December 14, 2009

Rugs and throws

Two fundraising initiatives are currently gearing up to ensure that Korinji starts off a new year of construction with the resources it needs:

First: Jessica Cobb, a local Chicago artist, has completed the first of the felted wool rugs she's weaving to benefit Korinji (see this post). Woven entirely from upcycled sweaters donated for this purpose, the rugs are thick, colorful and beautiful. Faolan, our ubiquitous lab/border collie mascot, prefers it by far to all other soft surfaces on which he is not permitted to sleep.

The rug will be raffled. Tickets are now available for $10.00, and the drawing will take place on Feb. 27th. You can view the rug at Daiyuzenji temple in Chicago. Please contact Korinji to purchase a ticket. Take a look at Jessica's site also:

Second: Huron Valley Aikikai, a community of martial art and Zen practitioners in Ann Arbor, Michigan led by friend, dharma brother and Korinji work crew volunteer Rodger Park Sensei, is hosting an Aikido, Zen and Misogi training event on January 23-24. Instruction will be led by myself and by Robert Savoca Sensei from Brooklyn Aikikai, with proceeds going to support both Korinji and Brooklyn Aikikai. For more information, please go to Huron Valley's site here. You can learn more about Brooklyn Aikikai and Savoca Sensei here.

November 30, 2009

2009 Roundup

It's been a month since our last construction date at Korinji. Though snow has yet to fall in any appreciable amount, the trees are now long bare and the evening temperatures are routinely dropping below freezing. Soon the ground will be frozen solid, and our concrete foundation piers will be locked in for their first winter.

We started the year with high hopes and very little money. We knew that our construction plan would take everything we could give - in terms of energy, time, and resources - to complete. Our original goal was to have the building enclosed before winter. Had we been working with a professional crew, this would have been easy.

We soon learned, however, the reality of depending upon our own volunteer, and usually amateur, labor: a slow pace results in good work, while a rushed pace produces errors. And another reality struck us quite early on: the difficulty of the building site we'd chosen. When a four-wheel drive vehicle was not available to navigate our slippery construction road, we carried building materials and gear in on our backs. Over 300 bags of concrete, hundreds of pieces of lumber, concrete mixers and generators, fasteners and tools, water, food and camping gear, all were carried down by hand. On weekends when we had thirty volunteers, this was arduous at best. When we had 10 or less, it was at times impossible.

And let's not forget the slope. Imagine this: the southwest corner of our building's floor level (the corner nearest you when looking at the photo in the previous post, below) is 18" above the ground. At the northeast corner, farthest from you in the photo, it's 14 feet. Some of our crew no doubt have nightmares of the long hours spent leveling and re-leveling; the land, it seemed, changed daily beneath our feet. Our laser level was the best purchase the Foundation made this year. Without it, the sharp and varied terrain would no doubt still be playing tricks on our eyes.

True, we accomplished somewhat less than what we'd hoped. But not too much less. We didn't enclose our building, but we got the hardest part done. Within a weekend or two this spring, the walls will be framed, and the roof not long after that. It will all take place on a foundation that we literally chopped, dug and scraped out of what was only months before a briar-choked, rocky hillside surrounded by forest.

Looking back on the immense amount of work our volunteer crews performed - camping out in storms and summer heat, working without reward other than the satisfaction of contributing to something worthwhile - it's hard to find words to express our feeling of gratitude. Similarly, the steady donations that have continued to come, of both funds and items, are times almost unbelievable to me.

Here is a brief summary of what happened at Korinji this year:

1. Building site located, cleared, surveyed and staked. Overall Korinji site plan determined.
2. Construction road, parking area and trails partially graveled or wood-chipped.
3. Foundation excavated.
4. Reinforced concrete foundation piers poured.
5. Structural support posts set on piers, leveled, cut and trimmed to accept beams.
6. Structural support beams affixed to posts and bolted.
7. Floor joists affixed to beams and cross-braced.
8. Support posts x-braced below floor structure.
9. Wood bench/lamp post constructed along foot trail.
10. Location of wood foot-bridge at ravine bottom determined and surveyed.

