Mendocino County is as breathtaking as ever, but we recently stumbled across something that took us by surprise. My mother-in-law, who accompanied us on this trip, had heard of a restaurant called 10,000 Buddhas that intrigued her and she wanted us to go there for lunch. She said it was a Buddhist restaurant close to where we were staying, and we needed to check it out. Needless to say, we took her sage advice and had an experience that far exceeded any preconceived notions that the trip had to offer.
First, it was not just a restaurant, oh no – The City of 10,000 Buddhas as we found out is the largest Buddhist monastery in North America. You turn the corner in the tiny town of Talmage and are greeted with an amazing arch, and it only gets more fantastic after that. When you consider that we were just going there for lunch, and sampling the highly recommended protein balls, we definitely got more than we bargained for. Second, the restaurant was not called Ten Thousand Buddhas, that is the name of the monastery, but Jyun Kang Vegetarian Restaurant. As I alluded to it is vegetarian but also organic, and simply delicious. We sampled to our hearts content and as I recall the most expensive item on the menu was in the eight dollar range.
The restaurant reminded me of a similar set up on Lantou Island in Hong Kong, also a Buddhist monastery, with a restaurant supporting its existence. It struck me as a bit ironic that two of my most recent encounters with Buddhist establishments centered around capitalistic enterprise. In the class I teach, one of the first topics covered relates to the impact that religion may have on commerce, with a theory that Buddhist may not be the best business folks.
The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was established in 1974 on the grounds of the former Mendocino State Hospital that had been built in 1889. The rest of the land consists of meadows, orchards, and forests. It is the first large Buddhist Way-place in the States, and an international Way-place of Proper Dharma. With over 400 acres it is one of the largest Buddhist communities in the Western Hemisphere, and the first Chinese Zen Buddhist temple in the US in the Guiyang Ch’an School. The city is noted for their close adherence to the vinaya, the austere traditional Buddhist monastic code.
The Venerable Master described founding of the City:
“It could be said that the causes and conditions for the establishment of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas were predetermined limitless eons ago. It was decided then that the Buddhadharma would be propagated to the West at the present time, and that the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas would appear. The City didn’t make its appearance by falling from the heavens or welling forth from the earth. Rather, it was built by people. Seventy or eighty buildings were constructed. How did the seventy or eighty buildings come to be constructed? It was done before World War II, during a time of great affluence in America. That’s why such a large complex of buildings could be built. These buildings were not built in a shoddy way with inferior materials. They were built with honest labor and are very sturdy. The materials used were of especially high quality.”
The Six Principles of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
- No Fighting
- No Greed
- No Seeking
- No Selfishness
- No Pursuit of Personal Advantage
- No Lying
Some more basic rules were also established:
No incense is ever offered personally by any of the lay practitioners and guests. Master Hsuan Hua believed that it was totally superstitious to insist on personally offering incense to the Buddhas, and that if many people offered incense, the Buddhas could not handle the large amount of smoke. He also pointed out that quality incense is expensive and that poor incense can ruin the walls and statues.
During recitation, all practitioners must keep their hands in front of their chest during circumbulations, with their right hand on top of their left. Their hands can then be in prayer position when circumbulations are over. No one is allowed to look at anyone during recitations.
No one is allowed to eat before the monks.
Flattery is prohibited. All are to refrain from praising people and never to deliberately slander anyone.
No arrogance is in the temple.
Meandering the Grounds
The Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas is adorned with streamers, banners, and of course the thousand-handed Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva statue, followed by the walls lined with thousands of Buddhas.
The Dharma Realm Buddhist University educates students to become wise and virtuous leaders in the world. It emphasizes a foundation in virtue, which expands to helping all beings discover their inherent nature.
Jyun Kang Vegetarian Restaurant is the university’s vegan canteen. The goal is to serve healthful nutritious food full of the good karma of non-harming.
Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts: This facility was active in the early years as a center for translation and as a residence hall for nuns and laywomen.
The Tower of Blessings houses the elderly monastics residing in the city.
The Five Contemplations Dining Hall, with a forty-foot painting of Guan Yin Bodhisattva.
Five Contemplations Dining Hall: Completed in 1982, it is where the monastics and resident lay community follow the formal monastic style in taking their lunch meal.
Instilling Goodness Elementary and Developing Virtue Secondary Schools.
Unique features at the monastery
- The monastics always wear their kasaya sashes (long sashes worn outside the monastic clothing)
- The monks eat a single meal and only before noon.
- At night most of them sit up and rest, not lying down to sleep.
- Monks do not have social lives, nor do men and women intermingle. Some monastics go further and take a vow of silence, and wear a sign saying “silence” and do not speak with anyone.
- There are monks and nuns who maintain the precept of not owning personal wealth and not touching money, thus eliminating the thought of money and increasing their purity of mind.
Unique to the City, the monastery houses both male and female Sangha, students from the boarding school. Many monasteries in China, Taiwan, and in the West house only monks or only nuns but not both. However, males and females have separate campuses, with gender-neutral buildings in the middle of the campus. Children come from around the world to attend.
NOTE: I checked out The City of 10,000 Buddhas on the internet and found a few folks that made a special trip from the Bay Area to visit and were disappointed. I imagine the 100+ mile trip set the standards very high. I’d not recommend a special trip, but if you happen to be in Mendocino Country, it is worth investigating, especially if you like vegan food and are up for something different.
