wisteria crest stupas Roshi with Roshi

Shogaku Shunryu Suzuki-roshi (1904-1971) was a direct spiritual descendant of the great 13c. Zen master Dogen. Suzuki-roshi was a Japanese Zen priest belonging to the Soto lineage who came to San Francisco in 1959 at the age of 57. Already a highly respected Zen master in Japan, he was impressed by the seriousness and quality of "beginner's mind" among Americans he met who were interested in Zen and decided to settle here. He founded San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara (the first Zen training center outside of Asia). Also, this movement began many other affiliated Zen centers in America. Jakusho Kwong-roshi is a successor of Suzuki-roshi and Sonoma Mountain Zen Center was formed in 1973 to continue the Zen lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi and to make everyday Zen available to people world wide

Suzuki Roshi smiling

Suzuki-Roshi at San Francisco Zen Center
Suzuki Roshi Stupa

Suzuki-roshi's Stupa at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center

On April 29, 1984 Suzuki-roshi's family, Zen teachers and approximately 150 sangha members gathered at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center for the traditional Ashes Ceremony in memory of our founder Shogaku Shunryu Suzuki-roshi. This significantly confirms SMZC Genjo-Ji in manifesting the living lineage of the Buddhadharma. As an acknowledgement of this Suzuki roshi appeared as usual in the form of wind.

Trungpa in suit

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Trungpa's Stupa

Trungpa Rinpoche's Stupa at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center

Chogyam Trungpa (1940-1987) was widely admired as a meditation master, teacher and artist. Trungpa Rinpoche was born in eastern Tibet. An incarnate lineage holder in the Kagyu and Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, he was Supreme Abbot of the Surmang Monastery, where he received, at the age of eighteen, the degree of khenpo (comparable to a doctorate in theology, philosophy, and psychology). He came to the United States in 1970 and founded more than one hundred meditation centers worldwide. Trungpa Rinpoche is founder of Naropa University and Shambhala International.

Whenever visiting teachers and guests come to Sonoma Mountain in Santa Rosa, California, they are always invited for a lovely walk to the stupa in memory of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi. Once there, in the woods, in front of a large stone on moss covered ground, we offer incense, chant the Heart Sutra, and pour water over the large stone from the riverbed of Tassajara. Embraced by stillness, one senses deep affection and respect, shown by the small stones and personal objects placed there and the beautiful circles upon circles raked in the gravel.

From this quiet refuge we then walk back on a narrow footpath, out into gradual sunlight, and then turning right our guests are quite surprised to find a beautiful wooden stupa constructed Japanese style, in memory of the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The site is spacious, exposed, and all-encompassing; quite the opposite of Suzuki-roshi's stupa. We open the shrine, light the candle, strike the bell three times, bow, and offer incense. Now our guests are even more curious as they gaze into a photo of the Vidyadhara wearing a bright Japanese Zen koromo and a rakusu. That is a stupa for a Tibetan teacher doing here at a Zen center? And why is he wearing a rakusu?

Stupa Cermony

L-R; Noedup Rongae, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Jakusho Kwong-roshi and others at the Mahasangha Stupa Ceremony, October 1990.

Somewhere around 1969, at the San Francisco Zen Center, when I was there for some special event, I remember seeing Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche meet Suzuki-roshi for the first time. It left a deep impression on me. As Rinpoche approached Suzuki-roshi, he was unusually touched and tearful as he looked into Roshi's eyes. It was as if they had been together from lifetimes before, and now, auspiciously, had the good fortune to meet again. It was rare. A rush of memories, recognition, and then tears. At that moment, I was to learn that the True Way has no distinctions, no difference. And I hope I will keep that forever. When Suzuki-roshi died, it was a very hard time for many of us. After the service at the Zen Center, Trungpa Rinpoche began his talk by telling us intimately that not only did we lose a wonderful teacher, but we had lost a dear friend, and he sobbed and sobbed from his heart. Everyone broke into tears, long contained in zazen, in our efforts to stay calm so that we could carry on. So to this day, I was always grateful to Trungpa Rinpoche for showing us the rarity of human gratitude-that the heart speaks with no boundaries.

Thereafter, Kwong-roshi abbot of Sonoma Mountain, looked to Trungpa Rinpoche for strength and inspiration, especially during the early years when the Zen Center began. Trungpa Rinpoche visited, their friendship continued, and he invited Kwong-roshi to teach at the first Naropa summer program in 1974. In those days, it touched us to find photos of Suzuki-roshi placed on the altars of Dharmadhatu centers everywhere. and our students would also rush to attend all the public talks given by Rinpoche whenever he was in the area. Since then, there has been a warm feeling, a bond between sangha as one family. Students of Rinpoche would visit from time to time, and for the last ten years they have come regularly to do their individual retreats and to join us for zazen in the zendo. What is so wonderful is that spark of energy that continues to flow back and forth between us.

So of course, when the Vajra Regent gave us the Vidyadhara's relics in the Spring of 1988, it was obvious that we needed to build a stupa, and it was not surprising that many teachers of various traditions took part in the preparation. Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn chose this power spot as the site through his knowledge of geomancy. A Huichol Indian shaman, Guadalupe de Avila of Northern Mexico, surprised us one early morning, and walked with us to bless it. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche and his sangha joined us to purify the area late one night, as we sat in a circle watching the full moon appear over the mountain. These visits were auspicious and powerful, to say the least, as each sequence of events led to another.

Master thangka painter Noedup Rongae consoled His Holiness Khyentse Rinpoche on the appropriate images for the shrine. Paul Discoe, highly trained in Japanese temple carpentry, was contacted to design and build the stupa. Throughout this project, both sanghas gathered together many weekends to work on preparing the site.

Finally on October 28, 1990, hundreds of people gathered for the Mahasangha Stupa Ceremony. We were very happy that the Sawang came, and also Frank Berliner, Alan Schwartz, Sheila Sabine, and representatives from Vajradhatu. A year after, we gathered again to observe the Vidyadhara's Parinirvana Day on April 4.

Then last October, Barry Solomon of the San Francisco Dharmadhatu suggested that it would be nice to gather in the evening to practice Trungpa Rinpoche's Sadhana of Mahamudra. As the vajrayana students were looking forward to the experience of mahamudra on Sonoma Mountain, the zen students were curious and excited about it as well.

So crossing over into each others way of practice brings new energy and depth to our own. Just being together-exchanging stories about Rinpoche or Suzuki-roshi, laughing about ourselves, our practice, inspiring each other on the path-has been joyful and mutually supportive.

We welcome everyone to come visit, and join us on the path to realize the Buddha Way together.

Article by Laura Shinko Kwong written in Shambhala Sun May 1994