Great Vow Zen Monastery began in April 2002, when the Zen Community of Oregon decided to purchase the Quincy-Mayger Elementary school in Clatskanie, OR to manifest its vision of creating a full-time, residential, training monastery. Chozen and Hogen Bays, along with 10 students, moved from Larch Mountain in Corbett, OR to Clatskanie and began the transformation. Previously ZCO had owned two properties (roughly 8 acres) on Larch Mountain along the Columbia Gorge and had been using them as a residential training center. Land use laws prevented ZCO from using the Larch Mt. property for retreats.
The elementary school was built in 1971, and rests on a sloping 20 acres of land. The land includes a large parking lot, several fields and meadows, a small stream, and woods. The property had been an active and much loved elementary school for over 30 years. In 1997 the school closed due to lack of students and funds, and the school sat empty for 5 years, but for a caretaker. When the Bays and residents arrived at the old school they found it full of school supplies, kitchen supplies, and furniture.
School items not of use to the monastery were packed by the residents and taken away by the school district. Next came the unpacking and organizing. Systems of flow had to be set up for the kitchen, housekeeping, etc. The zendo was cleaned and painted by the combined effort of ZCO and Dharma Rain Zen Center sanghas. All the while, three meals were cooked daily, the meditation schedule was upheld, and a Sunday program was begun.
Residents continued to come and go. The first Introduction to Zen retreat was attended by two guests, who are still members of the Sangha. The first sesshin was held by Dharma Rain Zen Center in May 2002. From that first sesshin to date (January 2008), GVZM has offered roughly 69 sesshin, 20 Beginner’s Mind retreats, and 63 other retreats. We have hosted the annual meetings for the American Zen Teachers Association, White Plum Asangha, and various Soto Zen Buddhist Association meetings including the first Dharma Heritage ceremony for American teachers.
After transforming the interior into a functional monastery with a zendo, a guest hall, and a residents’ hall, attention was turned to the gardens. Various professional gardeners gave advice and assistance on first creating an organic garden (which would double in size the following year), an orchard of fruit trees, a greenhouse, and a berry patch.
Great Vow Zen Monastery has grown immensely since its first days and continues to progress steadily. We look forward to the future, the new residents who will come, and the new projects we will undertake.
Great Vow is the monastic arm of the Zen Community of Oregon.
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