December 8, 2010


Please take a look at the new video embedded on the front page of Korinji's site. We think you'll find it inspiring, and a wonderful summary of where Korinji has come from...and where we are now.

Many, many thanks to Eden Roemer who created this, with editing help from Billy Vegas and the voice over skills of Chris Viverito. And a nod to Ken Burns! Video here.

November 21, 2010

A roof over our heads, II

Our appeal for donations to put us over the finish line with our roof was quickly answered by a half-dozen generous individuals. I'm pleased to report that the shingles are done...on-time and several hundred dollars under budget.

Korinji is now sealed up and safe for the winter, thanks to all of you. We'll still do a bit of interior work before spring, but for now we'll work to replenish our bank account as we pore over window and wood burning stove catalogs.

Some fundraising events are planned for just after the new year; more news soon. We also have a new promotional video being worked on, which may eventually anchor the front page of our web site.

For now, happy holidays from all of us at the Korinji Foundation!

November 1, 2010

Halloween at Korinji

About 20 volunteers from Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan came out over the course of the week to help with Korinji's end-of-season clean-up and celebration. The week started cold, with winds gusting up to 50mph; by Saturday, though, we were back to glorious fall weather.

A ceremony was held on this occasion of the first formal zazen as well as budo training to be conducted at Korinji.

After a few more hours of afternoon work, we then motored over to the Wisconsin Dells for a scenic Halloween-themed boat ride. Twilight found us cruising upstream under sandstone cliffs and spires, past Devil's Elbow and with a final destination of Witch's Gulch...

During the week, we took bids from roofers. More news soon...

October 20, 2010

One weekend

Autumn at Korinji...and this past weekend has seen the last of our major construction for the year. The interior framing is now truly and finally done, and we'll soon knock out the last of the support bracing to reveal a completely open space.

It's been a long, hard year of work. One more week to go: October 22-31 is our final call for a crew in 2010. However, during that time we've also scheduled visits from local's indeed possible that we'll begin that project before the end of the year. Still, for now we can take a small breather.

Though some of us might confess to feeling slightly run down and ready for a break after many months of constant activity, we continue to balance our work time with enjoyment of the land, and of each others' company. This enjoyment, and the friendships which have grown through our work, are aspects of our Korinji project which are perhaps less obvious. To remedy that, we thought it might be interesting to describe exactly how a typical Korinji weekend goes. Rather than describe it solely with words, however, I'm here able (thanks to J.C. Epong) to share some images with you. I hope this will give you all a sense of what it's like to come up for a weekend to labor beside these amazing people who are building Korinji...

1. Friday

Mike Malitsky and I both pull up at 3:30pm, just in time to take delivery of a load of lumber. We immediately set to work. Mike preps the site for our weekend - setting up the compressor and nail guns, running cords - while I tighten all the nuts on our substructure bolts with a ratchet wrench: a long overdue job that needed to get done before winter.

As it has almost without exception since the beginning of Korinji's construction, the weather agrees with us. What a gorgeous fall day, with temperatures in the high 60's or low 70's: certainly a fine day to work in the woods.

Our mutual assignments take us up to 7pm or so, and with the light failing we retire to a campfire for dinner and talk. Korinji volunteers, I've found, tend to be well-read and interesting folks: this evening the conversation ranges from the Roman conquest of Judea according to Flavius Josephus, to early Christian history, to Buddhist philosophy, vegetarianism, life in late Soviet Russia, the Irish diaspora, and dogs. We run out of energy long before we run out of things to talk about.

Since most of our work crew tends to arrive on Saturday, I treasure these quiet Friday evenings with their peaceful mood and quiet forest atmosphere. On this occasion we'd earlier in the day rigged up some work lights inside the building. Now we suddenly find ourselves amazed to look up and see - for the first time - our building lit from the inside.

2. Saturday

The main crew arrives Saturday morning: this time it's J.C., Sergey Petrov and Dan Bogdanovich. Karen Radtke arrives a little later, with dogs in tow and fresh brownies for the crew which vanish quickly. Over the course of the day we finish boxing out our joists with 3/4" plywood (the main goal for the weekend). A few of the crew get to work removing the remnants of scaffolding still affixed to the building from our roof construction.

That evening, we once again adjourn to our dinner spot: the stone fire-ring (constructed last year by Rodger Park Sensei from Ann Arbor) which has seen such constant use. It's time for the traditional Saturday evening work crew party.