To accomplish all of this, we spent just under $12,800.00. An estimate we received from a contractor for the same: $56,000.00. We are determined that the donations we receive will be used in the most efficient and sensible manner possible; I'm pleased to report this result for our first year of work to found Korinji.

To close, I should mention a few of the memories that stand out most sharply in my mind. Despite the work and exhaustion, it truly was nothing less than the fulfillment of a dream watching our vision become physically manifest before our eyes. Many wonderful moments - and a few truly magical ones - served to remind me how fortunate I am to be a part of this undertaking, and to have so many truly good people along for the ride:

- The "battle with the briars" during our initial site clearing, and the determined, at times desperate chainsaw confrontation that Greg Dekker and I waged with the two-inch thorns that seemed to pierce us from all directions.

- Our wood-chipper and trail crews coming together spontaneously as teams: the moment when we knew for sure that it would all work.

- Surveying: Tom Teterycz laying out our exact building location, and the moment when we realized how big it would actually be. This was also the moment, looking down into the ravine, that we saw confirmed what a beautiful, appropriate location we'd chosen to be a place of Zen training.

- Groundbreaking weekend: the amazing pump arrangement that brought water for our concrete mixing hundreds of feet uphill from the valley stream.

- Violent rainstorms one evening, camping out under a thin tarp. Miraculously, this was the only time the entire summer that rain bothered us...and by next morning, it was gone in time for work.

- The boulders broken up, bit by bit, by our sledge-hammer wielding crews.

- Our concrete carriers, covered with white dust and exhausted, at the end of their work. Our concrete mixers and pourers, spattered and bleary-eyed, at the end of theirs.

- Sitting in moonlight at the construction site; the calls of owls back and forth across the valley.

- The slavic-speakers and their always well-supplied tent (also the place to be for strong, black tea in the morning).

- Campfire gatherings, good conversation and good cheer under the leaves in our beautiful forest...

Thank you again, to everyone. Stay tuned for more posts over the winter, keeping you updated on our ongoing planning.

And spring will be here soon, so keep your hammers and saws in good order!


November 4, 2009

Winter break

In a final flurry of work last week at Korinji, a few die-hard work crew members finished up our floor joists and bracing, as well as the x-bracing that ties together our 36-odd 6x6 posts. Though rain and a few flakes of snow served to remind us of season's end, we finished our final day with glorious fall sunshine. It helped to dry out the blisters on our hands.

Since it makes no sense to put flooring on our deck structure that will only hold snow, we're now done for the winter. The generator and tools are in storage, the site is battened down, and the treated timbers of our building are drying out, settling and knitting themselves together. Ahead are a few months of planning and fundraising to position us well for a spring start. Our next weekend of work will see the first walls framed.

But for now we're all ready for a much-needed rest. We'll have a full progress summary shortly. We learned a lot over this past year, and while we didn't get as far as we originally thought we could, we did pretty well for an all-volunteer crew. Within 18 months we've gone from an unmanifested dream to the purchase and clearing of land that now has a building beginning to take shape.

A few more images, and a final video for the year, are on the Korinji site's images page.

October 12, 2009

Autumn colors

The floor joists are done; just a day or so of bracing left to do. Now that the floor sub-structure is tacked in, the thing looks big.

A few photos from this past weekend - of both construction and the land - have been added to the Korinji site images page. The maples haven't yet reached their peak, but yellows and reds are everywhere in sight. With temperatures reaching the 20's in the evening, we wonder what the forest view will be this coming weekend.

October 6, 2009

Final push, 2009

We're in the midst of our final push for the year now. This coming weekend (Oct. 10-11) and the following (Oct. 17-18) will be the last major construction weekends at Korinji. In a total of only 9 work days since June, we've cleared our building site, excavated and poured our foundation piers, erected our support posts, and now are near to completion of the structure's sub-structure. Truly remarkable!

Please consider joining us for one or both of our final weekends. In particular, we need hammer-swingers now: there are a lot of floor joists and braces to put in place. If we can finish up this part of our structure, we'll be well-placed to take a breather for a few months over the winter.

