Empty Field Zendo

In 1999, Seido began sitting with “The Potter Street Group” held in the living room of Randi Getsushin Brox’s house in Eugene. There, she met her teacher, Kyogen Carlson, Dharma Rain’s co-abbot, who would visit the group monthly, giving talks, leading retreats and offering sanzen to this warm and intimate sangha. Seido became his formal disciple in 2001. Hogan Bays, of Zen Community of Oregon, would also visit the Potter Street group and give teachings. Around that time, Ejo McMullen, now resident teacher of the Eugene Zendo, joined the group, and was eventually given authority to lead the sangha, so the group enjoyed the diverse influence of different lineages. Not long after, the Eugene Zendo began doing summer retreats at Seido’s organic farm by clearing out the furniture from the large living room/office and turning the wood stove into an altar. Often the resident dog, Alex, would spend long periods of time staring in the glass doors curiously as we stared outward in zazen. Many found the samu of working in the fields deeply enriching.

As these summer retreats became popular, the idea was hatched in 2006 to build a simple structure to serve as a meditation hall. Ejo drew designs for the building, reminiscent of Japanese temples, on a napkin. The large engawa (wraparound deck) was an inspiration of Seido’s, as she had attended many winter practice periods at Green Gulch Zen Center’s beautiful rustic Green Dragon Temple. The day the work crew was scheduled to pour concrete footings, the exact position of the building in a secluded field called “the back triangle” hadn’t been decided. As Howard Kogen Housecknechts, a green builder from Kingfisher Construction, arrived on the scene, we knew we were in luck. Skilled in working with local freshly hewn wood and hand chiseled joinery, Kogen helped volunteers, over several years, construct a simple rustic structure. Donations and volunteer labor helped keep costs down. Enormous beams that span the 32’ x 16’ structure were donated by Kip Lohr, then of Bodhi Construction. The wood for much of the framing and engawa was milled locally from fallen trees. The siding was made from locally planed trees removed from residential properties in Eugene. No two pieces are alike. Many, many hands, both skilled and brand new to carpentry, went in to its creation.

Eventually, as Seido headed towards her transmission, the Empty Field Zendo became independent of the Eugene Zendo in 2008 and assumed direct guidance from Kyogen and his home temple, Dharma Rain Zen Center. The meditation hall began to serve the residential organic farm trainees who were interested in daily meditation and a local community member interested in learning to meditate. Seido continued to offer summer retreats and collaborate with other leaders. Guest teachers have included Sallie Jiko Tisdale, who led a women’s retreat, DRZC’s Kakumyo Lowe-Charde, who integrated QiGong into sesshin, and Abby Mushin Terris of the Sangha Jewel Zen Center, who continues to collaborate on a popular retreat over the Fourth of July weekend. Over the last several years of retreats, the zendo has developed its own flavor, bringing some ease to the intense sesshin practice. It offers a balance of discipline integrated with simplicity and communion with the natural world.

As some of the limitations of practice on the farm emerged (the distance from Eugene, seasonality, and accessibility), Seido was inspired in 2011 to begin a sitting group in Eugene closer to the community base in the area, an hour away. In addition to increasing week to week consistency and accessibility, Seido also wanted to begin finding ways of integrating an awareness of Western insight into psychology with Zen practice. The idea of Zen West was posed to Karen Aido Waskow, senior student of the John Tarant/Aitken Roshi lineage, who, as an MSW candidate, was also enthusiastic about the mission, and brought to the group a vibrant koan practice and sincere interest in applying the teachings in everyday life. Zen West began its first sitting in 2012 in Seido’s psychotherapy office on Fillmore Street. These gatherings mirrored the beginnings at Potters Street, as they were made up of a sincere small group of folks interested in practicing silence together and exploring Buddhist teachings in an environment of ease, mutual respect, and intimacy.

 ***

As the World-Honored One was walking with a congregation he pointed to the ground with his finger and said, “This spot is good to build a sanctuary.” Indra, emperor of the gods, took a blade of grass, stuck it in the ground and said, “The sanctuary is built.” The World-Honored One smiled.

The Verse

The boundless spring on the hundred plants;
Picking up what comes to hand,
he uses it knowingly.
The sixteen-foot-tall golden body,
a collection of virtuous qualities
Casually leads him by the hand
into the red dust;
Able to be master in the dusts,
From outside creation, a guest shows up.
Everywhere life is sufficient in its way,
No matter if one is not as clever as others.

[from the Book of Equanimity, case 4]