Opening a Zen Center is an enormous undertaking that includes every responsibility from raising donations to paying the mortgage/rent and insurance, to maintaining the property. Depending on whether you own the property, this might entail mowing the lawn, shoveling the sidewalk and driveway during the winter, patching a leaky roof, unclogging stubborn plumbing, and repairing/replacing the furnace and air conditioner units. Any homeowner can testify to the fact that owning property can be a major responsibility at the least, and a major hassle at the most.
Which is why I have, what I think is, an ingenious alternative.* Why pay for or rent a permanent structure, what with all of its attached expenses, when you can find a much more reasonably priced, portable option?
Behold, The Buddha Bus, the first fully mobile Zen/meditation Center. Let me paint a picture for you.
Imagine a school bus with all of the student seats removed; the floors resurfaced in hardwood; the metal walls and ceiling thinly insulated and covered with a light wood paneling; two RV air conditioners mounted in the roof. The altar will sit at the back wall, two aisles of meditation cushions running the length of the bus. If space permits, we can even add a small bathroom with a sink and toilet like the ones on an airplane.
It will look something like this on the inside, minus the furniture. Although I think the wood-burning stove is super cool!
The outside will be painted with bright, vivid Buddhist iconography and the words "Buddha Bus" written in bold, inviting letters for all passersby to see. Nothing silly looking or psychedelic like a hippie bus, just bright enough to catch people's attention.
To save money, I'm thinking that we can approach some college artists to see if they would be willing to complete the project for their art portfolio. For how cool would that look in a prospective artist's resume--a giant Buddha bus?! My local Zen group, the Original Mind Zen Sangha, meets in Princeton, where the University is obviously located, and ten minutes from The College of New Jersey and Rider University, and maybe 25 minutes from Rutgers University with its amazing art school, Mason Gross. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but those are some great artists to solicit for help.
The bus can meet anywhere that is public--in a park, a parking lot, you name it. All donations will go directly to the bus's fuel, maintenance, and insurance. Just in case you're wondering, we will meditate only while the bus is parked. When we are done, we will simply stack the mats and cushions, bungee strap them to hooks on the wall, and finally wrap the Buddha and altar items in towels and store them inside of the altar--a wooden trunk mounted to the floor.
What's great about the idea is that it needn't replace or compete with an actual physical location. For instance, OMZS meets in Princeton on Sundays, and could continue to do so because the space allows me to conduct interviews with students, a vital dimension of Zen practice. We can use the bus several evenings during the work week when space is hard to rent.
For those skeptics out there who think the idea is too hokey, I honestly think that this project is in the original vision of the Buddha. Let's remember that Shakyamuni Buddha never owned or even slept in a temple, let alone a monastery. He walked everywhere with his retinue of monks and nuns. A converted Buddha Bus is about as close as we can get as homeowners in the 21st century to his spirit of detachment and renunciation.
Storage will be a hurdle, for where can we park a vehicle of that size without disturbing neighbors or inviting vandals?
That aside, the single greatest challenge is going to be raising funds. Compared to the price tag attached to opening a Zen Center, The Buddha Bus is a very attainable project. I don't think that it will cost much more than $25,000. That figure includes padding for mechanical repairs and conversion fees, for while I can replace a house window or dishwasher, I am far from handy enough to do the work myself.
If you are as excited about the proposal as I am and would like to see this vision come to life, please contribute! Even a couple of dollars will help. After all, the sum is not that much to raise, and well worth the investment to share the Dharma.
*I cannot take any credit for this idea; it is entirely my father-in-law's. Thanks, Jack!