Our dinner consists of potluck fare pulled from individual coolers and packs. We share everything. Sergey cooks his famous borscht. Mike grills something non-vegetarian that will never be served at sesshin. J.C. produces home-made hummus. I chop kindling and heat up a rice and shitake stew. We eat chocolate and cheese, dark rye bread and brown rice, radishes and nori. Reflecting the typically diverse makeup of our crews, "cheers" is said in Russian, Hebrew, Tagalog and several other languages.

As the campfire burns to embers and work crew members depart until morning, great horned owls begin their nightly performance. Faolan, Korinji's half-lab/half-border collie mascot, returns from a mysterious hour's absence covered in mud and burrs. The evening winds down with a great feeling of satisfaction at the work accomplished that day.

3. Sunday

Morning comes too early and too bright, even for October. The work crew gathers on site, and a quick communal breakfast of oatmeal and matcha heated on a propane stove gets us moving. Though most of the work is done, there's still enough for a Sunday to be sure. A few solid hours are needed to finish up and then pack everything away. Everything is set now for the sealing of the building which needs to take place later in the month.

Finally finishing around noon, and after a final lunch of leftovers washed down with Sergey's strong black tea, we're ready to say our goodbyes. Walking down the trail toward the parking area, we can look back across the ravine now that the leaves have mostly fallen and see Korinji up above us. This first view will be what future visitors see from below as they walk down the trail - perhaps arriving for sesshin - toward Korinji's gate.

Turning back up the trail, the cars aren't far. But in these last moments we tend to walk slowly, even to linger. There's always a reluctance to leave this place.

Luckily there's still a lot of work to be done, and a lot of time to be spent at Korinji in the future.

We welcome you join us October 22-31, and especially for the zazen, ceremony and celebration we'll conduct on the 30th. Email Korinji for more information (

October 11, 2010

Planting a garden

Work has begun on Korinji's food and medicinal garden. The garden site - a southeast-facing, gentle slope above the future residence, has been marked and cleared. It's a unique spot. Most of Korinji's land is rocky, forested ravine with clay and sandy soils. The garden, though, has a thick layer of nearly black, loamy earth. Apparently this layer is the remains of cow manure and hay deposition over many years that the spot was used for pasture by a local farmer. This history also means that our garden location is already open and sunny.

Eden Roemer, a Korinji supporter and volunteer, has begun designing the garden. Here's some more information from her:

The planning has begun for Korinji's vegetable and herb garden! The design is a fusion of the French poterage (or kitchen garden), the traditional Midwestern vegetable garden as well as other aspects that will further define and refine the layout.

What is exciting about Korinji's garden is that it is deeply rooted in the theory and practice of companion gardening. Simply put, this means that the placement of each plant is specific to its particular needs as it relates to growth enhancement, nitrogen giveaway, and pest-controlled ecosystem. Companion gardening is a type of organic and sustainable farming that is not new - just an art that has been more or less abandoned as a result of the use of pesticides.

As this new paradigm of self-sustainability evolves an awareness that is more self-aware and connected to the earth, Korinji will lead by example through the creation of its own independent food source that is environmentally friendly, self-sustainable, and constructed in harmony with its natural surroundings.

There is a saying among farmers that what a garden needs to grow is a little "loam, light, love and luck." Given the intention, energy and passion of the Korinji volunteers (not to mention the amazingly rich, nutrient-dense Wisconsin soil) there should always be an abundant harvest.

For more on Eden and her work, see her site Raw Earth Living.

Just now while posting this, I've received word that another of our supporters has been buying up purple coneflowers (echinacea) with the plan to over-winter them in her garage and plant them at Korinji in the spring. Wonderful!

Now we just need to start planning the bees we'd like to keep...

September 30, 2010

A gathering of friends

Here is the schedule for our October 30th Korinji Shinbokukai, or "Gathering of Friends":

1) 10:00 AM : 500 suburi (martial art training/sword cuts...non-martial artists are welcome to watch)
2) 11:00 ~ 11:30 Zazen (meditation)
3) 11:30 ~ 12:00 Zazen (meditation)
4) 12:00 ~ 12:30 Zen ceremony, dedicating our building on this occasion of the first formal Zen practice there.
5) 1:00 ~ 4:00 PM : Samu (work practice): general site clean up, equipment maintenance and storage and any other final work needed to prepare Korinji for winter.
6) 5:30 PM Group boat excursion through the famous scenic river gorges of nearby Wisconsin Dells (since it's Halloween weekend, this will be a themed "Haunted Boat Ride").
7) 7:30 PM Group dinner, location TBA.

