Sitting at Kojin-an
I just attended my first sit at Kojin-an Zendo here in Oakland. A fellow, Paul, from the “Saturday Night Sangha” open sitting group offered to take people there this evening and I decided to be wild and follow the opportunity to sit still for 40 minutes in a new place.
I’d heard about Kojin-an before but had never had the opportunity to visit. It is a small zendo, seating twelve in the main room. (The site mentions seating eighteen total but that includes putting six people in the outside hallway.) It is easily the smallest formal functioning zendo that I’ve seen. It resides, surrounded by trees and bamboo, on the back portion of a private residence in a nice neighborhood in Oakland.
As the history page on their website states, Kojin-an started in the early 1980’s as an converted attic space. Eventually, in 1990, the current land and house were acquired and the resident priest, Rev. Gengo Akiba, arranged to have a small zendo designed in Japan, have it disassembled after being built there, and then shipped to the Bay Area and reassembled. Following this, it was formalized as an official Soto-shu temple and Rev. Akiba was eventually appointed the sokan (bishop) for Soto-shu in in North America. He retired a couple of years ago and lives in the house next to the zendo now, with his wife, the founder and owner of a large and popular local Japanese restaurant, Yoshi’s.
From what I had previously heard, and had confirmed today, the zendo operates in a fairly quiet and intimate fashion. This isn’t surprising since it is literally in the backyard of a private residence. They don’t generally advertise in the local community. People find out about it by word of mouth. In order to sit there or visit, you need to go with someone who has gone to it before, who acts to introduce you. This keeps the place from having too many strangers just wander in but doesn’t act as much of a barrier. When I’d heard about Kojin-an a few years ago, I’d heard it was semi-private and that you needed to talk to someone who went there to even get the address. That semi-obscurity kept me from finding the place but I am very glad that I was introduced today. On weekdays, people can sit in the evening at a set time (usually for 40 minutes) and there are regular weekend events, including a more formal Sunday morning session of sitting. I was told that if I started coming on a regular basis, I should go to one of the Sunday morning sessions so I can meet Rev. Akiba and others (and they could meet me). While the calendar doesn’t list much, I am told that Rev. Akiba does organize sesshins on occasion and has students that come work with him, so there is some formal activity.
When I went there with Paul, he brought two friends, at least one of which was Soto or had done a bit of Soto work. The three of them were met by three of us from the Saturday Night Sangha, which is a local sitting group that…meets on Saturday nights (though it is not specifically Buddhist as some of the folks are “non-dual” practitioners of some kind of advaita). No one else was there this evening so the six of us halfway filled up the zendo and had a nice sit. Once we were done, we made our way out past the dog and went on our separate paths. It was a nice, low-key, way to just get together and sit and I found that I liked the lack of hustle and bustle in comparison to going to some of the larger groups.
I expect that I will go back on a Sunday morning (maybe not this coming Sunday though) and go there again. The place is only a couple of miles from my home (about a 10 or 15 minute drive depending on traffic) and is just so beautiful. I’ve put a small set of the few photos I took while there up on Flickr. Kojin-an also has a Facebook page.