If the weather holds for these weekends, many of us will still camp out on the land. If not, Korinji has arranged a group rate at the local Quality Inn that is ridiculously reasonable.

If you'd like to pitch in, please RSVP to If you haven't yet seen how far we've come in a few months, please take a look at the construction photos and videos on the Korinji website here.

We're looking forward to seeing many of you again at Korinji this month. The fall colors should be at their height, and the temperatures ideal for work as well as campfire gatherings in the evening. Finally, many of you will be relieved to learn that we have no deliveries of lumber scheduled this time: everything we need is already at the site, and will not need to be carried through the woods by our trusty (but tired) work crews!

September 21, 2009


Another weekend of beautiful weather, with fall colors just starting to show at Korinji.

More progress made, and more images here.

September 15, 2009


Here's a shot showing the results of last weekend's work crew: 6x6 posts now jut upward from the concrete foundation pilings. Visiting the work site very early Sunday morning after most of the posts had been set, we learned that the local great horned owls had discovered them; pairs of orange eyes stared at us from several post-tops , reflecting our headlamp beams. More photos and a new video can be found on Korinji's Images page.

This weekend: beams.

September 9, 2009

In the thick of things

A quick update: this past weekend's work crew went spectacularly well. The foundation is completely finished: we'd decided to bolster two of our 50-odd 18" concrete pilings by dropping 24" tubes over them and filling in with reinforced concrete. This puts them more squarely where they need to be, and gives us extra strength at the crucial lowest corner of our building that will bear the most weight.

We also raised the very first structural timbers. It was quite a moment as Tom Teterycz -the building designer - and I maneuvered a 10-foot 6x6" onto its base plate on top of a corner piling, leveled it, and tacked it in place. We both suddenly realized that a building was indeed going to exist on this wooded slope in the forest, that has long been such a focus of our work and concern.

This weekend will see many more of these timbers raised, and with luck the completion of our under-floor structure. As usual, we're pleased that the volunteer turnout has been enthusiastic, though a few more would be welcome...I've just sent out an appeal to the returning students of our Northwestern University Zen Society, who have been helpful in the past.

The weekdays are now spent organizing for weekend work crews, and purchasing building materials. It feels good to see donations collected over several years now actually buying lumber, nails and tools. I'm also pleased to report that our $100.00 generator worked like a charm, and we didn't even burn through the half-tank of gas that came with it.

I'll try to get some more video or photos this time around. Stay tuned.

August 27, 2009

Ladders and lineage

Volunteers are beginning to swell the September work crew lists. This throws our tool needs, however, into sharp relief. A recent coup was the location of a 5000-watt generator, in good working order, on Ebay...Chicago pick-up only! We managed to obtain it for $100.00 - an utter steal. We now continue to scan online for circular saws.

Ladders are one thing we're not seeing many of. We hope to avoid buying new ones, wasteful as that would be. We need a 6' and an 8' step ladder, and two 20' extending ladders. If you happen to have one of these lying around and care to donate it, by all means let us know! In the meantime, please keep your eyes out for them on Ebay, Craigslist, at local sales, etc.

Finally: the Korinji website has a slightly different look, somewhat cleaner in layout. Let us know what you think.

One new page of interest details the Rinzai Zen lineage that has given rise to Korinji, coming down through Omori Sogen Roshi. Actually, temples themselves don't have lineages (other than the historical succession of their abbots); only people do. The lineage chanted daily by monks (Teidai Denpo) at a given monastery is therefore the lineage of dharma transmission of that monastery's current shike (abbot), and so could change over time.

When Korinji is dedicated and begins functioning as a residence for practitioners, such will also be the case; for now, however, our page shows the lineage held in common by the various teachers who are working to establish Korinji.

August 19, 2009

Bring a hammer...

Our zendo construction plan and timeline have been set. If all goes according to schedule, we'll have the main structure up by mid-October. Now, we just need you.

