Building A Temple

On September 6th, I went to the ground breaking ceremony for Tempyozan Monastery near Lower Lake, CA. The Tempyozan Zendo Project is the culmination of a dream of Rev. Gengo Akiba, former representative of the Japanese Soto School of Japan and current Abbot of the Kojin-an Zendo in Oakland, CA. That’s him on the left in the picture.

In Japan, carpenters are building 5 traditional monastic buildings which will be disassembled, shipped to the United States and reassembled in the spring of 2013. Its completion will be a time of great excitement in both the Japanese and American Soto Zen communities. Rev. Akiba anticipates the monastery’s first training period sometime in 2015.

While it is true that this completed project will be a grand affair, it began as an idea, a dream and as we see in this picture a small mound of dirt in the center of four small saplings. This reminded me of the koan “The World Honored One Points to the Ground”, case 4 from The Book of Serenity. The story is simple. The Buddha was walking with his students. He stopped and pointed to the ground and said “This spot would be a good place to build a temple (or a monastery).” The God Indra, who was tagging along, stuck a blade of grass in the ground and declared, “The temple is built.” The Buddha smiled.

These are the daily occurrences of life, if we choose to recognize that each thing or being is a temple or a buddha. In the case of the Tempyozan Zendo there was a ceremony with incense, colorful robes and bells. In the case of our daily life, it is a breath taken or a  hand gently extended. To recognize this truth of each moment is to plant that single blade of grass over and over again.

What makes this act of placing a blade of grass a temple is not the Buddha’s presence or that Indra chose that particular blade of grass. Rather, in that moment, Indra understood that nothing is lacking. When nothing is absent in our life we are always present for the sacred manifesting in the ordinary. When nothing is lacking, nothing is rejected. This is what is called Big Mind or making a temple from a blade of grass.

If we are confused about this matter, we might think that the Buddha was suggesting his students build a huge monument where he was pointing. The beauty of the koan is that Indra was able to meet the Buddha mind/heart to mind/heart and immediately insert a blade of grass in the ground. The Buddha smiled. In this moment the temple was built; the teachings transmitted; compassion and wisdom reaffirmed. We long for this kind of connect with our life. That connect is never absent, yet we have to make an effort to turn toward it, to re-member our true situation. This is the meaning of awakening and actualizing the ordinary in each moment as a refuge for ourselves and others.

Rev. Shinshu Roberts

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