Just a month after the official opening of the Buddhist Temple of Toledo on April 23, 2022, a young woman in the sangha died. Her body was brought to the temple where a public visitation was held followed by a 24-hour vigil. Such rituals are vitally important to families, friends, and communities, but they are not the type of activity that a Zen Center would ordinarily be able to host. That, perhaps, is the major distinction between a “temple” and a “center.”
It takes me a while to realize that the temple’s abbot, Rinsen Weik, uses the term differently than I do. For him the temple is more a concept than a physical structure. “The temple predates the facility,” he tells me in a conversation I had with him and his wife – Do’on – who received final Dharma transmission during the opening ceremonies.
“So it is not a temple in the sense that it is a building,” I say.
“The temple has a building, but the temple was in a different building. Same temple, different building. I think of it more like a sangha.”
The way Rinsen and Do’on explain it, the temple is the culmination of a process. When they first moved to Toledo and were not yet ordained as priests, they established a “sitting group.”
“We became a temple when Do’on and I got ordained. So initially it was a sitting group because we were under the auspices of other organizations, and we were calling it the Toledo Zen Center for a while. Once we got ordained – which was in 2010 – we renamed it a temple, and we made a big thing about renaming it. But that was still a micro-version of what it now is. Now it actually is what we’ve been approximating for all that time. Now it actually is the thing.”
“Okay, so you originally called it a Zen Center,” I say, “and I know what that means. I’ve been to lots of Zen Centers. But why call it a temple? Which, at least to me, implies a place of worship.”
“It started off as a sitting group, a meditation group,” he explains. “Then a Zen Center, and then finally a temple. When we first got here, we were not near to being teachers yet. And there was also some concern about is Buddhism – is Zen – going to be anything the people of Toledo can relate to? So it’s been a progression from the secular, digestible kind of meditation-based thing to more and more overtly what it actually is, which is a Mahayana Zen Buddhist temple. It’s a religious practice, a religious community. And also before we were ordained, we really couldn’t do any of the officiating for services or anything like that, so our ability to facilitate and do the ritual things was not there yet.”
“There’s a kind of spiritual evolution inside of that as well,” Do’on adds. “We emphasize the Mahayana religious aspect of Zen training. We totally emphasize the village temple where you bring your kids and where you have your funeral and where you have your wedding and where you do your retreat every month, you do your workshops. It’s pretty like much non-stop activity going on at the temple that really is well-rounded.”
The meditation and koan practice remain central, but that is “just one thread,” she tells me. “It’s very important – it’s the golden thread – but there are a lot of other threads around it.”
“When it was a sitting group, it was just about zazen,” Rinsen continues. “And then we started adding components.”
The first new component came about when they were authorized to offer retreats.
“And that was a big deal,” Rinsen says. “We had the derivative authority to lead retreats. The next thing to happen was creating a Sunday service. And when the Sunday Service came online then a whole other aspect opened up. A Dharma School for kids quickly arose as an interest that for the sitting group it would not even occur. It just wasn’t relevant. And then it was kind of balancing the Sunday Sutra Service community family kind of thing with the Wednesday night sitting meditation group. And for years – decades really – those were the two feet of what we had going. And now, in the new facility, now we have a whole other series of things coming online. We can have morning sitting every day. That’s new. We’ve never had a facility that allowed that. That’s been a huge thing.”
And – as in the Village Temple model Do’on described – they can perform the traditional rites associated with religious communities.
“We had our first funeral,” Rinsen says, “where a tragically young sangha member – she was in her early 30s – passed away of ovarian cancer. And we had a full Buddhist funeral with the body and a vigil and all the rites and rituals that would not have been able to happen in the earlier settings. But interestingly, it turned into a retreat for everybody. Not a sesshin, but a very powerful practice with people reciting the Diamond Sutra with the body for a twenty-four vigil between the community visitation and the final rites that we did. All that texture, it’s way more than what we consider a secular meditation group. It’s a much fuller thing.”