So far we've been amazed at the number of supporters who have turned out for our past monastery work weekends, during which we cleared the building site and and poured the foundation. As many as 40 volunteers have been present at a time. Can we expect more of the same? Now that we've gotten to the point of actually seeing a structure rise from the ground, we hope that we can...

It's crunch time at Korinji, in other words. Here are the monastery work weekend dates for September, with some descriptions of what we hope to accomplish each time:

Saturday, Sept. 5th (one day only): finish the foundation and install plates on our pilings.

Saturday and Sunday Sept. 12-13: place the support posts on the pilings, and begin the main deck.

Saturday and Sunday Sept. 19-20: finish the main deck, and begin the walls and ceiling structures

Saturday and Sunday Sept. 26-27: continue with walls and a-frames, working toward beginning of roof construction

For Sept. 5th, we need 3-5 volunteers. For the rest of the September weekends, we need a minimum of 10 volunteers each trip. More volunteers are better, of course, and will insure that our work is completed before cold weather comes in the fall.

Come one, come all. No pair of hands will be turned away. All of you will be directly contributing to the actual construction process. One bonus for those of you who have enjoyed camping out on Korinji's beautiful 17 acres: once we have the deck up, we can camp on more searching for a flat spot to pitch a tent!

To volunteer for any or all of our September work crews, please email Korinji:

As always, thank you all.

August 17, 2009

Work Needs

This week, Korinji board members will meet with our construction managers to finalize weekend work dates through the end of the year. To get the main structure of our first building up and enclosed before the weather turns, we estimate a minimum of five solid weekends. We look forward to announcing those to you shortly.

We'll be needing many hands as usual, both skilled and unskilled: during the recent foundation pouring, the crucial work was done not only by those excavating the site and mixing the concrete, but also by the gangs that carried hundreds of bags of concrete down to the construction site, and hundreds of buckets of water from the stream. Without their labor, nothing would have been possible. Had a lesser number of volunteers come, we might not have finished our work that day.

Now that we have a few folks bringing four-wheel drive vehicles capable of navigating our construction road, that kind of old-fashioned transport of materials won't be as necessary. But still, don't think that your help is not needed - and indispensable - because you don't have actual construction experience.

The board is also calling for needed tools. If you have any of the following items and care to donate (or loan) them, please let us know! Donations of items are tax-deductible, of course:

1 Generator
1 Extension cords, 12-gauge
Ladders: 2 A-frame and 1 extension (28'+)
2 Wheelbarrows
Drills and drill bits/driver bits
Sawzall and blades
Circular saws and blades
Miter saw and blades
Hand saws
Levels: 1 x 96", 4 x 48", 4 x 9" torpedo levels
4 Framing squares, large and small
1 Plumb bob
6 Tape measures
Screwdrivers, set
10 Hammers
Box cutters/utility knives and blades
Axes, mauls
Pruning saws, polesaws

August 11, 2009

Old sweater = new Zen temple

A local artist, Jessica Cobb, is seeking your old sweaters and other woolen goods: sweaters, blankets, wool socks, shirts, skirts, cardigans, hats, gloves, leg warmers, etc. These items will be felted and used in hand weaving beautiful one-of-a-kind rugs. The rug sales will then support Korinji.

Community, friends and family are excellent resources. These materials can also be inexpensively acquired at local garage/rummage/lawn sales (sometimes for as little as 25 cents!).

Anyone interested in learning or participating in the craft can also help in ways which include color design/selection, material prep, loom building or weaving. It's a fun, fast moving project!

Donations are being accepted at Daiyuzenji: 3717 N. Ravenswood #113, Chicago, IL 60613. Please direct questions to Jessica by email:

Falling for Korinji

The 2009 Fall-a-thon, a fundraising event organized by Shinjinkai, the Japanese Martial Arts Society, was conducted on July 8. The result: more than $10,000.00 raised in two hours by 20 fallers!

Similar to a walk-a-thon, participants in the Fall-a-thon gather pledges from sponsors. Rather than walking, however, they commit to being thrown (via Aikido technique) as many times as possible in 15 minutes. The participant with the most falls got up to 431.

