Our mission is to provide opportunities for the practice and study of Zen Buddhism in the tradition of Eihei Dogen and Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. We emphasize zazen as our central practice and its application to everyday life, with a focus on social and environmental justice. May all beings be free from suffering.
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 a 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, Donald 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 to visit, and soon we 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 northern Arcata and generously continued to host group retreats. The core group of about a dozen members began to grow and rented the Aikido Center, 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, and trips east to Sandy Bar on the Klamath and Salmon Rivers. The annual Big Flat retreat, walking eight miles north along the beach from Shelter Cove, was established. A practice committee was established, which met monthly to discuss organizational issues. Gradually, the group began to think about the future. How could we have our own property? We began looking around.
Rinshin-ji - Forest Heart Temple
Everything was ready when Maylie decided to move to Arcata in 1998. 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 to see it, and 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 to Arcata. In the meantime, the house was rented, with the stipulation that the we could use the downstairs room for retreats.
We 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 construction began. We elected a Board of Directors and established 501(c)(3) status. Money poured in and the zendo, to be named Rinshin-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. 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."
Arcata Zen Group continues to evolve, exploring new directions, such as prison sangha practice and founding a local Buddhist Peace Fellowship chapter, as well as new dimensions of sangha practice. After Maylie died, we asked Alan Senauke and Angie Boissevain, Maylie's dharma friends and colleagues, to be our visiting teachers and advisors, with the understanding that we would be looking for a long-term resident teacher. In addition, Mary Mocine has been a regular visiting teacher in the years since Maylie's death. Mark Lancaster, from San Francisco Zen Center, was also a regular visiting teacher. In 2014 we hired Eugene Bush, from Santa Cruz Zen Center, as our Head Teacher. Arcata Zen Group is thriving under Gene's leadership and example.
In the years since Maylie's death, we have matured as a community with the support of a strong Practice Committee and Board of Directors as well as from members who have stepped forward to help lead in other vital roles. Two members have taken vows as Zen priests and a number of members have received lay ordination. The spirit of practice is anchored by zazen and the supporting roles of a growing and dedicated sangha. Gene encourages us to discover and enact the richness and engagement available in sangha life. We feel very lucky to have him with us here on the north coast.
Maylie Kushin Seisho Scott
Maylie Scott was the founding abbess of the Arcata Zen Group (AZG). She began her study and practice of Zen Buddhism in 1971 and was ordained as a priest in 1988. From 1990 until 1998 Maylie was a visiting teacher at AZG. AZG was formed in 1999 when she moved into her home in Arcata and directed the conversion of her garage into a zendo. Because she loved to walk in the nearby forest, she named the zendo Rin Shin-ji, Forest Heart Temple. She received full transmission in 1998 from Sojun Mel Weitsman. Maylie’s Dharma transmission name is Kushin Seisho, which translates as Vast Mind, Clearly Shining.
In addition to her intense devotion to zazen, Maylie was a committed activist. She was on the Buddhist Peace Fellowship's Board of Directors, involved in anti-nuclear activities, and a founder of and mentor for BASE (Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement). She was active both in Berkeley and Arcata in prisoner advocacy work, beginning an outreach group of Arcata Zen Group at Pelican Bay Prison.
Maylie died in 2001. Her memorial stone is in our zendo garden.
Maylie Scott Memorial
On May 10, 2001, after a brief illness, Maylie Scott Roshi died peacefully at her home in Arcata, California. She was the founding abbess of Rin Shin-ji, Forest Heart Soto Zen Temple in Arcata, Humboldt County, California. Her family was with her during the last weeks of her illness. Maylie was born March 29, 1935, grew up in New York City, and graduated from Harvard University in 1956. She married the same year, and after some travel, she and her family moved to Berkeley, California, where she received a Masters Degree in Social Work from UC Berkeley. Subsequently, she worked for Alameda County Mental Health as a therapist and administrator.
She began her study and practice of Zen Buddhism with Sojun Roshi, Mel Weitsman, in 1971, was ordained a priest in 1988, and received full transmission from him during a seven-day ceremony at Tassajara in 1998. Alan Senauke, her dharma brother, received transmission at the same time. Maylie's Dharma Transmission name is Kushin Seisho, Vast Mind, Clearly Shining. Maylie called Sojun Roshi her "root" teacher, but another of her teachers was Maurine Stuart Roshi. In the 1980's Maurine came periodically from the East Coast to lead women-only sesshins. Maylie was one of the women who attended, and through those encounters, they became close friends.