Buddhism, the world’s forth largest religion, is based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha (awakened one). He is recognized as an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help end suffering (dukkha), achieve nirvana, and escape a cycle of suffering and rebirth. Some question whether Buddhism is really a religion at all as there is no “deity” or god.
The two major branches of Buddhism are: Theravada (“The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”).
Theravada—the oldest surviving branch—has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
Mahayana is found throughout East Asia and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, Tendai and Shinnyo-en.
According to the Theravada Tipitaka scriptures, shortly after the birth of young prince Gautama, an astrologer visited his father and prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce material processions to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls.
Śuddhodana was determined to see his son become a king so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father’s efforts, Siddhartha ventured beyond the palace. In a series of encounters—known in Buddhist literature as the four sights he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic holy man at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest.
Gautama first studied with the famous religious teachers of the day, and mastered the meditative attainments they taught. But he found that they did not end suffering, so he continued his quest. He next attempted an extreme asceticism, Gautama underwent prolonged fasting, breath-holding, and exposure to pain; almost starving himself to death in the process. He realized that he had taken this kind of practice to its limit, and had not ended suffering. So in a pivotal moment he accepted milk and rice from a village girl and changed his approach. He devoted himself to anapanasati meditation, through which he discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way (“madhyam path”): a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-sacrifice.
Gautama was 35 years old, when he meditated under a sacred fig tree — the Bodhi tree — and vowed not to rise before achieving enlightenment. After many days, he destroyed the fetters of his mind, and liberated himself from the cycle of suffering and rebirth, and arose as a fully enlightened being. As the Buddha, he spent the remainder of his life teaching the path of awakening.
Karma is the force that drives the cycle of suffering and rebirth. Good deeds and bad actions produce “seeds” in the mind which come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. In Buddhism, karma specifically refers to those actions that spring from mental intent (cetana), and bring a consequence. Every time a person acts there is some quality of intention at the base of the mind and it is this quality rather than action that determines its effect.
In Theravada Buddhism there can be no divine salvation or forgiveness for one’s karma, since it is a purely impersonal process that is a part of the makeup of the universe. Some Mahayana traditions claim that reciting or merely hearing their texts can expunge negative karma. Some forms of Buddhism (Vajrayana) regard the recitation of mantras as a means for cutting off previous negative karma.
Rebirth is a process of going through a succession of lifetimes as one of many forms of sentient life. Buddhism rejects the concepts of a permanent self or an eternal soul, as in Hinduism and Christianity. According to Buddhism there is no such thing as a self independent from the rest of the universe.
Each rebirth takes place within one of several realms:
- Naraka – those living in one of many Narakas (Hells)
- Preta – shares space with humans, but invisible to most people
- Animals – shares space with humans
- Humans: one of the realms of rebirth in which attaining Nirvana is possible
- Asuras – lowly deities
- Devas – including Brahmas: deities or gods
Refuge in the Three Jewels
The first step in most Buddhist schools requires taking refuge in the Three Jewels as the foundation of one’s religious practice.
The Three Jewels are:
- The Buddha is the title for those who have attained Nirvana. The Buddha could also be represented as a concept instead of a specific person: the perfect wisdom that understands Dharma and sees reality.
- The Dharma. The teachings or law of nature as expounded by the Gautama Buddha.
- The Sangha. Those who have attained to any of the Four stages of enlightenment, or simply the congregation of monastic practitioners.
According to the scriptures, Gautama Buddha presented himself as a model. The Dharma offers a refuge by providing guidelines for the alleviation of suffering and the attainment of Nirvana. The Sangha is considered to provide a refuge by preserving the authentic teachings of the Buddha and providing further examples that the truth of the Buddha’s teachings is attainable.
The five precepts are the primary training rules to live a better life in which one is happy, without worries, and can meditate:
- To refrain from taking life
- To refrain from taking that which is not given
- To refrain from sensual misconduct
- To refrain from lying
- To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness
I just scratched the surface on Buddhaism, and there are some great resources out there. I’ve linked to some at the bottom of the page.
Vegetarianism and Buddhism
When most people think of food + Buddhism, they think of vegetarian food, but it is more complicated than that. Here’s a few basic ideas. It should align itself with the general Buddhist precept of ahimsa (non-violence). Buddhism recognizes that even eating vegetables may indirectly lead to killing animals through tilling the soil or using pesticides. Various Buddhist branches take different stands on meat consumption varies: Tibetan Buddhism believes that tantric practice makes vegetarianism unnecessary. The Japanese Kamakura sects of Buddhism (Zen, Nichiren, Jodo) do not practice vegetarianism. Chinese Buddhism and part of Korean Buddhism strictly adhere to vegetarianism.
Some Mahayana Buddhists avoid eating strong-smelling plants, such as garlic, asafetida, and shallots as they may excite the senses. Along these lines, alcohol and other drugs are avoided by many Buddhists for their effects on “mindfulness”. Their consumption runs counter to the Five Precepts which dictate that one does not consume “addictive materials.”
Buddhist vegetarian chefs are incredibly creative in imitating meat using specially prepared wheat gluten (seitan), soy (tofu or tempeh), and other plant products. Some of their recipes are the oldest and fake meat (meat analogues) in the world. Soy and wheat gluten are very versatile materials, because they can be manufactured into various shapes and textures, and they absorb flavorings, and have very little flavor of their own.