We're grateful every year for the amazing spirit and fortitude shown by these martial art students in support of Korinji; many of them are also participating in our work crews at Korinji, and so regularly give of their sweat and strength. If you'd like to make a donation in support of the Fall-a-thon, or just to learn more about it, please see the Fall-a-thon website. And here is a video clip to give you a feeling for the energy and excitement of this fundraiser.

July 20, 2009

A groundbreaking weekend

The grassy clearing on the hill is now, incredibly, a building site. Nearly 50 holes have been dug, and after two days of at times backbreaking labor they contain foundation pilings of concrete and rebar.

Our volunteer work crew was nothing short of inspiring. On Saturday more than 300 bags of concrete and 800 feet of rebar were carried by hand from road-side pallets down through deep forest to the remote building site. Hundreds of buckets of water were pumped uphill from the stream in the valley, thanks to the last-minute genius (and available pump) of one of the crew; we had expected a bucket brigade to be necessary for this.

With all the foundation holes excavated and more than half of them filled with curing concrete, darkness finally forced an end to the day. Saturday evening saw the usual gatherings as the crew was released from duty. A campfire fueled by recently cleared maple and oak was the center of one gathering near the south entrance. Another large group descended onto the nearby town for dinner. Our Russian-speaking contingent was discovered holding a separate party - not to be missed - gathered in a quiet circle on grass above the site. By midnight, all had retired except the usual visiting coyotes and owls.

Sunday morning came early, and saw a mad rush to complete the pouring of concrete. There was some concern that our mix would run short. Amazingly, the job was done...with not a single bag to spare out of the 300 plus. In the meantime our parking area received its first load of road gravel: Korinji now has an entrance drive usable as such.

Today, most of us are recovering, nursing sore backs and arms. But as I write I notice with amazement that many of the crew have showed up at the Chicago dojo tonight for martial arts training. These hardcore volunteers, who for two days exhausted themselves carrying and pouring concrete, are tonight practicing Aikido.

After this weekend, Korinji's property has been transformed. We now have the beginnings of a place to which they lead. We know exactly where our gate, and our main house, will be, and what it will look like walking there in the future. From the ravine below the building site, one can now look up to see a row of grey concrete pilings jutting up from the grass like rows of blunt teeth.

With the intense spirit our crew displayed this past weekend, I have no doubt that a roof and walls will soon also be seen through the leaves.

Korinji's Images page has been updated with video from this past weekend.

July 15, 2009

What goes into the Korinji foundation

No, not the charitible organization. The base of the building:
  • 21,040 lbs. of concrete mix
  • 37,500 lbs. (15 cubic yards) of crushed stone
  • 840 feet of rebar
  • 60 feet of forming tube
  • One Skidsteer with 12" and 18" augur bits
  • A lot of buckets
  • 38 volunteers
The forecast is good for this weekend. We'll receive our stone and other materials Friday, with the crew arriving Saturday morning.

Look for a full report (with video!) next week.

July 3, 2009


The following announcement has been made by the Korinji Foundation:

Dear Korinji Friends,

At long last, I'm grateful to be able to invite you all to participate in the groundbreaking of Korinji, our new Zen monastery.

Saturday and Sunday, July 18-19, will be one of our "Monastery Work Weekends". This time (following a brief groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday morning) we'll actually be pouring the foundations of Korinji's zendo, or training hall. We've got the machines and materials we just need your hands and sweat.

Similar to our last work weekend when we completed the clearing of our first structure's building site, we'll be camping out together on the Korinji land, and will spend Saturday evening around the campfire. Also similar to last time is our need for a large crew. We need many hands this time to gravel the parking area, to haul water, to mix concrete, and to help us get the foundation in the ground. Once this is done, we can relax just a little bit: future construction of the building can be done with smaller crews. So, if you've considered helping Korinji with this project, now is a very good time to come up and pitch in.

We really need's crucial that we have enough folks helping to excavate and pour in one weekend. Please join us, and take part in the historic beginning of this new training center!

