The Kannon Do Expansion Project


The heart of Zen practice is meditation in a supportive environment. For centuries, monasteries, temples, and, more recently, Zen Meditation Centers, have been instrumental in providing a dedicated space where like-minded people can practice together. Zen Centers now exist throughout the United States. Kannon Do has been providing opportunities for contemplative practice for the San Francisco mid-peninsula and south bay for nearly forty years. Today, Kannon Do is at the limits of its capacity to satisfy the demands placed on it by the increasing interest in spiritual practice. What follows is a brief history of Kannon Do, its vision, and what it needs to adequately support the practice of a growing community.

Haiku Zendo

In 1965 Suzuki-roshi came to the US from Japan and established Zen practice in the San Francisco area. Soon Zen practice began to root in several locations throughout the Bay Area. The San Francisco Zen Center was started; practice communities grew up in Santa Cruz and Los Gatos; and a fledgling community took hold in Los Altos, located in the heart of what would soon be known as The Silicon Valley.

The Los Altos community established a daily practice of 
zazen that was made possible by the generosity of one of the Sangha members, Marian Derby. Marian insisted that the garage of her home be converted into a meditation hall, or zendo. Suzuki-roshi and the Sangha did the construction. It had room for seventeen cushions. As seventeen is the number of syllables in a haiku poem, they named the new center Haiku Zendo.

Marian Derby

Suzuki-roshi or Katagiri-roshi came from San Francisco each week to Haiku Zendo. The lectures that Suzuki-roshi gave on Wednesday evenings were recorded. The significance of these talks was to be illustrated a few years later when they were transcribed, forming the heart of the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (Weatherhill, New York, 1970) which has sold over forty million copies and has touched as many lives. 

Suzuki-roshi at Haiku Zendo

Certain important characteristics exemplified the philosophy of Haiku Zendo. All activities were available to anyone who came, without qualification. The zendo was physically accommodating, with movable tans (meditation platforms) and room for chairs. There were guidelines, rather than hard and fast rules. There was no requirement to conform and no financial obligation. A pervasive atmosphere of giving was created throughout the Sangha. This giving attitude was exemplified by Marian, who prepared Saturday breakfasts for the Sangha and made frequent trips to San Francisco Zen Center to drive Suzuki-roshi or Katagiri-roshi to and from Haiku Zendo.

Haiku Zendo was often filled to capacity. Frequently, people had to stand outside the zendo, unable to join in zazen. More room was required to meet the increasing demand.

In 1968, Marian wanted to deepen her practice by leaving Los Altos to spend several years at Tassajara. She asked Les and Mary Kaye if they would move into her house and become stewards of Haiku Zendo. They agreed. Leaving their home in San Jose, they moved to Los Altos in September with their two children.

In 1970, encouraged by Suzuki-roshi, the students of Haiku Zendo invited the Zen monk Kobun Chino to come from Japan to be its spiritual leader. He arrived in early 1971 and the practice flourished. In 1976, the City of Los Altos discovered Haiku Zendo and determined that it was functioning as a public meeting place, thereby violating residential zoning ordinances. The city gave Les and Mary official notice to discontinue Haiku Zendo activities at their residence. Fortunately, the city was lenient, giving the Sangha time to address the situation. 

Gospel Assembly Church
(viewed from University Avenue)

In response, the Sangha made plans to move and to make the meditation center more accessible to the public. In two years, they raised sufficient funds to purchase the Gospel Assembly Church in the old Castro City district of Mountain View. In 1978, It was transformed into Kannon Do.

Gospel Assembly Church
(viewed from College Avenue)

Kannon Do

The gift-giving spirit of Haiku Zendo extended to the new Mountain View location. The Sangha extensively remodeled the church. They removed its theater type seats and its linoleum floor tiles.  They refurbished the underlying wood floor to the condition it is in today and moved a wall that separated the zendo and Sangha room to expand the size of the Sangha room.

Sanding the old floor 
Finishing the new floor

The floor to ceiling windows of the former church were replaced with clerestory windows, providing privacy and an improved environment for zazen. The deteriorating clapboard exterior was stuccoed and the roof was replaced. The neighbors welcomed Kannon Do and its members, who added a stabilizing influence in what was at that time a somewhat troubled neighborhood.

Putting up the new wall

Conditions Have Changed

Kannon Do has flourished since 1979; but conditions have changed and once again more space and a new home are needed. The neighborhood around Kannon Do is more fully developed now. When the Sangha purchased the Gospel Assembly Church, open orchards dotted the local area, there were no sidewalks, and gravel extended from the outside wall of the zendo to the lot across the street where three houses now stand. The orchards are gone; the sea of gravel has been converted into streets and residential property.

Due to the lack of off-street parking, Kannon Do would not be able to obtain a use permit today. In addition, Kannon Do’s “grandfather clause,” inherited from the Gospel Assembly Church, has limitations that prohibit renovation or repair of the building. A building permit for any activity cannot be obtained, making proper maintenance of Kannon Do virtually impossible.

The size of the Sangha has grown to the point that the building cannot satisfy the demands placed on it. Wednesday-evening lectures fill the zendo to capacity. Sesshins are well attended and often crowded. In June1988, the Sangha determined that it needed to expand its facilities. 

Vision of a new Zen Meditation Center

Vision and brainstorming sessions about a new Zen center were held early in 1989. The goal of expansion was to provided a meditation center that would support the larger community of Santa Clara Valley, guided by the following principles:

  • Maintain Intimacy

  • Establish satellites

  • Remain non-residential

  • Remain non-hierarchical

  • Encourage leadership

  • Encourage volunteerism and a giving spirit

  • Emphasize communication and consensus

To determine the physical size of the new facility, three scenarios presented in the table below were discussed. It was decided that the “Medium” size design best fit the current and envisioned near term demands

Rock Street

Prior to obtaining a new property, we began talking and working with the Mountain View Planning Department and have established a good relationship with them. We began raising funds for the new facility in 1990 and purchased property on Rock Street in 1999. We are now in the process of obtaining the various permits required for the facility. We have selected an architect, who has been involved with this project for many years. He has generated detailed preliminary plans and cost estimates. Many details will need to be addressed as the building becomes more concrete.

Our fund raising continues. To date, we have raised one million dollars, over 75% from Kannon Do Sangha members, and are working rigorously to raise the remaining $500,000 needed to complete this important project.