Please RSVP to Korinji, and bring your family and friends (recommended age for the boat excursion is 10 or older).

September 27, 2010

Images of progress

We just spent our first autumn work weekend of the year at Korinji, continuing to finish off the interior framing supporting our roof. The maples and birches are just beginning to turn. A few of us spent evenings around a campfire shaking off the chill and enjoying our view of the brilliant, nearly full moon.

Here is a new video showing the dramatic progress made over the past two months; thanks to Greg Dekker for being our cameraman.

The next work weekend is October 16-17th, and then our final wrap-up week will be October 26th-31st. On Saturday the 30th, we'll have our first formal group zazen in our new building, followed by a brief dedication ceremony and end-of-season party. All are welcome!

September 20, 2010

Katsujinken: the sword that gives life

This past weekend saw the visit of T.K. Chiba Sensei, an Aikido master and Zen practitioner, to Chicago. Though Chiba Sensei is not in our particular Zen lineage, he is nevertheless one of the important and immensely powerful teachers whose energy has made Korinji's development possible. More than this, in fact, I can say very definitely that without Chiba Sensei, there would be no Korinji.

This may be a surprise to many of you since Toyoda Sensei, another Aikido master and one of our original teachers, is most often mentioned in this regard. Certainly it was Toyoda Sensei's dream of a rural Zen training monastery that was the seed of Korinji, and his work to plant both Zen and traditional martial arts in the West that set the tone for our practice. Toyoda Sensei was one of those who labored to transmit the spirit of Omori Roshi's training, and all of us now endeavor to do the same.

But it was Chiba Sensei who, during the difficult time immediately following Toyoda Sensei's sudden death, stepped in and encouraged many of us - in the true meaning of the word - to continue with our work. Had he not done this, I can say for sure that Korinji would not be happening. None of the resources currently going into Korinji, and none of the many hands building Korinji (belonging almost entirely to Aikido students, interestingly) would be here.

This was no coincidence. Toyoda Sensei and Chiba Sensei had a relationship rooted in their common ties to Aikido, Zen and misogi training, and their common work of transmitting these mind-body practices to westerners. In supporting us now with his energy and advice, one could perhaps say he is following through on the intentions behind that relationship.

Leaving aside "reasons" and "intentions", however, we can also simply say that Chiba Sensei is a good and wise teacher who has been immensely kind to us. We therefore count him among the key persons whose groundbreaking efforts have made everything in the future possible for Korinji. As we watch Korinji take physical shape, we should remember such remarkable individuals - a network of energy and intention stretching back through generations - who continue to be the benefactors enlivening our work.

September 14, 2010

Sesshin in Bavaria

I was grateful this past week to have the opportunity to travel for sesshin to Laufen, in southern Germany on the Austrian border. Our organizers, Raymond Schroder and Anselm Stahl, are among a group of long-time Zen practitioners with whom we've had connection for some time. They are also martial artists, and many of their community are bodyworkers.

Beautiful Bavarian weather, just starting to feel of autumn, greeted us in Laufen. The sesshin venue was an old Capuchin monastery just outside the medieval city gates. Built in the early 17th century, it was for centuries an important residence for Catholic monks observing the rigorous Capuchin rule. Though the last friar left in the 90's, inevitably something of their spirit seems to remain. Walking in the cloister garden, or doing zazen near the monastery cemetery during free sitting time in the evenings, we caught some sense of the atmosphere of intense devotion and simple, silent discipline that must have prevailed in that place.

Our rooms, interestingly, were originally the monk's cells...with the difference that two cells are now cobbled together for each modern single guest room. A few cells have been kept in their original state, however, with straw mattresses and worn writing desks being the sole evident luxuries. Our zendo was the room formerly used by the monks for chanting, and we practiced our own okyo there with an appreciation for that history (and for the acoustics). Perhaps the place bearing the most powerful feelings from the past, however, was the small prayer chapel nearby, barely 10 feet on a side, where we met for dokusan.

In short, I found myself over our few days of practice feeling a strong sense of appreciation for these monks, whose humble grave stones crowd a small courtyard just off the main garden and whose orchard still displayed for us some of the literal fruits of their labor.

