Kuya Minogue leads chanting at Creston Zen Centre, Creston, British Columbia.
Since she returned to Canada in 1996 after Zen training in California, Oregon, and Japan, Kuya Minogue has always created a zendo wherever she has lived. In an 8’ x 10’ hotel room in the frozen north, a Gulf Island chicken shed, even a wilderness tent, she immediately established a place for zazen—and invited people to sit.
In the backyard of the home she shares with her partner in Creston, British Columbia, Minogue has built her latest zendo from the ground up.
Creston is a small, agricultural town in the Columbia basin, toward the eastern edge of the province. By luck Minogue discovered there a local contractor who happened also to be a lifelong student of Japanese aikido and swordsmanship. Daniel Kempling, like Minogue, had always dreamed of building a traditional Japanese structure. He knew a specialist in Japanese-style woodworking in Victoria, Sean Mahoney, who shared that dream, too. With patience, hard labor and the generous help of volunteers, the dream became a reality.
As Minogue puts it, “They came. They did it." The new zendo, though not completely finished, was ready for use at the start of the Centre’s winter training session in January, 2011. The altar and shoji screens in the upstairs training hall haven’t been added yet and two basement rooms for residents-in-training remain to be completed.
Creston Zen Centre offers sessions of concentrated practice each year in the fall, winter, and spring. Students commit to regular individual practice plus weekly zazen, class, and dokusan (private discussion with teacher) during the three-month training term. They also attend at least one of the three weekend retreats offered each session.
Each training term has a theme. Students in the 2011 winter training session are reading Francis Dojun Cook’s “How to Raise an Ox”, an exploration of the teachings of Dogen. The three winter weekend retreats explore Dogen’s work more deeply.
Interior of Creston Zen Centre's newly constructed zendo.
Minogue also offers an online version of each training term. Using group and individual email exchanges, teleconferencing, and blogging, online students carry out vows of practice and pursue Dogen study. Those who aren’t able to attend a retreat in person do self-guided retreats at home.
An independent lay teacher trained in the Soto Zen tradition at Shasta Abbey and Dharma Rain Zen Center, Minogue is also a student of Natalie Goldberg, founder of Zen Writing Practice and author of “Writing Down the Bones”.
After attending a workshop with Goldberg in 2003, she “fell in love with writing practice” and now uses it daily. She also reserves longer periods for intensive writing practice during which writing sessions function like sitting intervals in a sesshin. Since taking up this practice her writing “has changed completely” , transforming itself from prose to poetry. Recently she’s had her work published in the poetry journal “Matrix” and been invited to the Montreal Zen Poetry Festival.
Zen Writing Practice is one of the methods Minogue uses for training at the Creston Zendo and in the teaching she offers online. She also conducts workshops on Zen Writing Practice occasionally and works individually with students interested in Zen Writing per se.
Recently Creston Zen Centre has formed a partnership with Creston’s Red Jade Martial Arts, headed by Sifu Neil Ripski. Discovering that their practices share common origins and common goals, Ripski and Minogue have found mutual benefit in becoming “sister temples”.
Minogue and her students are also committed to community outreach. One dream still in the works is the development of Maitri House, a non-sectarian social service center dedicated to helping those who help others.
After sitting in tents and chicken coops, after years of “hermitage practice” in aboriginal settlements in the north, Minogue has come to rest at Creston Zen Centre. “I’m settled here,” she says. “I’m down, rooted.”