A place of peace

"Photo: Doyu, resident Buddhist monk at the One Drop Monastery in Freeland, sits before a scroll in the small, simple house that will be the Whidbey Island residence of Zen master Harada Shodo Roshi when the monastery is fully established. The words on the scroll are a Confucian saying: Benevolence rather than calculation leads to success.Find out moreThe One Drop Monastery is located at 6499 Wahl Road, Freeland. The grounds are open at any time during the day and the public is welcome to walk the trails and visit the lake. For information, call 331-4142; email deerpark@whidbey. com; or contact Doyu directly at sound of a wooden hammer striking against a heavy wooden plank reverberates through the muddy clearing, and carries far into the surrounding trees.The pattern of the sound is precise. The movement of hand and hammer is careful, mindful. Doyu, a young Zen Buddhist monk, is sounding the call to meditation from the steps of a newly constructed meditation center set in a quiet patch of Whidbey Island woodland.At the moment, there is no one to answer the traditional summons except Doyu and a fellow Buddhist practitioner, Shosan.But they expect their monastery to be open to the public early this spring. Then students of Zen Buddhism will come from far and near to practice and study there. Quietly, over the past four years, the One Drop Tahoma Monastery has taken shape on 60 acres of land west of Freeland, overlooking Double Bluff.Newspaper stories were written back in 1996 when Japanese Zen master Harada Shodo Roshi decided that Whidbey Island was exactly the right place to build a Zendo where Westerners could study and practice Buddhism. But since then, the work has proceeded so unobtrusively that most Whidbey Islanders have probably forgotten that a monastery devoted to the teaching of an ancient religion and philosophy is being built here.The first stage of the work is nearly complete, Doyu said, and he hopes to receive an occupancy permit from the county within the next few weeks. A dining hall, a kitchen, the meditation center and a house for the Roshi - teacher - are all but finished. There are two other structures, a yurt, and a small hermitage that is located out in the woods. There are plans for more living quarters and a larger hall to be built later, but for now, all that remains to be done, Doyu said, is to install a few items like exit signs over the doors to meet county safety regulations and qualify for the occupancy permit.Then regular meditation sessions will begin, and the Zen Buddhist community will look for ways it can help to meet the needs of islanders and others.The monastery is being built outside Japan, Doyu said, because Zen master Harada Shodo Roshi has been given the task of making a place where Zen Buddhism can be taught to foreigners, women and others who might find it difficult to practice the traditional Japanese forms. At the 300-year-old Sogen-Ji monastery in Okayama, Japan, where Harada Roshi has been Zen master for the past 18 years, 90 per cent of the students are foreigners who come there because of his ways of teaching. As a result, Harada Roshi now has a large following of students in the United States. The basics of the teachings are no different, Doyu said, but Harada Roshi has found ways to make the ancient philosophy more accessible to people from other cultures.Doyu, now an ordained monk, is one of those students. He left Southern California in 1988 to teach English in Japan, and then decided to spend a year in meditation at Sogen-Ji monastery.My year has lasted 12 years now, he said.Shosan, a lay practitioner, is also one of Harada Roshi's Western students. He left his home in Birmingham, England, to study Zen Buddhism in Japan in 1991. The two are the current caretakers and supervisors at the One Drop monastery. Once we have our occupancy permit, then people from Japan will come for longer periods, Doyu said. The Roshi already visits twice a year, and eventually he will be permanently based on Whidbey Island. As soon as possible this spring, the monastery will be open for morning and evening meditation - which includes the practice of movement, such as Tai Chi, meditation and chanting - on Sundays and Wednesdays. Tea will be served and there will be free discussion, as well. Weekend retreats and longer periods of meditation, called sesshins, will also be held.We're not only going to be a monastic community, Doyu added. The group plans to focus on ways it can help the local caregiving community, such as nurses, hospice workers and social workers. As the population in the world rises, all of us will be caregivers eventually. We are not well prepared for caring for elderly and dying people, he said.Special workshops and retreats are planned to help people in those professions go back to their work feeling rejuvenated and some members of the Buddhist community will certainly become hospice volunteers and social workers, Doyu said. For the moment, the public is welcome to visit the grounds of the monastery and walk around. They are welcome to visit us and ask questions about how they can participate, Doyu said.However, he said, We are not here as missionaries. We are here because of the number of students who want to be able to study with Harada Roshi.A Buddhist monastery has to be wanted by the community itself, he said, and the warm welcome his community has had on the island makes him feel that this one is. Western people are looking for refuge, they are looking to discuss with experienced practitioners about their own meditation practice. Many people have serious religious and spiritual needs.Those needs are addressed by ancient practices purposefully designed for clarifying our own essence, getting back in touch with our core, to tap into that great vitality and bring that vitality forward, Doyu said. The movement, meditation and chanting are well-tried ways of accessing deeper and stronger energies and internal wisdom.For that, a place to practice is essential, a place removed from the stresses and rush of everyday life, Doyu said, which is what the monastery is for. You need a sharp break through to get to a place of clarity, he explained. People need to be able to come for short periods of time to sharpen their minds and clarify their essence. ... It is all based on prayer as a way of enhancing our meditation practice, and enhancing our mindfulness."

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