History of the Arcata Zen Group
The Early Years
The Arcata Zen Group began sometime in the early 1970's. Lloyd F., an HSU professor, recalls sitting in the old Arcata Creamery. Other long-time sangha members have mentioned a place they called "The Falling-Down Garage Zendo." Ta Hui (Donald Gilbert), a Korean Zen master, was Lloyd's teacher and visiting teacher to the group. The group persisted as a loose-knit and low-key assemblage, moving from place to place until it found a fairly stable address in a small out-building, rumored to have once been a chinchilla farm, on Lloyd's property on California Street. Various visiting teachers came, including Issan Dorsey, Don Gilbert, Zen priest Steve Allen, Ed Brown, and Maezumi Roshi.
Evolving Sangha Life
In 1989, Maylie Scott, a priest at Berkeley Zen Center, was invited up, and in the next months Maylie and the group agreed that she would come up every other month to lead a retreat and that this contract would be reviewed at the end of the year. One year led to the next and one-day retreats turned into three-day sesshins. Lloyd moved to a larger property in North Arcata and generously continued to host group retreats. The core group of about a dozen members began to grow and rented The Aikido Room, behind the Arcata Plaza, for Sunday morning meetings.
The group began to acquire a distinctive life. A number of retreats were held in beautiful natural settings. There were backpack retreats, trips east to Sandy Bar on the Klamath and Salmon Rivers. The annual Big Flat retreat, walking 8 miles north along the beach from Shelter Cove, was established. A practice committee was established, meeting every month to discuss organizational issues. Gradually the group began to think about the future. How could we have our own property? We began looking around.
Rin Shin-ji - Forest Heart Temple
Everything was ready when Maylie decided to move up in l998. Immediately after she announced her decision, a member ran into a friend who was about to put his newly remodeled house at 740 Park Avenue, with its triple car garage, on the market. Maylie made a special trip up to see it; all agreed it was just right and that the garage would make a great zendo. The house never went on the market. It was almost another year before Maylie moved up, so the house was rented with the stipulation that the group could use the downstairs room for retreats.
The group made the bold decision to begin the garage-to-zendo remodel right away. The decision was wonderfully strengthened by the appearance of a new member who was a carpenter and contractor. Rob agreed to take the project on along with his partner Dan and was happy to accept whatever volunteer labor came along. The arduous process of permit seeking began and in November, 1999 work on the new zendo began. The group elected a Board of Directors and established 501c3 status. Money poured in and the zendo, to be named Rin Shin-ji, was mostly finished in April of 2000 when Sojun Mel Weitsman came up for the formal opening ceremony.
Shortly after Maylie's death, a sangha member reflected, "In a Dharma talk that Maylie gave in March of 2001 she refers to Bodhidharma’s words on the how and where of authentic practice. Bodhidharma said: “By pointing directly to your own heart, find Buddha.” Rin Shin-ji or Forest Heart Temple is the name Maylie (with some help from Kaz Tanahashi) gave to the zendo at 740 Park Ave. In doing this she was designating more than a place. She identified a spirit of place and practice, the refuge of Buddha, that we have inherited and continue to nurture. It is not subject to life and death or zoning regulations but is not separate from them either. Maylie had great faith in a future that would fall into place naturally. By pointing directly to her own heart she showed us what we need to know."
The AZG continues to evolve, exploring new directions - such as prison sangha practice and founding a local Buddhist Peace Fellowship chapter - and new dimensions of sangha practice.