Dr. Vishaka Smith, one of the presenters at Seattle University's Eco-Sangha:  Buddhism & Sustainability Conference, spoke on environmental and personal ethics from a Buddhist perspective.

The "working girls" and roosters of Trout Lake Abbey's organic farm. In the tree above is a device for live trapping yellow jackets for removal to safer locations.

Down on the Non-Harming Farm

Trout Lake Abbey’s Kozen Sampson chants homage to Amitabha Buddha each afternoon after he gathers up the eggs laid by the Abbey’s “working girls”, offering the wish that the girls, a mixed flock of 70-plus hens, may be born next time in the Pure Land, on the path to liberation.

How Kozen and his partners at the Abbey care for their chickens exemplifies the effort they undertake to respect all living creatures on the Abbey’s 23-acre certified organic farm, as well as in the world beyond. The flock, which includes roosters as well as hens, is one of only two receiving “Animal Welfare Approved” certification so far in Washington state.

These chickens range free (protected by fences) beneath the farm’s mature fruit trees and the new orchard the Abbey partners have planted. Their territory includes not only ample vegetable matter, insects, and worms for the taking, but also bare earth for dust baths and “play structures” for climbing. They eat organic feed, of course, and when their laying days are done they grow old beside their younger replacements.

“We believe that suffering can be increased by one’s actions and decreased by one’s aware practices,” begins the Abbey’s “Green Policy” statement. “We are committed to supporting the quality of life by preserving and protecting the earth and our living environment.”

Formerly a Jewish retreat center and organic farm, Trout Lake Abbey is now home to both the Mount Adams Zen Buddhist Temple and what will one day be a Druid monastic community. The Abbey is located in a serene valley at the foot of Mt. Adams, not far from the Columbia River Gorge.

A large building currently under construction will serve as a center for spiritual retreats and classes offered by the Abbey and for use by other groups. The next phase of building will create living quarters for two nuns and six monks. The original property included a Bed & Breakfast facility which the Abbey continues to operate.

Dr. David Loy, professor of Religion and Ethics at Xavier University and author of Money, Sex, War, Karma:  Notes for a Buddhist Revolution.

The raised beds of the Abbey's kitchen garden. Plantings include a variety of flowers for use in the Zen Buddhist temple.

Now about to enter its third year of operation, the Abbey raises organic eggs, fruit and produce for its own consumption and for sale, aiming to achieve 80% self-sufficiency in food production for its resident humans and animals within the next few years.

Ordained and transmitted in the Soto Zen lineages of Soyu Matsuoka Roshi and Saito Roshi, as well as in the Vietnamese Rinzai Zen line of Thich Thien An and Thich An Giao, Kozen Sampson is Sensei (teacher) of the Mount Adams Zen Buddhist Temple. Denise Morrison, recently ordained in the Vietnamese Zen tradition, also resides at the Abbey and participates in temple activities. Archdruid Kirk is another partner in the work and the aspirations.

Among the Buddhists, the aware practices at the Abbey begin with the intention to refrain from intentionally killing or harming living creatures or the environment and, to whatever extent possible, to refrain from being indirectly involved in doing so. Engaging in agriculture with this intention, as Kozen readily admits, inevitably involves difficult ethical choices.

Some “Animal Welfare Approved” farmers deal with male and otherwise surplus animals by raising them for humane slaughter, but this isn’t an option at the Abbey. Thus arises the question of what to do with roosters, an inevitable byproduct of raising chicks from eggs (which is itself a decision taken to avoid the high mortality rates of pre-sexed hatchery chicks ordered by mail).

Ranging roosters with hens leads naturally to a percentage (unknown) of undetectably fertile eggs in the nesting boxes and thus the likelihood of eating and selling “living beings”, but segregating roosters can have negative consequences as well. At this time the roosters aren’t mature enough to be chicken daddies but decisions loom.

Mount Adams and Kuanyin, Trout Lake Abbey's guardians

At dusk, Mount Adams and Kuanyin, Trout Lake Abbey's guardians.

Because raising animals for milk production involves disposing of males, the farmyard doesn’t include any cows or milk goats, nor do Kozen or Denise consume dairy products. (Or meat or fish of any kind.) However, the Abbey will soon become a non-breeder sanctuary for rescued alpacas. Their droppings will provide a missing element in the farm’s ambitious composting program and their fiber will contribute to the Abbey’s sustainability plan.

The ideal of non-harming pervades all activities at the Abbey, from dealing with mice (which are trapped and released in the nearby—but not too nearby—forests) to choosing bed linens, which are made from 100% organic cotton. After learning more about the details of goose down production, Kozen recently decided that synthetic pillows are preferable. Again, a careful weighing of pros and cons was involved.

In addition to avoiding negative actions as much as possible, the Abbey’s residents address the positive ideal of benefiting beings, both near and far. Their founding plan includes the goal of donating up to 40% of what they produce to people in need. Currently they donate eggs and vegetables to local food banks and also make regular meal offerings to the Theravada monks at the Pacific Hermitage in nearby White Salmon. (See article this issue, A Hermitage for Theravada Monks Near Portland.) They have also made generous cash donations to the Trout Lake School for playground equipment and to a Christmas fund for local low-income families.

Kozen and Denise, who are both medical professionals, are considering the idea of creating a free medical clinic to serve the rural community around Trout Lake. Among their other goals: to set up a program to provide English language tutoring to the families, mostly Hispanic, of the region’s agricultural workers and others, and to establish a craft coop to create income for local women.

Meanwhile the Abbey’s extended family—its humans, hens and roosters, two rescued dogs and three rescued cats, the soon-to-be-installed bee colonies and alpaca herd, and the myriad other creatures who inhabit the landscape—continue to live “in the best way possible” according to their natures. To the extent each is able, they aspire to Trout Lake Abbey’s goal to coexist “in a way that benefits the earth and all living beings” as well as its corollary, to “live well, laugh often, and love much.”

For more information about Trout Lake Abbey and Mount Adams Zen Buddhist Temple, please visit: tlabbey.com and www.mtadamszen.org.

Contributor: Julie Welch.
Photos: Julie Welch.