I plan to be on the land Friday. As before, if some of you wish to come up early, you are very welcome to join me. Your family and friends are also welcome to join us.

PLEASE RSVP by emailing Korinji: I'll have details coming shortly as our work crew list is finalized.

We're finally there. Please accept my thanks, again, for all the support and work you've contributed to bring us to this point. We'll continue our fundraising and other work to complete and develop Korinji, of course (more news on upcoming fundraisers shortly), but for now we've earned a pat on the back.

I'm looking forward to working together with you all on July 18-19 as we begin to see an actual building grow...


Meido Moore
The Korinji Foundation

June 30, 2009

Breaking News (About Breaking Ground)

We've been granted our building permit! More shortly on a groundbreaking date. We'll be needing a large work crew then to help us drill holes, mix concrete, and pour our concrete pilings...

This past weekend a few of us spent a day clearing out some of the lush summer growth that had started to encroach on trails. The building site remains relatively clear, though we did add some more visible metal stakes. At the entrance to the parking area, a standing dead tree we'd predicted would probably fall, did. With some hard work we were able to move it from blocking the drive. It's good dry hardwood; we may take some portions of it to use for lining trails.

The land itself is now deep in shadow and very quiet, under its canopy of maple and oak leaves. Even the coyotes and owls which had been so vocal recently seem to have moved away down the valley. In the evening we were entranced by the silent, electric-blue strobing of thousands of fireflies in the hollows.

May 11, 2009

Report: May 9-10 Monastery Work Weekend

It looked rough Friday evening for the few of us who arrived early: 30 mph winds (a few limbs came down on the land) and driving rain most of the night - except for a surreal half-hour when the full moon, between banks of cloud, illuminated a very cold but clear sky. Then more rain sweeping in, tapering off to heavy mist in the morning...

By the time the rest of the crew arrived, though, the day had brightened somewhat. We even had some sun. And with the rain spring had fully arrived: by Sunday, the light green new leaves had begun to unfurl into broad, dark green. We're now able to visualize again the lush summer canopy, which will soon cover the ravines and deepen the silence of the place.

All in all, a great and enormously productive weekend. 24 total made it up, with most camping out on the land. Six hours of chain-sawing and chipping gave us a completely clear site: the chips were used for our trail. On the other side of the ravine, our parking area was being cleared of brush. One stump and a rock that I'd been convinced would require dynamite are now gone; the sandstone boulder was broken up in place by a rotating sledgehammer team. One particularly nice slab of sandstone stands at the far end, marking the point where the trail leads down into the ravine.

We also now have 32 railroad ties, ready for next time. One was cut into two posts, which were set at the parking entrance. Next time I'll attach small reflectors to these.

Finally, we finished our most crucial work for the weekend: the final surveying and staking of the construction site, with concrete piling locations gridded and marked.

We're ready to break ground.

Our deepest gratitude to everyone who worked so hard. Special thanks go to our crew chiefs (who were not as grumpy as I'd expected), our cooks for a perfect campfire-cooked breakfast, and to everyone for the rather inspiring teamwork that seemed to just spontaneously happen.

Here's a video montage and some photos from our first Monastery Work Weekend, on the Korinji Images Page.

May 7, 2009

Weekend excitement

Looks like a merry crew for this weekend's work crew: 26 at last count! The response to our work invitation was much greater than anticipated.

With that many bodies, we'll not only clear our building site but also get to work on other projects. I'm looking forward to gathering some good stone from the rocky southern ravine. With any luck, we'll find enough to outline our parking area, and perhaps even get a stone bench constructed along one of our trails.

In Chicago over the last week leaves have appeared on the cottonwoods and maples lining the streets; grass and dandelions are suddenly everywhere. The season should be a bit less far along up at Korinji, but we hope to have some good, green spring photos to share next week when we post our report on the weekend.

April 27, 2009

Images from Korinji

We've added quite a few new photos to the Korinji website "Images" page. These include many recent views of Korinji's future site, in which bare trees make the land's character very easy to see. A number of photos showing recent work, including trails that have been laid out throughout the forest connecting our parking and zendo areas, may be viewed there. Please take a look!