Not less is the appreciation felt for our friends from Germany and Austria, who so obviously take very seriously the call in our lineage to physically embody Zen. I now gratefully know something also of Bavarian hospitality and cuisine. Many thanks to these training brothers and sisters in Europe, who are doing so much to bring alive the Zen teachings in a truly relevant and concrete manner.

August 25, 2010

Silk road Buddha revisited

Chicago artist Jennifer Dickson has continued her work creating the full-size Sakyamuni statue which will serve as Korinji's honzon (primary image). The 10" maquette she completed earlier this year (see February 2010 posts) serves as the model for this 30" final piece. Jen sent us this photo revealing the work in progress.

When done, the statue will be hollowed, fired and possibly covered with metal leaf (though we're going to wait and see what the rough, fired finish looks like by itself before deciding).

As described earlier, the design process for this statue led us to examine Buddhist sculptural styles from Japan, T'ang China, India and Gandhara. The Gandharan tradition, with its synthesis of Asian and Hellenistic influences, was particularly of meaning to us. We knew from the beginning that we didn't want to ape a Japanese style; like our buildings, it's important that the statue's style not feel completely out of place in the Wisconsin woods! And yet it still has to authentically represent the continuity that is Buddhism's journey through many cultures.

A fascinating project. Jen was told not to feel any pressure; the statue's image would just be plastered all over our website, and physically enshrined at Korinji, for decades to come.

August 24, 2010

Autumn work dates

Here is another view of the newly framed roof.

Upcoming work dates at Korinji have been announced:

September 25-26
October 16-17
October 26-31

Those final dates will be our cleanup and winterizing session, to ensure that our structure is ready to weather its first Wisconsin winter. Please come for any of these dates you can! To volunteer, please email Korinji:

Rumors are flying regarding an end-of-season party on that Halloween weekend, which may involve a visit to one of the nearby Wisconsin Dells water parks (and no doubt someplace with many jacuzzi tubs where construction-weary muscles might find relief). More information shortly.

August 13, 2010

Touching the sky

The structure of our roof is finished. After several weeks of work, including one intensive week during which a crew of professional builders did the actual roof raising, we now have the shell of a building.

In a word, it's huge. We thought it looked big when the deck was completed, but now with walls and roof erected the actual size of our structure is apparent. Standing on the top of the cupola gives a dizzying view out over our ravine.

Within the past few days we completed the attachment of a waterproof underlayment which will last us through the winter as we continue to raise funds. In the spring, we plan to be ready to go with our steel roof.

Now its wrap-up time for the year. We'll shortly announce a revised work weekend schedule through the fall, and our focus will be winterizing what we've accomplished: closing up doors and windows, cleaning up the building site, working on some final landscaping and trail-building, etc.

More images (video) soon. Right now we're too tired!

July 13, 2010

Refining posture, breath and awareness

Ko'gen (Tom) Nagel, Zen priest and author of "Zen and Horseback Riding", will teach a seminar entitled "Vertical Living" on August 21st in Mt. Prospect, Illinois. Tom has a fascinating and wide-ranging background not only in Zen, but in bodywork and martial arts. His instruction on body usage is immensely valuable for meditators, martial artists and all of us who strive to exist in our bodies with greater balance, integrity and center. It has also become highly regarded in the world guessed it...horseback riding.

Proceeds from this event will benefit the Korinji Foundation; thank you, Tom. Please take a look at the flyer here.

July 7, 2010

Falling down to raise a roof

The annual Fall-a-thon fundraiser for Korinji, conducted on June 26 by Shinjinkai, the Japanese Martial Arts Society, was once again successful beyond our wildest expectations: pledges now total just under $12,000.00! The intense energy demonstrated by these Aikido students has of course helped to physically build Korinji from the ground up (who can forget their work on groundbreaking day, carrying hundreds of bags of concrete deep into the woods). But this Fall-a-thon reminds us again that their work and dedication have largely funded Korinji's very existence. This seems only fitting, given that our Zen lineage emphasizes the importance of physically intense training, and historically has used martial arts for that purpose.

Because of this success we're now in position to raise our roof. The complexity of that task, however, means that we're going to turn the work over- for the first time - to hired professionals. A crew of carpenters led by Jim Mills (a builder of several dojos in the past under our late teacher Toyoda Sensei) will spend a week in July framing the roof that is so desperately needed to enclose and protect our structure.

This coming weekend, July 10-11, is our next work weekend at Korinji, when we set the stage by receiving delivery of the lumber needed for the roof. Our job is to get it all down to the site and ready for the professionals. As always, we need volunteers, so please contact Korinji if you'd like to help out!

