Great Vow Zen Monastery is a training monastery in the White Plum Lineage of the Japanese Soto Zen tradition. Abbot Hogen Bays was an early disciple of Roshi Philip Kapleau; both he and Chozen Roshi studied for many years with Taizan Maezumi Roshi at Zen Center of Los Angeles. More recently they have continued to deepen their spiritual practice with the respected contemporary Rinzai Zen teacher Shodo Harada Roshi.
Visiting teachers often lead or co-lead meditation retreats or weekend workshops at the monastery, sometimes on a recurring annual basis. Among them are Buddhist teachers Kyogen and Gyokuko Carlson; Ejo Patrick McMullen; Lama Michael Conklin; B Alan Wallace; and Ajahn Amaro.
The monastery is housed in a former elementary school on twenty acres of land overlooking the Columbia River floodplain near Clatskanie, Oregon. Two former classroom "pods" serve as dormitory wings for residents and visitors. Administrative offices and the meditation hall occupy the center of the building. Landscaped courtyards are scattered throughout the building.
The monastery building is surrounded by a meadow dotted with large conifers. A wooded area with walking trails sits behind the building.
The overall style of training at the monastery is primarily in the Soto Zen vein, but incorporates elements from various schools of Buddhism, and from other disciplines relevant to the development of insight and compassion.
The fundamental inheritance from the Japanese Zen tradition--communal living, meditation practice, working with a teacher--is preserved, although the outer trappings have been modified to accommodate a Western sensibility and reflect the teachers' personal style. A resident at the monastery might engage in classic koan study during early morning meditation, work in the monastery's organic garden during the day, participate in a marimba rehearsal on her lunch break, and volunteer at a community center in nearby Clatskanie, Oregon on her day off. All these activities would provide her with an opportunity to express and deepen her spiritual practice.
The daily training schedule, which is followed by all residents, includes a wakeup bell at 3:50 a.m., two hours of meditation, a bowing and chanting service, breakfast, and two periods of work practice. Lunch and dinner are both preceded by a short service. Two hours of meditation in the evening end the day. The schedule may be modified at various times of year, or to accommodate special events or classes.
The bodhisattva ("Wisdom Being") known as Jizo (in the Japanese tradition; Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit) embodies the spiritual energy of Great Vow Monastery. Traditionally depicted in monk's attire, Jizo Bodhisattva is a representation of the archetypal energy of optimism, fearlessness, benevolence, and determination. Jizo is the guardian of children and the patron of all beings caught in the uncertainties of life's transitions.
Practice with Jizo Bodhisattva includes daily chanting the Jizo mantra; manufacture for sale of Jizo images; a meditation retreat designed to foster the qualities Jizo represents; biannual ceremonies for children and loved ones who have died; and a yearly Jizo-Bon festival event in August.
The monastery is sustained by the members of ZCO, which includes a substantial lay congregation that meets for sitting meditation in Portland, and a handful of associated satellite groups in Oregon and Washington.
The monastery is supported by fundraising efforts; donations from visitors; retreat and workshop fees; and the sale of meditation supplies and Buddhist images.
Great Vow Zen Monastery welcomes the public to a Sunday morning public program at 10 a.m., which consists of a short service followed by meditation, a talk given by one of the teachers, and lunch.
Weekend workshops exploring various aspects of daily life with a Zen focus are offered several times a month. Weeklong meditation intensives are held monthly.
Visitors interested in meditation in the Buddhist tradition may arrange a short-term stay at the monastery in order to experience work and meditation in a tranquil and supportive environment. Longer-term residency--including investigating one's possible vocation as a Zen priest--is by arrangement and at the discretion of the teachers.
Both monastery residents and short-term visitors sleep in gender-specific dormitories of several beds to a room. All meals are vegetarian.