In addition to her intense devotion to zazen, Maylie was a "devotedly do" activist. She was on the Board of Directors of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, involved in anti-nuclear issues, a founder of and mentor for BASE (Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement), and was active in both Berkeley and Arcata in prisoner advocacy work. She toured Pelican Bay Prison, north of Arcata, and had developed a relationship with a prisoner there. From 1990 until 1998, Maylie was the visiting teacher for Arcata Zen Group. She came up every other month from Berkeley to conduct sesshin, to begin a BASE group, and to encourage our practice as well as to give greater structure to our loosely knit group.
In July of 1999, she moved permanently into her home in Arcata and directed the conversion of her garage into a zendo. Because she loved the redwood forests and walked almost daily in Arcata's nearby Redwood Park, she named the zendo Rin Shin-ji, Forest Heart Temple. In the month and weeks and days before her death, both while in the hospital and at home, Maylie was surrounded by family, friends, and students. After she was released from the hospital, she insisted on seeing anyone and everyone who wanted to see her. A schedule was set up for people to see her one by one for 10 or 15 minutes. More formally family, students, and friends were invited into her room four times a day to sit for 15 minutes and to chant the Heart Sutra. Rose B., an RN and close disciple of Maylie's, directed these gatherings. Family members always joined in. After Sojun Roshi, Alan Senauke, and Mary Mocine, a priest at the Vallejo Zen Center, arrived they, too, were present to support our sitting and chanting.
Early in the week that Maylie died, it was decided that these sittings and chanting should take place in the zendo. Some of Maylie's students as well as Alan and Mary were sitting together at 4:15 on the afternoon of May 10 when word came down from the house that Kushin Seisho, Maylie Scott, Roshi, had died. After the family had spent time with her, and Mel, Alan, and Mary had shaved her head and their own, the rest of us went to her room where she lay in her robes, covered with bright flowers. We crowded around her bed and stood quietly for a time before ceremonies began in the flower filled, candle-lit setting where so many of her students had had dokusan with her. Her body was then carried downstairs from her bedroom and placed in an open, plain pine coffin, made by one of Maylie's longtime students, in the living room. The coffin was then carried down to the zendo.
The ceremonies in the zendo, led by Sojun Roshi and assisted by Mary and Alan, then began. All present had a chance to ask questions of Sojun Roshi and to offer flowers and words to Maylie. After some three hours, the thirty-five to forty people present returned to Maylie's house for food and drink. The following day at noon, Alan led the circumambulation of the coffin as we chanted the names of the Buddha's and bodhisattvas. People who had not been present the previous evening had a chance to speak to or about Maylie. On Monday morning, May 14, there was a last gathering in the chapel in nearby Eureka where Maylie was cremated. Like all the other ceremonies, it combined Buddhist and Christian elements. It began with chanting the Heart Sutra, certainly Maylie's favorite, followed by recitation of the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo. In the Soto Zen tradition, this is traditionally chanted 21 times for 49 days for the deceased. Maylie had told her students that she had done this for her and her sister's mother. We at Rin Shin-ji did the same for Maylie.
After the chanting, Father Erik Duff, of St. Alban's Episcopal Church, opened comments with a tribute to Maylie. While Maylie was at home, he had administered the Eucharist to both her and Mother Mary John, Maylie's sister, as well as to other members of the family, who attended St. Alban's during the three Sundays they were in Arcata. There followed a vocal solo by her son John and comments by members of the family and by some of Maylie's students and friends. Near the end of the service, we read: Compassionate ones, protect your daughter, Kushin Seisho Daiosho, Maylie Scott Roshi, with the endless merit of your great vows. On the evening of Maylie's death, in response to a question, one of Sojun Roshi's teaching's was: "No Regrets"
by Gael H.
At the memorial service for Maylie Scott, Roshi
The shadow of the bamboo sweeps the steps,
But the dust does not stir.
The moon's disc bores into the lake
But the water shows no scar.
Ancient Taoist Poem Presented to Maylie in 1992
by Hoitsu Suzuki-roshi at Rinso-in in Japan
(Thanks to Grace for sharing this poem)
Maylie Scott's Final Dharma Talk, April 15, 2001
Well, Happy Easter. [Maylie gives a brief summation of the previous week's talk about belief in Buddhism.]
So what do we do with our beliefs? I can't quite swallow the idea that it is possible to have no beliefs. I think that all of us have them, and they are diverse and not necessarily long-lasting, although they may be. And we really believe them and we can become pretty attached to them and have pretty strong reactions when an aspect of our belief system is challenged.