If all goes well, this weekend will be the last that a few of us camp on the floor and look up to see stars. Our next video and photos from Korinji will be of an enclosed structure...

June 9, 2010

Wall video

A new video clip has been added to the Korinji site showing our recent wall-raising. We're in the middle of a hectic week preparing for the next stages, so for now we'll just let the images speak for themselves...

May 24, 2010

A roof over our heads

The Korinji Foundation has issued the following appeal:

Dear Korinji Friends,

We've come a long way at Korinji. It was only in 2005 that the Foundation began, and two years ago that we purchased our land near Madison, Wisconsin. Now this year will see the completion of the first structure there.

All of this has been accomplished entirely with donations, and our land development and construction have been done entirely by volunteers. Truly, the power of our united community to accomplish the Korinji vision is awe-inspiring!

But we're far from the finish line. In order to create a place where sustained residential dharma practice can take place, we have a lot of work to do...and resources to gather. Right now is an especially crucial time: before the end of August, we must have the resources to complete our roof! If we fail to do this, then all our construction work could be exposed to the elements, potentially causing great damage.

We need you to accomplish this. Please consider supporting Korinji in whatever way you can. There are two ways to help right now that would benefit Korinji tremendously:

1. Sign up for a monthly donation: on the Korinji website, you can sign up to make an automated monthly donation of as little as $15.00 a month. Even $15.00 helps us tremendously, and will go immediately toward the purchase of building materials for our construction (of course a larger donation helps more!) If you prefer, you may also opt to make a secure one-time, instant donation of any amount that you wish. All of these options may be found here.

(Remember, donations made to Korinji are tax-deductible. If you usually donate a certain amount to charity each year for tax-purposes, why not do it now? You'll receive a receipt for tax purposes documenting your contribution.)

2. Support the Fall-a-thon: the Fall-a-thon is an annual fundraiser conducted by our friends at Shinjinkai, the Japanese Martial Arts Society. Students of the martial art Aikido get together once a year to throw each other, using Aikido techniques, as many times as they can in 15 minutes. Much like a walk-a-thon, they obtain pledges from family and friends for this. In the past, their amazing effort has raised up to $15,000.00 within two hours!

We need them to be just as successful this year, and for that to happen our fallers need sponsors. If you'd like to be a sponsor, please contact us: We'll match you up with a faller needing sponsors, and you can let us know if you prefer to pledge a certain amount per fall, or to give a flat donation. And please come to the Fall-a-thon on June 26th in Chicago! It's an exciting event to watch, and you'll get to see the remarkable effort and spirit of these martial artists first hand.

For more information on the Fall-a-thon, please see this site.

Thank you again for supporting Korinji in the past. Please also accept our invitation to visit us there during one of our "monastery work weekends": as we continue our work throughout this summer and autumn, we'd be pleased to show you our progress and give you a tour of the land. Progress is happening fast there, and it's a thrilling time to be involved in this project.

We look forward to seeing you at Korinji soon, and long into the future.

May 20, 2010


This past weekend at Korinji we were able to complete the final work preliminary to raising our walls, two of which lie already framed and ready for lifting.

Moss-covered stones also now line most of the trail leading from the parking area to the building site. It was a busy weekend, with a lot of rocks being moved.

We're now issuing an urgent call to action for Memorial Day weekend, May 29-30, when we'll be lifting walls! We very much need strong arms for this: a 60-foot long wall, even in sections, is enormously heavy. Volunteers, please contact Korinji:

If all goes according to plan, we're now on schedule to be enclosed and under a new roof by the end of August...

May 4, 2010

On deck at Korinji

The decision to cancel our last work weekend due to severe thunderstorms was made up for by the glorious weather we had at Korinji this past weekend. Bright sun, clear skies and flowering apple and hawthorn trees were the setting for two long, hard days of construction.

There were some dicey moments. We actually had rain and thunderstorms, again, on the Friday before. A few of us worked in a drenching downpour that afternoon to unload wood; our friend from the local lumber yard went above and beyond the call to help us get all our materials as close to the building site as possible. He paid for his kindness, however: the sudden storm turned our construction drive to greasy mud within minutes, trapping his truck. Another truck was sent to pull him out, which immediately became stuck as well. The third truck was the charm.

