples of Jiyu Houn Kennett, the first woman authorized to transmit the Dharma in the West by the Soto Zen school.

Located in the street grid of the Maywood Park neighborhood, there is something invigorating about this place. I am immediately struck by the accessibility of this property, which has no gate or fence. On the alley that crosses it, we meet the characters of the neighborhood: cyclists, homeless people sometimes under the influence, parents, dog-sitters, etc. Some of them even devote some of their time to take care of the plants or irrigate the soil, which is very dry during the summer.

In short, a real place of passage.

In the center, the main building houses the zendo (meditation room). On the north side, a Zen garden whose architectural lines give both harmony and grandeur to the whole. On the south side, a huge garden where the wild grass creates an unstructured movement in the middle of a very well kept vegetable garden. By lingering a little, one can contemplate hummingbirds whirring from flower to flower or fierce rabbits running between the feet of the sunflowers.

I recognize Zonnyo's bright smile. We had met at the beginning of my trip to New York State, at Zen Mountain Monastery. She had spent three months there as part of her postulancy. In a few days, Zonnyo will cut the last lock, as we say in our jargon. She will become a Zen nun. During my stay here, she is in charge of welcoming me and orienting me.

My box containing my practice things (kimono, juban, koromo, kesa, rakusu, besu, samue, incense) has not yet arrived. It has been traveling from monastery to monastery since I left. In the meantime, I will do zazen in samu-e and rakusu which I always keep with me.

I am staying in a small house that contains the essentials: a bed on a tatami floor, an altar where I can put my kesa, a table for writing.

"Essential". That's the word I would choose to describe this place, if there were only one box to fill. Or maybe "openness". "Breathing" would be nice too. You can feel the tranquility that flows slowly and freely into every corner of the temple.

Like a vibratory wave that watches over our wandering and brings us back strictly to what we really came for.

Here, true silence reigns. Even when words are spoken, they are immediately sucked into this silence that absolves us with a deep tenderness. When we speak, the voice is low and steady. When we look, the eyes are soft and present. As soon as I arrive, I already learn a lot from this silence.

Very quickly, I get to know the residents and Kakumyo Lowe-Charde, the abbot of the monastery. I feel welcomed. Codes and forms fall away very quickly. They are not really necessary. They give way to the evidence of the true encounter. The forms are when we don't know how to do otherwise. Here, we know naturally.

The relationships are sincere, we do not disguise reality in truisms.

We all suffer and that is why we are here.

Later, I will hear a teacher, addressing the retreatants of another monastery, ask: "Who among you has come because he was suffering? ...(hands go up)... And now, who among you realized when coming here that he was suffering?

Trying to hide the reality of suffering is a delusion. It's just layering. And how do you SEE underneath that clutter?

© 2022 Dharma Rain Zen Center

© 2022 Dharma Rain Zen Center

One morning, I see a homeless man sleeping on the stoop of the zendo. As I passed by, he woke up and asked to speak to the abbot. A little surprised, I asked one of the residents who confirmed that Kakumyo often talks to this man. He helps him.

As in most American monasteries, social involvement is important. This monastery clearly promotes the development of an ethic based on inclusion or this notion of "a home for all." The values are listed on kakemonos and developed in detail on one of the pages of the website.

In Europe, this is not the custom. We tend to leave social debates to the social world. Otherwise, from the point of view of European Zen, "it becomes politics. And anyway, Dharma expression is inherently inclusive." A phrase we often hear.

This is not to say that nuns and monks do not engage in social issues. But temples in Europe are generally not intended for that.

And until proven otherwise, no one has ever been turned away from a European temple because of their skin color, their religious or political beliefs, or their sexuality.

But American society seems to be so divided, especially in recent years, that it has become necessary to display the values to be respected in a place. This is perhaps the element that struck me the most during my journey across the country. American flag VS Rainbow flag/Black Lives Matter displayed on the front of houses.

Engaged Zen," already practiced by a few circles of practitioners around the world (Bernie Glassman and the Zen Peacemakers who did zazen in Auschwitz-Birkenau, for example), is a question that can be asked today. Especially in a society where things can change dramatically with the simple and strong action of an influencer.

In any case, I have the conviction, as a monk, that showing the zazen posture is the most beautiful way to help people.

We practice zazen and ceremonies. I observe with great curiosity the differences in the forms. I take many notes. It fascinates me.

At this time of the year, the rhythm is quite flexible. It allows me to spend time in the temple library to write an article for the magazine Buddhist Sagesses Bouddhistes le Mag.

The Dharma Rain Zen Center states that it is an "independent Soto Zen temple.

This is not the first time in the U.S. that I have seen a claimed independence from the Japanese Soto school (Sotoshu). Here, everyone is basically free to create their own school.

In France, even if certain communities refuse this attachment and function very well this way, the majority of Zen temples are registered with the Sotoshu.

Official recognition by the French authorities is of course one of the reasons for this. But it is not the only reason. A palpable need to return to the sources has been felt for the last twenty years. And very close ties have been forged between European temples and the Sotoshu.

Whether or not one is attached to the Sotoshu will lead to different forms of practice. In particular, the process of transmission can vary greatly from one temple to another, especially in the United States.

In some temples, nuns and monks (rather called priests) cannot marry, have a family life or a job. Unless they are already married when they become priests, in which case they can remain so. Otherwise, they devote themselves entirely to the community and the Dharma. While in other temples, it is possible to get married.

Also, the curriculum for becoming a priest may vary from temple to temple.

Curriculum to become a priest at the DRZC : 
- Jukai: precept ceremony. Participants receive a Wasega (a black band that is worn around the neck). 
- Zaike Tokudo: the teacher gives you a Dharma name and a rakusu without calligraphy. From there, a teacher-student relationship is established.
- Postulant for Shukke: for a period of 3 years. 4 white squares are sewn in the corners of the rakusu. The postulant does not yet wear a koromo and must make a 3 month retreat in a monastery. Three days before the ceremony, the postulant spends 3 days in a hut doing zazen. 
- Shukke tokudo: the teacher gives you the kesa, the rakusu, the bowls and the koromo. Your rakusu is calligraphed. 

In addition, one of the distinguishing features of the Dharma Rain Zen Center is the legacy of Jiyu Houn Kennett. Of British origin and Anglican religious background, she studied musicology for a long time before being trained in Zen in Japanese temples.

When she came to teach Zen in the United States in the late 1960s, she tinged Zen sutras with liturgical chant. Every Friday night, they sing vespers in tribute to Kannon.

This beautiful tribute recording is a fine example and a very nice way to conclude this review.

I thank Father Kakumyo Lowe-Charde and all the residents of the Dharma Rain Zen Center for welcoming me with such generosity and kindness. During my stay, I realized how much the essence of our practice, zazen, is common to us all. Even if the forms can be as numerous as the colors of autumn.

Corrections and proofreading: Catherine Forestier

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