If you are somewhat familiar with the Heart Sutra, you can hear this all being played out with the two bodhisattvas talking to one another, Shariputra and Avalokiteshvara. Well, that's a belief, and that can seem remote, irrelevant or not. Then there is the difficult stuff about form is emptiness and emptiness is form. That can be dismissed as just too difficult, or it can be filed. What does that mean? Then there is a long section about taking apart everything - nothing: no teachings, no person, nothing, nothing. Then the last section is this great BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, the drumbeat of THIS IS THE GREAT MANTRA, THIS IS IT! So, what do we do with that?
So we all have, I believe, beliefs with which we operate, and the question is how do we hold the beliefs and how do the beliefs help us to connect with one another and the world? And how do we use the beliefs so they don't separate us from experience? The teaching is that we hold the beliefs somewhat lightly on the basis of prajna paramita, this non-dual understanding.
I want to make rather an odd switch to a book I have just been reading, Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez. He has spent a lot of time with the Eskimo and a lot of time for this book in researching wolves. He is noticing the way our culture looks at animals and the way people who are largely unaffected by our culture look at animals. There's a whole study of wolves that compiles behaviors and types, et cetera, that gathers knowledge about wolf behavior and then makes certain generalizations. This is very different from the way the Eskimo live with the wolves, the way they consider them.
The wolf the Eskimo sees is a variable creature who does things because he is a certain age, or because it is a warm day, or because he is hungry. Everything depends on so many other things. Anagook [that's the Eskimo word for wolf] may be a wolf with a family who hunts with more determination than a yearling who has no family to feed. He may be an old wolf alone on the tundra tossing a piece of caribou hide in the air, running to catch it. He may be an ill-tempered wolf who always tries to kill trespassing wolves wandering in his territory, or he may be a wolf who toys with a red-backed mouse in the morning and kills a moose in the afternoon.
Examine some of the [until recently] basic precepts of wild-life science in the light of all this, such as that wolves kill primarily the weak, the old, the injured. Too simple, say the Eskimo. Temperature and humidity affect the wolf's and the caribou's endurance. Terrain affects their ability to run. For caribou and moose, the nearness of deep, open water is important. With no water to get into, even the healthiest caribou fall prey to the wolf because no caribou can outlast the wolf.
Then he begins to write about the correspondence, the identity between the wolf and the Eskimo, how they both support themselves by hunting, and they have to be very skillful and persistent and know how to survive in the most extreme conditions.
I would like to suggest that there is a correspondence between the worlds of these two hunters about which the reader should be both open-minded and critical. I will not try to prove that primitive hunting societies were socially or psychologically organized like wolves that lived in the same environment although this may be close to the truth.
What I am saying is this: we do not know very much at all about animals. We cannot understand them except in terms of our own needs and experiences, and to approach them solely in terms of the Western imagination is really to deny the animal. It behooves us to visit with the people with whom we share the planet and an interest in wolves, but who themselves come from a different time-space, and who, as far as we know, are very much closer to the wolf than we will ever be.
What, if anything, does this correspondence mean? I think it can mean almost anything if you are trying to fathom wolves. It became clear to me one evening in a single question. An old Eskimo man was asked who, at the end of his life, knew more about mountains and foothills of the Brooks Range, an old man or an old wolf? Where and when to hunt? How to survive a blizzard or a year when the caribou didn't come?
After a pause, the man said, "The same. They are the same." The remark has special meaning for what it implies about wolves. It comes from a man who has had to negotiate in polar darkness and whiteouts when the world surrounding him was entirely without the one thing indispensable to the western navigator, an edge. Anthropologist Edmond Carpenter has written about the extraordinary ability of polar Eskimo to find their way about in a world that is often without horizon or actual points or objects of reference. What the Eskimo perceives is relationships, clusters of information that include what type of snow is under foot, the direction and sound against a parka wrap of wind, any smells in the air, the contour of the landscape, the movement of animals and so on.
By constantly processing this information, the Eskimo knows where he is and where he is going. By implication, the Eskimo suggests that the wolf does something similar.
So what do we do in this world that we have beliefs about, but essentially we don't know. And sometimes there is a whiteout, sometimes there is a blackout, and then what? It is said that the Middle Way has no point of reference, so how do we find our grounding in a place where there is no point of reference?
