A Deep and Enduring Love
Featured in Mountain Record 28.3, Spring 2010
The first time I met Daido Loori was on a wintry day in February of 2000, when snow was piled high around the Monastery. I had promised my class a field trip to a “real Zen” training center as a highlight of our senior seminar in “Buddhism and Ecology.” We had driven five hours through increasingly blizzard-like conditions from Burlington, Vermont to Mount Tremper and were very glad to finally arrive for dinner that Friday night. Daido greeted us warmly and invited us to meet with him the following afternoon, after the students had tried a little zazen and been for a walk along the river with Ryushin. They were, of course, full of questions about Zen, for which Daido commended them. But I was even more interested in hearing about Daido’s lifelong interest in nature and his personal concerns for the health of the environment. Here was a Zen teacher who connected the dots from Dogen to deforestation, who loved this place in the Catskill Mountains, and who wanted to spend time with my young environmental studies students from University of Vermont.
I now know that Daido’s love of the mountains was established long before he founded Zen Mountain Monastery. At the point when I first visited, he had been going up to the Adirondacks for forty-five years. “I would drive up from the Jersey shore several times a year and spend weeks hiking the trails, climbing the mountains, canoeing the rivers. My sons, before they were two years old, had their first experience of the wilderness [t]here.” Over the years Daido came to know these wild areas intimately, camping alone or with others, heating his coffee over a small fire near his tent, ever alert for local animal visitors. When he was thinking of starting a new Zen training center, it was his good fortune to find the 250-acre Mount Tremper property. Here, at the confluence of the Esopus and Beaverkill Rivers, were pine and hardwood forests, ponds, streams, cliffs, caves, and waterfalls, all surrounded by the Catskill Forest Preserve. As Daido explained to my students, the MRO Board of Directors, in the original articles of incorporation, recognized all sentient and insentient beings on the property as sangha, designating eighty percent of the lands as “forever wild” to protect these beings. I knew of no other Zen center with such an ecologically grounded view of practice. I couldn’t have been more delighted.