April 26, 2009

Clearing away the thorny tangles

As we grow closer to the groundbreaking for our first building, the time has now come to ask for your assistance. Of course we've been asking for the generous help of our supporters for some time, in the form of donations and ideas. But now, we also need your hands and other words, it's time to clear some land!

We're very happy to announce our first "Korinji Work Weekend", at the future site of Korinji near Madison, Wisconsin.

On Saturday and Sunday, May 9-10, we need your help to clear a future building site. It's partly covered with trees, dead wood and some fairly nasty thorny shrubs. We've got chainsaw experts. We need your help to move what they cut down, as well as to help us clear smaller vegetation.

It's crucial that we finish this job within one weekend, so that the site will be ready for the crucial next step: pouring the foundation of a building.

Now is the time to pitch in, and help us found Korinji!

Those of you joining us both days: our plan is to camp out overnight on the land and enjoy each other's company as well. There will be time around the campfire in the evening. One might say that it will not be an entirely working weekend. Join us in our beautiful wooded valley, and spend a weekend in nature doing good work.

PLEASE VOLUNTEER. We're actually ready to start building Korinij...but without a sufficient number of bodies, we can't move forward. If you can make it for one or both days, please email us: We'll then be in touch regarding carpooling from Chicago, meeting times, etc.

We're looking forward to seeing you then, and to showing you around the place...

April 1, 2009


Here is a first look at our future first building: a wonderful design by Korinji supporter Tomasz Teterycz, who is generously donating his time and professional skill.

The approximately 30'x60' structure is supported on concrete piers, allowing it to be built onto the slope of the site without excavation or the pouring of a slab.

The engawa, or covered wooden deck, allows ravine views. Eventually this may connect to the main monastery house.

More drawings to be posted soon!

March 24, 2009


One of the remarkable aspects of a project like ours is the manner in which good people seem to appear just as they're needed; after numerous such occurrences, one almost gets used to it. We've recently had another such unfolding.

As noted in recent posts, we're at the point where we deem it suitable to establish a first structure on our land. I'd thought this would be something small and inexpensive: a meditation cabin or hut, sufficient for 3 or 4 people to practice. The idea was that by building such a structure, at least our minimum responsibility would have been fulfilled: we would have successfully created a place where intensive dharma practice could be undertaken. My plan was to then take up residence in the area, to practice and work the land, thus hopefully creating affinity links that might support later development of the property.

It was with such thoughts that we began preparing for, and announcing, our meditation hut. The response we received, however, was more than I'd hoped for: not only donations of tools, but offers of help from a home designer/builder, an architect, construction managers, and a large crew of strong bodies. After some intensive discussion, we realized that our plan to build a small meditation structure had evolved. We were now discussing the possibility - financially and logistically - of going straight forward and building stage one of our overall Korinji project, a larger structure to serve as the staging ground for our future residence.

Right now an engineer is designing a 60 x 30' barn structure, sincluding an engawa (covered deck), and containing a main space as well as smaller rooms built out for storage and other needs. Our architect friend has offered to take that design and produce drawings. We have information coming on the materials cost: it looks to be a bit more than we currently have, but not out of reach given the generosity we continue to experience from our donors, and the success of fundraising events like the annual Fall-a-thon. As for labor, we have willing hands, and the simplicity of the post-and-beam construction we plan allows us to largely do it ourselves. The building will not be will not have bath, kitchen, or other important amenities; those we save for stage two, the main house. But most importantly, we'll have a place to begin working on Korinji together.

I spent four days on the land over this past weekend. The feeling of the place, even now at the end of winter, is remarkable. An electric, humming stillness covers the land there this time of year; other than a brief exchange of great horned owl calls in the early evening, and some yapping and fussing from coyotes across the far side of the valley around midnight, a deep, silent clarity seemed to well up from the hollows and ravines. Sleeping on the ground under a tarp, I awoke around 1am to see brilliant stars spread out from ridgetop to ridgetop, illuminating silvery patches of snow that still lay on the north facing slopes. Truly, our future home is a place well-suited to Zen training.

