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sonoma mandala fog filled valley


Spring 2012 Sonoma Mandala Project

With the recent rain and the beginning of spring the Sonoma Mandala is blossoming.
The Zen Centerís Use Permit revision and new Meditation Hallís planning drawings have been submitted to the Sonoma County Planning Department for review and we are awaiting their response. Meanwhile we are hiring structural and civil engineers to begin work on the Meditation Hallís construction documents. We are also refining how the buildings will be used. After the Zen Center receives approval....read more

Interview with Paul Zengyu Discoe, March 10, 2009

by Neil and Lorna Myers

For our second interview with Paul Discoe, the designer of the Sonoma Mandala, we visited him at his Live Edge Studio in Oakland. From the moment we drove through the gate of an abandoned oxygen plant, we found our- selves surrounded by huge logs. burls, tall piles of planks, and mountains of chips. We waited in a showroom filled with striking tables, chairs, bowls, bookcases, objects made from local distressed wood, Paul later explained. He showed us into his office, and we began to talk....read more

Landscaping Team Visits SMZC, July 31, 2009

On the morning of July 31, Kwong-roshi,Shinko Kwong and ten members and friends of the SMZC sangha met with Christie Green and Richard Jennings of Santa Fe, New Mexico, here for a two-day visit to consider landscaping and water management plans for the Mandala project. Cam Kwong, who chaired the event, comments that ďwhat was exciting was the presence of so many people representing so many interlocking specialties -- architecture, hydrology, electricity, trees, ponds, landscape design, resources conservation, grant proposals, dharma practice and management -- to discuss the actual nuts and bolts of the project. Clearly everyone there was clearly committed. The energy in the room was palpable...read more

When the mandala governs
People are hardly aware that it exists
The mandala doesn't talk, it acts.
When its work is done,
People say, "Amazing! We did it all by ourselves!"
Tao Te Ching


The word "Mandala," meaning "circle” in Sanskrit, actually conveys many other ideas as well. It can also suggest the way time and space manifest in a single instant of creative energy. For Kwong-Roshi there is “a true Mandala that fully exists within ourselves, and that can help guide us to our own original stillness, which is always there. "

oak branchesRoshi has long envisioned creating a Mandala of buildings on Sonoma Mountain to continue Suzuki-roshi’s lineage and support authentic practice, dedicated to the protection and awakening of all beings, for the next three hundred years. Recently it’s become clear that the existing zendo (meditation hall), which does not meet county code requirements, must be replaced. Since the cost of renovation and retrofit would be nearly the same as building a new zendo, Roshi, with his Advisory Board, has begun the process of designing a Mandala master plan, which will also eventually include a kitchen, an office, a dining hall, and accommodations for staff as well as guests. The new zendo will be the first, central step. The complete Mandala will follow.

The process of realizing this Sonoma Mandala is already underway. Of course it will involve energetic, ongoing fundraising, on a unique scale for Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, coordinated by former residents and long-time sangha members, that could last many years. Renowned Master Temple Builder, Paul Discoe, a student of Suzuki-roshi's, has offered to work with Roshi on the distinctive design and traditional artisan construction of the Mandala buildings on Zen Center grounds.

Roshi often refers to the challenge he and his sangha faced when they first came to Sonoma Mountain thirty years ago. Now he understands that developing this new Mandala will be the second major challenge of his career.What will be most meaningful to him, he claims, will not only be the work of raising money, but the intimate commitment of numerous people cooperating on a complex, long-term task. As always, he says, it’s the authentic practice, the specific, focused, whole-hearted efforts of the Sonoma Mountain Sangha that will give this project its real significance. Their labor will be more than a matter of creating wood and concrete shelters; it will involve creating buildings that are actively living things. "We will make them live by how we practice in them,” Roshi observes.” And how we care for them will show exactly how we care for our true selves. That is the basic meaning of Mandala."

There will be many opportunities for well-wishers and sangha members to come together in support of this powerful vision. Key events to launch and sustain the Sonoma Mandala project will be announced regularly on this website. If you have ideas or expertise that you would like to contribute, please don’t hesitate to let us know.


We respectfully make this announcement to all buddhas in the ten directions, to sages and monks in the heavenly and human worlds, to the eight types of guardians in the dragon realm, and to generous men and women. We wish to construct a training hall with donations, however small they may be, from people's pure heart.

The Bodhisattva Precepts Sutra says, "Children of the Buddha, you should guide sentient beings by constructing monasteries and building stupas in the mountains, forests, gardens, and fields. You should establish training halls for holding winter and summer practice periods for zazen and all other practices. You would be negligent if you failed to do so."

All temples and monasteries are practice places of buddhas. Buddhist monasteries in China are modeled after those in India. Japanese monasteries should follow these examples. Constructing a monastery is of great significance and its merit is profound; it has much to offer to people.

For some years now, ever since I returned to Japan from China, I have vowed to establish a monastery. But there has not been a place suitable to support monks' formal practice using bowls and robes. Now we have acquired an excellent place. It is located in the compound of the Gokuraku Temple near Fukakusa. We have named this place the Kannondori. Although it is still covered with weeds and not yet functioning, we plan to build a training monastery here.

The primary components of a monastery are a buddha hall, a dharma hall, and a monks' hall. We have a buddha hall and we do not have a dharma hall. But we urgently need a monks' hall. We need to build [describes size, platforms]sacred figure of Manjushri will be enshrined in the center of the hall, to be surrounded by the practicing monks.

The ancient practice of formally taking refuge in the three treasures together as a group in one hall is still alive today. Its merit is enormous and its effect is broad. We will thoroughly engage in each activity in order to cultivate fertile conditions to transform the ten directions.

We will acknowledge the gifts by installing the donors' names inside the sacred image of Manjushri. The enshrined names will form myriad syllables as seeds of wisdom illuminating everyone. Those who attain the way in this hall will be guiding masters of the people, and will not only reach the human realm, but beyond. They will transform beings in the heavenly realm and in the dragons' palace. Those in the realms of invisible and divine will also listen. Thus this dharma wheel transmitted from Shakyamuni Buddha will reach everywhere.

Respectfully yours, Abbot of the Kannondori Monastery
The 12th month, the 1st year of the Katei Era.
(Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen, ed. Kaz Tanahashi)

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Sonoma Mountain Zen Center
6367 Sonoma Mountain Road, Santa Rosa CA 95404