By the time the general crew arrived Saturday morning, though, all was well. That evening saw the completion of the deck. After sunset I pitched my tent there, determined to finally sleep in - or at least on - our new building. Come Sunday we got back to work early, and the end of the day saw the two long walls framed. In the meantime a trail-building crew had also gathered hundreds of stones from across the property, which they moved into place along the edges of our woodland paths and at the base of the hill, where the largest may form stone steps below a future gate.

Thanks as always to all our dedicated crew members. May is a busy month, with two more work weekends to go: the 15th and 16th, and then the long Memorial Day weekend (29th-31st). It's also now beautiful camping weather at Korinji; we hope to see you on-site, and around the camp fire in the evenings.

We've added a video clip to the Korinji website (and to YouTube) showing this past weekend's progress, here. It shows something of a time lapse: I shot about 7 seconds of footage every hour or two. We'll stick to this format throughout the year, so that by fall we can edit together a longer video showing the entire season's progress.

April 26, 2010

Korinji Work Weekend: May 1-2

Following the cancellation of last weekend's Korinji work crew due to severe storms, we're back on track for this coming weekend!

If you'd like to volunteer to help out during this crucial stage in Korinji's construction, please email Korinji:

March 29, 2010

Bread for Korinji

Rich Bryant, a Chicago Aikido student, has started a new fundraiser baking and selling bread for Korinji. Here's his report...

I recently started baking loaves of bread when I became disappointed with what I was getting from the store and it's rising cost. I got tired of spending so much money on something I knew I could do better. There was also the satisfaction that what I was eating was a more organic food because I knew what I was putting into it. Soon I began to look into a various recipes and recipe books and the seed for my idea was born. After a few unexpected results and a lot of course corrections, I finally started to see and taste the results of my efforts.

That's why I'm here. I'm hoping to be able to share those results with you. On Facebook, I set up a small group page called "AI KI Dough". On this page, I've posted pictures of some of the breads I've made recently and how to contact me in case you might want to order some (hint, hint). I am donating a portion of the money from each sale to the Korinji Foundation Monastery Project and investing the other portion into buying yeast, flour and spices. I am hoping to have this fundraiser throughout the year. This Facebook website will be where I put photos and various updates of what's available and the progress we've made in raising funds.

To keep it simple, I am currently offering only three bread types at the moment, a sesame, a white and an Italian spiced. I have shipped some bread out of Chicago but shipping costs can be expensive. I'm hoping to find a way to set-up a paypal account to ease the process. I will offer special limited time only breads throughout the year as well. Even more reason to keep checking in. The first is a cinnamon raisin bread.

Please contact me via Facebook and I'll respond to you as quick as I can. If you don't have a facebook account, you can e-mail at Please put in the subject line Korinji Dough. That way I don't accidentally delete it. Also, there is usually a week between when you order and when your bread is delivered. So if you send your order in on a Tuesday, and your local, you can get your bread by the following Tuesday unless other arrangements have been made.

Thank you for your continued support to a very worthy cause.

March 25, 2010

Korinji kick-off

This past weekend, March 20-21, saw the beginning of the 2010 construction season at Korinji. With the snow gone, we were able to closely inspect our completed substructure to see how it weathered the final part of winter. The verdict: no movement whatsoever, and everything remains rock-solid. After some final tweaking of our deck bracing, we're now ready to lay down the deck plates and start framing walls. Measuring the nearly 70-foot long structure, we found the width at the north end to be 29 feet, 8 inches. At the south end: 29 feet, 7.5 inches. Not too bad!

Our next construction dates are April 23-25. After taking delivery of materials on that Friday, we'll need our usual dedicated volunteers to come up on Saturday and Sunday. Now, especially, we need people with basic construction or carpentry skill sufficient to frame our simple (but large) structure with direction from the managers. If you're one of these people, please join us for one or all of the coming work weekends! With each work weekend now, our structure gets higher...

The updated calendar of construction dates can be found on the Korinji site here.

March 10, 2010

Sango, Jigo II

Here's a link to a video of Engakuji, the temple referenced in our earlier post, courtesy of Tozan Park who's just returned from Japan. While there he happened to film the Byakurokudo: the "White Deer Cave" from which, legend says, emerged the the deer that came to listen to Mugaku Sogen's lecture.

March 9, 2010

Sango, Jigo

A recent question from one of our members prompted us to examine the tradition of naming Zen temples, which comes originally from China and was maintained in Japan.

Temples have two names: the sango (mountain name) and the jigo (temple name). You will often see these written on the temple gate.

