Arcata Zen Group in Humboldt County, CA
The Early Years
The Arcata Zen Group began sometime in the early 1970’s. Lloyd F., an HSU professor, recalls sitting in the old Arcata Creamery. Other long-time sangha members have mentioned a place they called “The Falling-Down Garage Zendo.” Ta Hui, Donald Gilbert, a Korean Zen master, was Lloyd’s teacher and a visiting teacher to the group. The group persisted as a loose-knit and low-key assemblage, moving from place to place until it found a fairly stable address in a small out-building, rumored to have once been a chinchilla farm, on Lloyd’s property on California Street. Various visiting teachers came, including Issan Dorsey, Donald Gilbert, Steve Allen, Ed Brown, and Maezumi Roshi.
Evolving Sangha Life
In 1989, Maylie Scott, a priest at Berkeley Zen Center, was invited to visit, and soon we agreed that she would come up every other month to lead a retreat, and that this contract would be reviewed at the end of the year. One year led to the next and one-day retreats turned into three-day sesshins. Lloyd moved to a larger property in northern Arcata and generously continued to host group retreats. The core group of about a dozen members began to grow and rented the Aikido Center, behind the Arcata Plaza, for Sunday morning meetings.
The group began to acquire a distinctive life. A number of retreats were held in beautiful natural settings. There were backpack retreats, and trips east to Sandy Bar on the Klamath and Salmon Rivers. The annual Big Flat retreat, walking eight miles north along the beach from Shelter Cove, was established. A practice committee was established, which met monthly to discuss organizational issues. Gradually, the group began to think about the future. How could we have our own property? We began looking around.
Rinshin-ji – Forest Heart Temple
Everything was ready when Maylie decided to move to Arcata in 1998. Immediately after she announced her decision, a member ran into a friend who was about to put his newly remodeled house at 740 Park Avenue, with its triple car garage, on the market. Maylie made a special trip to see it, and all agreed it was just right and that the garage would make a great zendo. The house never went on the market. It was almost another year before Maylie moved to Arcata. In the meantime, the house was rented, with the stipulation that we could use the downstairs room for retreats.
We made the bold decision to begin the garage-to-zendo remodel right away. The decision was wonderfully strengthened by the appearance of a new member who was a carpenter and contractor. Rob agreed to take the project on, along with his partner Dan, and was happy to accept whatever volunteer labor came along. The arduous process of permit seeking began and in November 1999 construction began. We elected a Board of Directors and established 501(c)(3) status. Money poured in and the zendo, to be named Rinshin-ji, was mostly finished in April of 2000, when Sojun Mel Weitsman came up for the formal opening ceremony.
In 2001, shortly after Maylie’s death, a sangha member reflected, “In a Dharma talk that Maylie gave in March of 2001 she refers to Bodhidharma’s words on the how and where of authentic practice. Bodhidharma said, by pointing directly to your own heart, find Buddha.’ Rin Shin-ji or Forest Heart Temple is the name Maylie, with some help from Kaz Tanahashi, gave to the zendo. In doing this, she was designating more than a place. She identified a spirit of place and practice, the refuge of Buddha that we have inherited and continue to nurture. It is not subject to life and death or zoning regulations but is not separate from them either. Maylie had great faith in a future that would fall into place naturally. By pointing directly to her own heart she showed us what we need to know.”
Arcata Zen Group continues to evolve, exploring new directions, such as prison sangha practice and founding a local Buddhist Peace Fellowship chapter, as well as new dimensions of sangha practice. After Maylie died, we asked Alan Senauke and Angie Boissevain, Maylie’s dharma friends and colleagues, to be our visiting teachers and advisors, with the understanding that we would be looking for a long-term resident teacher. In addition, Mary Mocine has been a regular visiting teacher in the years since Maylie’s death. Mark Lancaster, from San Francisco Zen Center, was also a regular visiting teacher. In 2014 we hired Eugene Bush, from Santa Cruz Zen Center, as our Head Teacher. Arcata Zen Group is thriving under Gene’s leadership and example.
In the years since Maylie’s death, we have matured as a community with the support of a strong Practice Committee and Board of Directors as well as from members who have stepped forward to lead in other vital roles. Two members have taken vows as Zen priests and a number of members have received lay ordination. The spirit of practice is anchored by zazen and the supporting roles of a growing and dedicated sangha. Gene encourages us to discover and enact the richness and engagement available in sangha life. We feel very lucky to have him with us here on the north coast.
Now we offer a full schedule of morning and evening zazen, with appropriate devotional services, Monday through Friday. Additionally, our offering to the community on Sunday mornings includes zazen and teachings. We have at least 5 sesshins each year as well as a Winter/ Spring Practice Period and a Fall Study Intensive. Arcata Zen Group members participate in service activity for social justice such as with the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and by cooking for the local shelter. Careful stewardship of the natural environment is a practice that permeates all of our lives.
Please consider visiting us so that you might have your own first-hand experience of the warmth of this Forest Heart Temple.