Moving on now to my own situation, I discovered on Friday that I have quite an aggressive cancer, cancer of the colon metastasized to the liver. So, blackout, and there is a great deal to take in. I'm feeling okay; I'm feeling pain free and not too uncomfortable but very weak. The weakness makes it natural to just be very slow and close to the breaths as they come in and go out. I also feel that I have had a wonderful life, and I don't need to hang on.
And we don't know. It could be quite soon; it could be not quite so soon. So a very complex blizzard with so many of us involved and so many really deep, heart connections. How can we be together in this transition time? How can we open our hearts to one another and learn? Great teaching. Greatest teaching. Suzuki Roshi said, "Death is the best teacher." How can we, in our individual ways and as a group, draw together? And, of course, there is great sadness. There are long, life-long relationships. It is good to be able to express that, and I welcome--I really welcome--people calling and dropping in. Actually, not dropping in but calling first. Of course, everyone has been really supportive and helpful. Often when the telephone rings, I get a little "Ah! Oh!" Someone is there so to call, that's fine and to come and have a little visit, that's fine too, and let's see what we make of this together.
I'd like to end by reading a short poem by Jane Hirshfield called "Tree."
It is foolish to let a young Redwood grow next to a house.
Even in this one lifetime, you will have to choose.
That great calm being, this clutter of soup, pots and books.
Already the first branch tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.
Prayer For Peace
May I be well, loving, and peaceful. May all beings be well, loving, and peaceful.
May I be at ease in my body, feeling the ground beneath my seat and feet, letting my back be long and straight, enjoying breath as it rises and falls and rises.
May I know and be intimate with body mind, whatever its feeling or mood, calm or agitated, tired or energetic, irritated or friendly. Breathing in and out, in and out, aware, moment by moment, of the risings and passings.
May I be attentive and gentle towards my own discomfort and suffering.
May I be attentive and grateful for my own joy and well-being.
May I move towards others freely and with openness.
May I receive others with sympathy and understanding.
May I move towards the suffering of others with peaceful and attentive confidence.
May I recall the Bodhisattva of compassion; her 1,000 hands, her instant readiness for action. Each hand with an eye in it, the instinctive knowing what to do.
May I continually cultivate the ground of peace for myself and others and persist, mindful and dedicated to this work, independent of results.
May I know that my peace and the world's peace are not separate; that our peace in the world is a result of our work for justice.
May all beings be well, happy, and peaceful.
by Maylie Scott, Roshi, March 18, 1994
Poem for Helene
When the dragon begins to stir in her cave;
when the scales rattle on her back
like dead leaves casting a change of weather
and the heavy lid rises
over a brooding eye,
When the sea above turns gray, shudders,
churns and currents lose their direction,
When the ground itself convulses into peaks,
ledges narrow to sheer granite face
impossible hand-holds. When there is
nothing to do but step off a cliff,
You call her.
And she is there.
Beside you, easy in her being, no big deal.
Looking at you soberly, with your own eyes,
saying nothing, but making it clear;
landscape is merely expression of the soul
who unimpeded, knows her way well.
by Maylie Scott, 1993
Thanks to Helene for sharing her birthday poem
For Maylie Kushin Seisho
A tall tree
falls in the forest
The forest heart sings
who can argue
Turning on its axis
the one-sided moon
illuminates your path
Vast mind your
Pure and shining
Tho' teaching in
there is no place we
do not meet
Just like this!
Go my disciple
by Sojun Mel Weitsman, 5/10/01
To My Teacher
I shall paint the zendo door
and remember your comings and goings
your slow entrance with gentle ways
to tame our unruly group.
Each visit you came offering
tidbits of practice
to lure us into the formal realm, until we could ring bells, chant sutras,
and eat oryoki with the best.
And when you last arrived
you provided shelter for our wandering sangha
while maintaining the freedom of
the oceans, the mountains, and rivers
Always leading us deeper into the heart
of the forest,
the heart of the dharma
Always with balance and harmony
weaving our paths as teacher and sangha
until we grew together in strength and love.
Always devotedly doing until your too swift exit
through this realm's dharma gate.
And when the paint is dry, the final stones laid,
the last flowering bush planted,
we shall sit in your zendo and watch you
come and go,
No longer through the door but with our breath.
When ten springs have passed
your clear zazen instructions
our hearts will still hear
by Lynda M.
Old Ladies Die in Spring
Loss after loss
time slows each minute
longer than the last
denser richer deeper
like accretion in the bottom of the well
like the punk wood of an old springhouse
dry (loss after loss)
these hundred years or more
the mouth of the river takes fifty years
to journey three miles up the coast
urging the land-bound road beside it
it heads back south in the spring
by Suzanne M.