Dai Bai Zan - Cho Bo Zen Ji, or The Listening to the Dharma Zen Temple on Great Plum Mountain is a Seattle Zen Temple in the Rinzai Dharma line— a small, quiet and powerful part of the Pacific Northwest’s larger Buddhist community.
The temple was founded by the Zen Master Genki Takabayashi, after the Seattle Zen Center invited him from Japan to become a resident teacher in 1978. Prior to coming to the U. S., Genki Roshi directed a Rinzai temple in Kamakura, Japan. He first entered monastery life when he was eleven years old, and trained for nearly twenty years at Daitoku-Ji, the principal Rinzai temple, founded in the fourteenth century.
Genki Roshi retired from active teaching in 1997, and now lives with his wife in Montana. His work is continued by the current abbot of the temple, Kokan Genjo Marinello Osho, whom Genki Roshi had the foresight to fully ordain as a priest in 1990.
An American raised in Quaker tradition, Genjo Osho began practicing Zen in 1975 and was ordained an unsui (priest in training) in 1980. On January 10th, 1999, he was formally installed as the Abbot of Dai Bai Zan - Cho Bo Zen Jin. Since Genki Takabayashi’s retirement, Genjo Osho has begun training directly under the Venerable Eido T. Shimano Roshi, abbot of Dai Bosatsu Monastery in New York. Genjo is one of a handful of persons whom Eido Roshi has certified as “Dharma Teachers” in the Rinzai Zen dharma line, and he
could some day be elevated to the status of certified roshi, or Zen
Genjo is careful to distinguish Dai Bai Zan – Cho Bo Zen Ji as an urban temple, tailored to the needs of a sangha primarily made up of lay persons who have busy lives and a myriad of commitments beyond practicing zazen at the temple all day. Of the four week long sesshins that take place during the year, three are held at the temple in the city. Only the Rohatsu sesshin takes place outside Seattle at Camp Indianola, a wooded retreat on the Kitsap peninsula.
The best introduction to the Zen practice is practicing zazen itself. Dai Bai Zan – Cho Bo Zen Ji offers an excellent and extremely accessible introduction to seated meditation at the Tuesday night Introduction to Zen which begins promptly at 7:30 pm (allow yourself at least ten minutes extra: the last thing you want to do is barge in late on a zazen session.)
The temple is located on the back side of Capitol Hill in Seattle at 1811 20th Ave. (one half-block north of Madison and south of Denny). Come in the front gate to the front door, remove your shoes and socks in the entryway and proceed to the zendo (meditation hall) upstairs.
Maybe I’ll see you there some time.
I first starting going to Dai Bai Zan - Cho Bo Zen Ji back in 1991, turned on to the place by my friend and colleague in the Seattle theatre scene, John Sylvain. Back then the temple was in a small house in the International District, behind the Wonder Bread factory. Basically, the fairly tiny front living room was the temple and the rest of the house was where Genki Takabayashi lived. I remember being so intimidated by the place the first couple times I went to Beginner’s Night, that I had to steel myself to open the door and go inside. Could I really sit still for twenty-five minutes without moving or making a noise, twice in a row? Genki Roshi, a wizened little Japanese guy, would sit next to the huge bell, more still than a stone, like some sort of overly trite stereotype of a Zen Master. Genjo would sit next to him most weeks, and lead the question-and-answer period afterwards; but one night it was just me and Genki. It was like sitting with a ghost. The two meditation periods passed like fleeting dreams. He served tea. Bowed. And left me there alone. I began to understand what all the hype over Zen was about... nothing. Absolutely nothing. And it was absolutely gorgeous and life-affirming.
Genki Roshi had little English and never spoke at Beginning Zen nights, though he often served the tea. (If you’ve never been served tea by a genuine Zen master, well, all I can say is, you’re missing nothing-- the kind of huge, beautiful, inner-eye-opening nothing that I talked about above.) At sesshins and mini-sesshins, however, the Roshi would give a commentary on some selection from the Buddhist canon. Genki would sit silent as a monument for an interminable moment, then squinch up his face and growl softly: Boooddhaaah?... Boooddhaaah?... No Booddhah... No Booddhah!... You da Booddhah!... No Shinking. (No thinking). Shtraytuh cuhhting. (Straight cutting). You da Booddhah!... You da Booddhah!”
Genjo would sit beside him, “translating” Genki’s sudden grunts and giggles and half-English as such: “Genki Roshi asks you to consider Mumon’s commentary on the 33rd Case, Baso’s 'No Mind, No Buddha'....” It wasn't uncommon for Genjo to take ten minutes “translating” something it took Genki 30 seconds to say.
After a year or two the temple lost the lease on the little house in the I. D., and was forced to take up residence in the back room of an Aikido dojo on Aurora Avenue up around 76th Street North of Greenlake. This was a strange and difficult transitionary period in my life as well. I was going through a divorce, living hand-to mouth on temp jobs in a comfortable enough but tiny studio on Capitol Hill with no phone, no t.v., no social life, and no car. About all I could count on was if zazen was scheduled for an evening, and if I made the hour-long two-transfer bus trek to the temple, someone—maybe just one someone-- Genjo or Genki or some other ranking member of the temple—would be there to just sit with me..
I usually keep my mouth shut during the Q & A, but one night, when it was just me and Genjo, and I had spent most of the sits with a big sore heart and tears rolling down my face, I asked if he had any advice on how to get through really, really hard times. His answer was simple. Maintain the practice, and remember to have compassion: compassion for others of course, but first and foremost, compassion for myself. He told me to sit, and listen to my pain; witness it; notice that with each breath, somehow, I was getting through it.
Five years later Genjo officiated over my wedding to the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Shortly thereafter, my wife and I moved to New York City, but I never sought out a temple there. I guess I was too afraid of the Yuppie Zen factor that plagues big rich cities like New York and San Francisco. When our baby boy came into the world, we decided to move back to Seattle. And I’m back attending Dai Bai Zan - Cho Bo Zen Ji regularly.