In December of 2017 we had to demolish the cow barn on the Tendai Buddhist Institute’s main property. The barn itself was over 250 years old and sat about 50 meters from the main house. Originally it was attached perpendicular to the horse barn which we took apart piece-by-piece and reconstructed into our hondo (temple’s main building) on a new foundation, in a slightly different location. The cow barn then became a storage space. Eventually it would have to be removed to make space for another building that will someday sit on the space the barn occupied.
We had tried for over 10 years to give the cow barn away to anyone who wanted it. We had several people who said, “Definitely we’ll take it.” Then a year later, two years later, they would renege on the agreement. We thought the old barn would find a new home, repurposed in some form or another. In the meantime, we didn’t repair the barn because ‘someone was taking it away in the spring’. Until finally we realized it was derelict and unsafe.
So after saying farewell we had the venerable old barn demolished, the skin and bones taken up the hill for a big burn sometime in the winter when there was a good coat of snow on the ground. One year went by, then two, and finally the last week in February we shooed any critters that might be using the very large pile of timbers, roofing, stalls, and cladding and set it ablaze.
Twenty-six years ago, this month Tamami and I moved onto this old dairy farm, with a now 200 year old house, two barns, chicken coop, summer kitchen, and corn crib, on 142 acres of land, half pasture and half wooded. A spot to start a Tendai Buddhist temple at the boundaries between the Hudson Valley and Berkshire Hills of New England, a few miles from the Massachusetts border, 120 miles north of New York City and 145 miles west of Boston. We started small and created sangha and a place to gather for weekly services, classes, retreats, and training for people around the world.
We started with a handful of sangha members who assisted both physically and financially. Then about five years after we started The Tendai Overseas Charitable Foundation (JIGYODAN) provided financial assistance and guidance. Sangha members temple assistants, and the Jigyodan provided physical labor and good ideas and we were able build, renovate and establish the Tendai-shu New York Betsuin, branch temple of Enryakuji, the Tendai Buddhist Institute in North America.
I remember shortly after Tamami and I had moved into and started renovating the kuri (head priest’s quarters – the main house), Tamami and I were sitting on a set of steps to the side of the kuri looking at the barns and other buildings. Tamami said to no one in particular, “So this is where I’ll live until I die.” We did not know at that time we would have constructed a columbarium where our ashes will reside when we are gone, resting here into the indeterminate future.
Watching the fire of the cow barn up on the hill was like watching the cremation of an old friend. A poignant, but fitting end in the life of this 250-year old dairy farm, reborn as a Buddhist temple. As is said in Buddhism ‘a good rebirth’.
Love and Gassho . . . Monshin