Nyoze Kwong was only three years old when his family came to Sonoma Mountain in 1973, and he’s been there off and on for most of his life.
His parents, Jakusho and Laura Kwong, founded the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, one of the first such centers in the United States, on 80 acres of land atop the summit, and Nyoze Kwong continues the center’s mission of spreading Soto Zen under the lineage of the late Shunryu Suzuki, one of the main figures of Soto in the United States.
“The Zen center in the West is a combination between traditional temple and monastic training and American community life,” says Kwong. Back in the 1960s, when Suzuki first came to America and founded the San Francisco Zen Center, Kwong says that a growing Western existentialism, highlighted by the Beat and hippie movements, bolstered the West’s embrace of Zen.
Soto, the largest sect of Japanese Buddhism, emphasizes sitting meditation. “You breathe and your mind and body become what you would say ‘one with the universe,'” Kwong says. “Soto Zen is not praying to a deity; it’s not becoming anything other than the universal self that we already are and that we already have been born with.”
The Sonoma Mountain Zen Center is a residential space, housing between eight and 15 people at a time, with resident programs that last between three months to a year. Ten residents currently call the center home.
Days at Sonoma Mountain start at 5am, with two periods of meditation in the morning. Residents share communal meals and work in capacities that range from gardening to cooking to administration duties; two periods of meditation end the day.
For Kwong, the cultivation of Soto Zen and the enrichment of the quiet mind is something he especially wants to share with the younger generation. “And its not to say we have to be a certain way or that the internet is bad; I think it’s all good,” says Kwong. “But this is a way that we can live our life without being driven by things and we can make choices that are a lot deeper.”
This weekend, the Zen center opens its space to the general public for its annual fundraising bazaar. Now in its seventh year, the bazaar will feature art pieces by a diverse group of artisans and craftspeople including Sonoma County ceramicist Bill Geisinger, sculptor Takayuki Zoshi and many others. There will also be a Omotesenke tea ceremony demonstration by Soei Mouri Sensei, homemade baked goods and freshly made mountain jam picked from berries in the center’s gardens, Taiko drumming performances, music by Black Sheep Brass Band and activities for all ages.