MR: Many of us find ourselves in the same dilemma—having outgrown the space provided, we continue to expand into the environment. How can we nourish while we take away? Can we know when to stop?
RO: That’s the question of sensible growth. What is the purpose of the growth? What are we creating through taking the materials from the environment? No matter how meticulous we are, we will be using resources to create the things we need. The questions that follow are, “In what spirit are we doing this?” and “What will we give back?” This is not a simple equation. It’s a real challenge. It’s the responsibility of each of us involved to take up these questions.
The practice of oryoki is a good example of this. When we take a meal, we begin with a service in which we focus our minds on this action—an action of ending some life, of taking from what the world has to give. We acknowledge that fact and its necessity in order that this life, my life may continue. In this, we become responsible or indebted to the world. It’s not that we can replace what was taken, but we can perpetuate that same spirit of harmony and generosity.
What does it mean to grow? As we truly mature and can appreciate the richness of the world, I think we become less dependent on creating a sense of security through getting things—through greed. When we get to the place of deep satisfaction and contentment that arises through seeing things clearly, seeing our own nature clearly, we don’t have to buffer or protect ourselves. When we become attuned to our place in the world, decisions like creating a new building can be clearer and not driven by personal greed or self-centeredness. What always comes up for me is the question Daido Roshi often poses: What is the purpose of this Monastery? There is only one—to offer the dharma.
The teachings will still be dharma, but the venue may change with the new building. It may be a brushwork exhibit or a shakuhachi performance, for example, because this work turns the mind in a certain way, asks particular questions. But it’s actually a continuation of the various retreats we already offer, such as yoga or Zen and Psychotherapy or the kids program—retreats designed to reach a diverse group of people in as skillful a way as possible. Some things touch more directly and intensely than others. Ultimately one can offer dharma in any context, if the teacher is skillful enough. I feel this is a maturation of Daido Roshi’s vision of the arts as a vehicle for teaching—it’s a thread that has run throughout his life, along with his love for and attention to the environment.
Creating this building has been a learning process in terms of environmental ethics in action. And it shows us how much more there is to learn, particularly about the production and use of energy through alternative sources—from the sun, earth and air—such as photovoltaic, geothermal, and wind energy. We are deeply connected to this mountain and so this building is an expression of our commitment to attending to our environmental impact.
MR: What are the architects bringing to this whole process?
RO: The selection process for architects involved four teams, all qualified and experienced in green design. But there was something specific about Frances Halsband—of H.M. Kliment & Frances Halsband Architects of New York City. When she met us and started hearing about the project, although she has been involved with many other environmental projects—such as the Dartmouth College Roth Center for Jewish Life and the Yale University Sterling Divinity Triangle, as well as the visitor’s center for the FDR Library in Hyde Park, NY—the spirit of what we are trying to create here stirred her personally and professionally. That’s the factor that made us choose them.
The architects’ approach to the building is very commonsensical. They take care of the basics first—how to position the building with respect to light and the seasons in order to use the sun’s energy and how to use basic materials, such as stone, to absorb and recycle heat. The next step is to create a meticulous envelope—how the building is embedded in the ground and wrapped up with insulation in order to minimize loss of energy. Then the shift is to production of geothermal energy, utilizing the constant temperature underground to maintain the temperature in the building, thereby minimizing the need for heating and cooling. Next is the use of photovoltaic energy—converting sunlight into electricity. At this point, it looks like we might actually be able to be fossil fuel free. We may collect rainwater, but the mountain provides us with plenty of water—the spring is continuously overflowing.
With the conceptual phase completed, we’ll now be paying close attention to the LEED certification standards, which are rigorous. They cover a wide range—from what chemicals are in the plywood to how far from the source the lumber has been harvested. Our goal is to be certified at the most rigorous level—platinum. We’re also learning that cost-wise, this is very doable.
The building’s design echoes the real needs here. The architects spent time observing us to see how we live, how we actually function here—as a retreat center hosting a large influx of people each week, as a residential monastic center with the regular weekday schedule, and as a place for hosan, time off. There remain many questions to address, such as the pitch and collar of the roof, the degree and placement of stone, the accents of the building. Essentially, to what degree can the Dragon Hall be in harmony with the Monastery, as well as the mountain? With each detail—a single curve of a particular wall, the placement of a window, the slope of the path outside—we ask, “What is its function?” and “Is it in harmony with the world around it?”
Konrad Ryushin Marchaj Osho has received denkai (priestly transmission) in the Mountains and Rivers Order. He has been studying with Daido Roshi since 1987 and entered residency in 1992. He is the director of operations and public relations for Zen Mountain Monastery.
Karin Jinfu Connelly has been an MRO student since 2000 and is currently in residency at ZMM, working as Mountain Record Editor.