Alex Wright

Roshi's room

October 15, 2006

I'm spending a few days staying at San Francisco Zen Center, an urban monastery founded by Suzuki-roshi in 1962 and housed in a gorgeous Julia Morgan-designed building at the corner of Page and Laguna. Today, it is the largest Buddhist monastery on the west coast.

Zen Center seems to have a kind institutional split personality: as a monastery, it functions as a contemplative center for ordained residents; as an urban center, it also serves a larger lay community of more than 1000 members and passers-by like me. There are also a number of non-monastic residents who work regular jobs, getting up at 5am to practice, going out into the world, and coming back again to sit and study at night. The center also runs numerous public programs for lay students, secondary school students, prisoners, and homeless people. The whole situation creates an interesting tension between the formality and discipline of monasticism and the messy goings-on of city living.

Thanks to a friend, I was able to secure a guest room at the reduced members' rate. When I checked into room 48, I was surprised to find a whole little suite with a kitchenette, full bath, and queen bed. It was so much nicer than I expected that I wondered whether all the guest rooms were this well-appointed. Not so, it turns out. Thirty five years ago, my room's previous occupant had been a fellow by the name of Suzuki.

File under: Dharma

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