For headquarters temples, the sango is generally Daihonzan ("Great Origin Mountain"). In the medieval Japanese system of temple ranking, Daihonzan are temples that serve as the ceremonial, training and administrative headquarters of distinct lines of Zen, or ha. Daihonzan Tenryuji in Kyoto, for example, is still today the headquarters for all of the temples affiliated to it, which are part of the Tenryuji-ha. Daihonzan Myoshinji has its affiliated temples. These divisions are best thought of as the result of lineage and history, and do not represent sectarian divide or any fundamental differences in practice.

Temples which are not Daihonzan, however, have varying sango. This is where it gets interesting. Many of these "mountain names" seem to be actual place names, or names descriptive of scenery or events. For example, a temple located on a mountain with an existing name of "White Cloud Mountain" may well have that name as its sango. The sango of Engakuji, a famous Rinzai temple in Kamakura, is Zuirokusan: "Lucky Deer Mountain". This comes from a legend relating that on the day of the temple's founding ceremony, the first abbot, Mugaku Sogen, gave the customary sermon. A herd of white deer, it is said, walked onto the scene and stood listening to him. This was considered a fortunate omen.

Jigo, the actual temple names, more often have distinct meaning in terms of Buddhist teaching. Daitokuji, for example, is the "Temple of Great Virtue". Myoshinji is the "Temple of Wondrous Mind".

Closer to home: the sango/jigo for our temple in Chicago is Sokeizan Daiyuzenji. Sokeizan is the sango for one of the temples related to the Sixth Patriarch. It seems to be an original place name; its use for us, however, is due to this connection with Huineng. Daiyuzenji means "Great Sublime Zen Temple". The "Great Sublime" comes from Daiyu-ho, "Great Sublime Peak", which was the mountain associated with Pai Chang/Hyakujo Ekai, considered the founder of the Zen monastic system. (see Hekigaroku case #26 "Hyakujo Sits on the Great Sublime Peak").

Hosokawa Roshi, Daiyuzenji's founder, picked these two names associated with pivotal early Zen ancestors to indicate roots and energy that go back before Zen's split into the so-called Five Houses and Seven Schools.

For Korinji: the sango is Sotekizan, "Patriarchal Target Mountain". This can be interpreted several ways from a Zen standpoint. On a more prosaic level, however, the name can be translated simply as "Ancestors" or "Grandfather's" mountain, and is in honor of one of our neighbors, a farmer in his 80's, who at one time owned the land on which Korinji is being built.

The jigo Korinji is fully Korinzenji: "Bright Forest Zen Temple". Korinji's forest is actually fairly dark and dense, but "Bright Forest" in this context refers to something else!

As we look at temple names, and the distinction between Daihonzan and other temples that exists in Japan, we see a different development in the West. There seems to be little or no attempt to organize Rinzai temples in a hierarchy. This is probably due to the fact that the various temples that have sprung up have roots in different Japanese ha, and thus there is no central Rinzai authority striving to exert organizational control outside of Japan. Rather, what we see here are loose associations of temples, bound together by common training roots, lineage and personal relationship.

For now, this seems perfect.

March 5, 2010

First 2010 Korinji Construction Weekend!

The Korinji Foundation Board of Directors has announced the following preliminary schedule for construction at Korinji this year. These are the primary work weekends for which we hope to have strong volunteer support. There will be additional weekends, however, during which we'll also welcome help...these will be announced as the building season progresses. Please note that some of these weekends may be subject to change.

3/20-21: Setup weekend
4/14-16: Work Weekend
4/23-25: Work Weekend
5/14-16: Work Weekend
5/28-31: Work Weekend
6/18-20: Work Weekend
7/10-11: Work Weekend
8/21-22: Work Weekend
9/10-12: Work Weekend
10/15-17: Work Weekend
10/26-31: Year End Work Week and wrap-up

Within the first couple of weekends, we'll see our walls start to take shape on the substructure we completed last fall. We look forward to seeing you at Korinji during this exciting time!

RIGHT NOW, we are calling for volunteers for the first weekend, March 20-21. There will not be major construction going on that weekend, but we'll need willing hands to help us with site prep, getting tools out of storage and back on-site, the clearing of winter debris from trails, etc.

To volunteer for this or any other weekend, in whole or part, please email us:

Carpooling will again be conducted from Daiyuzenji temple in Chicago on the morning of the 20th, and additional drivers are helpful if you have a car. If the weather is too cold for our usual camping arrangements on the land, we do still have an extremely reasonable rate at a local hotel. More details will be sent out to our volunteers shortly.