The days were warm, and we got some good work done: the parking area, an existing flat ridgetop accessed by the drive on the south end of the property, has been cleared of dead wood and brush. From there an already defined trail drops down east to an overview of the valley, zig-zagging then more or less north to the bottom of the main ravine (there we eventually plan a wooden footbridge, or at least flat walking stones, to allow passage over the bottom of the ravine) before rising up to the building site, a south-facing slope looking directly into the deepest part of the land. We needed to clear only thorn trees there: we'll get some good sunlight. The view from there in March is of snowy forest, gray rock, and the valley beyond. In summer I expect the valley will be obscured, and only a sea of waving trees will be seen.

We've identified other future sites as well, including the locations of our future house and a possible small retreat cabing. Yes, we'll still build it at some point for use as a solitary practice place. From its doorway there, one will just be able to see, north across the valley and past a grove of white birches, the zendo rooftop. Perhaps - if the wind is quiet - one would hear the sound of the meditation bell.

March 7, 2009

Tools for the Job

The weather seems to have broken here in the Chicago region, at least for the time being: the lake this morning is largely free of the white ice sheet which only a few days earlier stretched to the horizon. We'll most likely have another snow, and temperatures will still hit the twenties and thirties. But the worst may be over.

This means it's time to start our meditation hut. Our temple land in Wisconsin is a few hours north, so temperatures there in the Madison area are a bit lower still. But I'll be spending several days on our temple land later in March, to confirm the hut's exact location and orientation (along with the location of some other important features such as our access drive, parking area, trails, footbridges, and steps to be inset into hillsides - all of which we'll be working on this spring and summer).

Once those decisions are made and plotted on the GPS, it will be time to begin cutting the hut's major structural pieces back in Chicago for assembly on the land. We're still planning a wood frame structure, with plastered straw bale walls. Interior floor space will be four tatami: three actual tatami, and one tatami-size area of exposed wood flooring as an entry area and location for our woodstove. The hut will have a small engawa (covered walkway) on one side, overlooking one of the ravines we'll most likely build into.

We still have some small details to work out: rather than windows set into the walls, for example, we may use recycled bottle glass. But the form of our structure has been largely defined.

Now is the time we'd like to appeal for donations of items we'll be needing to use this year: tools! If it can be used for simple construction, clearing land, landscaping or gardening, we probably need it. Here's a partial list:

  • Shovels and spades
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Pick
  • Hoe
  • Sledge
  • Axes and hatchets
  • Pruning tools
  • Measuring tapes
  • Hammers
  • Handsaws
  • Chainsaws

If you have items like these you'd like to donate, we'd be very happy to hear from you (and to send you a receipt for the value of your tax-deductible donation).

One recent purchase by the Foundation was small, inexpensive hand-held video recorder (a Flip Mino HD). We'll be using this to film our next land visit, and to document the construction of our hut. Keep an eye on the blog and on the Korinji website for these posted videos.

January 12, 2009

A small hut...

If your hermitage is deep in the mountains
surely the moon, flowers, and maple trees
will become your friends.

Men of the world passing this way are few,
Dense grass conceals the door.
All night in silence, a few woodchips burn slowly,
As I read the poems of the ancients.
- Ryokan (1758-1831)

The Korinji Foundation will be having it's beginning-of-year community/board of director's meeting on Sunday, January 25th, 11am at Daiyuzenji temple in Chicago. Items of business to discuss include the construction of the first building on our land in Wisconsin: a small (three-tatami floor space, about 54 square feet) meditation hut.

Initially, this hut will be used for solitary practice as well as storage. Thinking forward to a time when more substantial structures exist, the hut will continue to be useful as an individual retreat space or a structure for dokusan (private meetings between Zen master and student).

We're currently exploring design and construction options, and are very interested in straw-bale construction. Our shiny new wood stove has arrived (above)!

Other items of business for the meeting include fund-raising strategies for 2009; all are welcome.