Monastery celebrates 20 years of Zen on South Whidbey

Tahoma One Drop Zen Monastery’s Community Outreach Coordinator Jessica “Sokei” Leon (left) and Head Monk Tony “Dairyo” Fairbank (right) demonstrate portions of zazen

With the reverberating metallic sound of the rin gong, or singing bowl, meditation at Tahoma One Drop Zen Monastery in Freeland has begun. For the next two hours, those in the meditation hall will sit still, exhale and refresh their minds.

Tahoma has been a place for meditation and practicing Zen Buddhism for twenty years, a milestone the monastery will be celebrating as they look forward to many more.

The Tahoma One Drop Zen Monastery was founded in 1996 after founder Taigen Shodo Harada Roshi, the abbot of Sogen-ji, a Rinzai Zen training monastery in Okayama, Japan, visited Washington to meet with followers. He was visiting the One Drop Zen Seattle group when a couple he met mentioned they were looking for housing on Whidbey Island. He stopped by Whidbey shortly after, and found the South End to be the natural setting far enough from the city that he was looking for. Sixty acres of land was for sale in the Double Bluff area, and it was clear that the land would be Rinzai Buddhism’s next place of Zen training.

The Freeland monastery operates as a Zendo, where people come to learn and practice Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The Tahoma space is one of four Rinzai Zen monasteries in the world, the others located in Japan, Germany and India. The name “Tahoma” comes from Mt. Rainier’s ancient name in Native American cultures, as you can see Mt. Rainier from the monastery on a clear day. Buddhist monasteries are typically named after mountains.

While there are multiple Rinzai Zen Buddhist “groups” throughout the country, the monastery is the training ground for aspiring monks in the United States, since it allows for people to live on the grounds. While many go to Japan seeking one-on-one time with Roshi to learn his ways, aspiring monks have the ability to live and train right here on South Whidbey.

“This teaching is all about learning about oneself beyond the physical body,” said Jessica “Sokei” Leon, Community Outreach Coordinator at the monastery.

Over the years, the monastery has quietly built a healthy relationship with the South End by offering daily morning and evening meditations open to all. According to Tony “Dairyo” Fairbank, the head monk at Tahoma One Drop Zen Monastery, South Whidbey residents were happy to discover a Buddhist group was trying to purchase the land it now stands on back in the 90s, as opposed to commercial developers.

“We have a symbiotic relationship with our surroundings,” Fairbank said. “We’ve planted something that’s taken root and it’s a wheel around which an interesting community of people operate.”

One of the gifts the monastery has brought South Whidbey is the Enso House, a hospice care center next door to the monastery’s grounds. While the monastery wasn’t able to persuade the original homeowners to donate the home to them when it was put up for sale, a monastery regular and Greenbank resident offered to purchase the home and lend it to Tahoma. He doesn’t charge them rent, Fairbank said. Three people currently reside in the Enso House.

Those who can be seen working on the monastery are all volunteering their time, keeping in line with the Buddhist tradition of separating oneself from the desire of material things such as money.

“There is a huge volunteer effort from people who want to come together to create this space,” Fairbank said. “A lot of it may not make sense to many financially, but people do it all out of volunteerism.”

It’s in the spirit of altruism that Tahoma One Drop Zen Monastery has thrived throughout the years. Roshi’s teachings of selflessness are echoed throughout the grounds, and it’s evident in the way those who frequent the grounds talk of the monastery’s relationship with South Whidbey.

“This is much more about what the community has contributed to us,” Leon said. “We don’t outwardly seek people to come here, rather we are here for people who are looking for us.”

For those interested in partaking in daily meditation sessions, morning meditations are open to the public starting at 5 a.m. and ending at 7 a.m. The evening sessions are from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. It is recommended to arrive ten minutes prior to the start of the session. The monastery is located on 6499 Wahl Road in Freeland.