Thank you as always, and see you on the 20th!

February 23, 2010

Silk Road Buddha 2

The maquette is finished and drying. Here are some more views...

February 18, 2010

Silk Road Buddha

Zen student and talented Chicago sculptor Jennifer Dickson has been commissioned to create Korinji's honzon - the main image venerated on the altar. At Korinji this will be Shakyamuni, accompanied by the Bodhisattvas Monju (Manjusri) and Fugen (Samantabhadra).

A 10" high maquette is nearing completion, and gives some sense of the process of design on which Jen has worked so closely with us. We knew early on that we did not want a completely Japanese-style sculpture, just as we are not replicating a Japanese monastery structure: somehow these don't completely fit the Wisconsin woods. And so we strive for designs which preserve the form and spirit of our roots yet feel more organically at home here in the Midwest.

In considering sculptures, we've been inspired not only by Japanese and Indian precedents but also by the Gandharan styles that arose in what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan. These areas, marking the eastern-most extent of Alexander the Great's conquests, were the scenes of much cultural contact and ferment. The Buddhist sculptures from that region have a uniquely mixed Asian-Greek pedigree, bringing together eastern and western aesthetics in a sometimes shockingly beautiful manner that can feel very accessible to westerners.

So, here is the beginning of what will be our Buddha statue. Once finalized, work will begin on the final piece: three feet tall, fired terracotta, likely to be covered in a copper leaf that will darken and patina with age.

January 30, 2010

Opening the mirror

2010 will be a year in which tremendous energy and sweat will be expended on behalf of Korinji. January 23-24 marked a properly energetic start to such a year with the Kagami Biraki event hosted by the Aikido practitioners of Huron Valley Aikikai in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Rodger Tozan Park Sensei, Huron Valley's chief instructor and a brother in the Dharma, organized the event to benefit both the Korinji Foundation and Brooklyn Aikikai. Ryugan Robert Savoca, founder of Brooklyn Aikikai and also a Dharma brother, traveled from New York to take part. I was honored to help instruct the Aikido portion of this training weekend and to lead zazen; Park Sensei and Savoca Sensei also instructed Aikido, and Ryugan led us in the misogi training he practices as an affiliate of the famous Ichikukai Dojo in Tokyo.

Kagami Biraki is a traditional New Year's ceremony, which literally translates as "opening the mirror". Shinto shrines typically contain mirrors, and the ceremony of opening the shrines and exposing the mirrors within is considered a greatly auspicious event. Huron Valley Aikikai's opening to 2010 was certainly auspicious for everyone who attended. I'm pleased also to report that Park Sensei was able to make a generous donation to the Korinji Foundation as a result.

As always, our gratitude to our Aikido friends who so often sacrifice their energy on behalf of Korinji.

January 20, 2010

Winter at Korinji: Community Meeting on Feb. 21st

We've just returned from a visit to Korinji, and are pleased to report that our structure is weathering the winter perfectly. Though our foundation pilings extend several feet below the frost line, one always worries about movement. Or at least I did. Happily, none was detected, and our deck is as level as we left it in October. The treated lumber has dried, and everything feels rock solid. Jim Mills, a master carpenter and woodworker among other interesting things, accompanied me on a snowshoe tour of the site. That our work thus far met with his approval was a very good thing.

With the foliage all down, once again we're able to see every contour and rock in the land , and future development becomes easy to envision. Also interesting is that the individual characters of each tree are more easily seen without the dense canopy. I was surprised to see not only the birches and maples that seem to predominate, but also that we have a great number of hawthorne, apple and musclewood trees.

On the way up, I should mention, Jim and I also stopped in to speak with some wood-burning stove folks: based on the information we were able to get regarding efficient wood stoves, our options for heating Korinji's zendo may have expanded.

Finally, another important meeting occurred in Chicago this past weekend, and another is shortly to occur: project managers Tom Teterycz, Greg Dekker and myself have sketched out a draft construction schedule for the year. We'll be giving presentations on this and other aspects of our monastery project at the annual Korinji Community Meeting, to be held at Daiyuzenji in Chicago on Sunday, February 21st, 11am.

We invite all our donors, supporters and any other interested persons to come. 2010 will be the year we see a roof over our heads at Korinji, and we welcome your participation!