A Refuge for All Beings

columbineLast fall, the Zen Center of Denver purchased a property in the DU area, where we intend to build a new Zen temple. We hope to have your support in this exciting and important endeavor.


The Zen Center of Denver is a lay Buddhist community offering Zen Buddhist practice and training in Denver since its founding in 1974. It exists to provide training to any and all interested persons, with the ultimate goal of promoting the personal experience of enlightenment as well as the actualization of Zen practice in everyday life. Of course, one need not be Buddhist to benefit from the stability and equanimity learned through meditation, so especially vital in these turbulent times.

Denver Zen Center in Congress Park

Originally named the Denver Zen Center, the sangha first functioned as an affiliate of the Rochester Zen Center (of New York) in a small house in Congress Park. Amidst a tide of steadily growing membership and activities, the Denver Zen Center became the autonomous Zen Center of Denver in 1989, upon Danan Henry receiving Dharma transmission from Philip Kapleau Roshi and assignment as spiritual director.

In January 1998, the ZCD purchased the historic former Fourth Church of Christ Scientist at 3101 W. 31st Avenue in the Highlands neighborhood of Denver. For many years the building served us well, offering a great deal of a space in a prominent location. However, the enormous maintenance and renovation costs proved to be impractical over the long term, and in many other respects the building was less than ideal for Zen practice. After much deliberation, the decision was made to sell, and this was accomplished in summer 2015.

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Farewell ceremony at 31st Avenue

In the meantime, Danan Henry Roshi retired, and the ZCD came under its current leadership when Karin Ryuku Kempe, Ken Tetsuzan Morgareidge and Peggy Metta Sheehan – as the dharma heirs of Danan Roshi – received full transmission and jointly assumed spiritual directorship in September 2010.

Since selling the 31st Avenue temple, we have been using rented spaces for our daily practice of zazen (seated meditation). But in the fall of 2016, after a year of searching, we purchased a 12,000-square-foot residential property at Columbine Street and Buchtel Boulevard (pictured at top), where we intend to build a new temple tailored to our needs.

Our Vision

Our new center will be, first, a superb place to practice zazen, or seated meditation, providing a serene place of refuge in which to “forget the self and be enlightened by the myriad things,” in Dogen’s phrase. Along with daily zazen practice, it will also facilitate regular meditation retreats (sesshin). An attached garden with a walking path will afford a beautiful setting for outdoor reflection and walking meditation.

Second, both the zendo (meditation hall) and additional classroom spaces will allow us to greatly expand the range of activities offered at the center. These may include classes and groups for yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), addiction recovery, Zen-related disciplines such as calligraphy and flower arranging, and other community- and service-oriented activities.

Third, we hope the new center will be a warm and welcoming social space, where those engaged in this critical work of meditative inquiry may meet, converse, play, and deepen their relationships.

The Building

At the heart of our practice is zazen, and so naturally the heart of our new building will be the zendo, or meditation hall. Currently we plan a 1500 square-foot zendo with seating for 36-50 participants in a regular configuration. We imagine a beautiful, spacious hall with glowing wood floors, attractive ceiling and gentle lighting, capable also of accommodating secondary activities such as classes, weddings and the like.

Other core spaces include a multipurpose dining room or large classroom, multiple dokusan rooms (for one-on-one instruction with the teachers), a foyer with space for socializing, a kitchen and bathrooms.

Secondary spaces, mostly likely to be situated on a second floor or garden-level basement, include dorms for retreat participants, additional showers and bathrooms, a caretaker bedroom and rooms for storage and mechanical necessities.

Where We Are Now

Currently, we have contracted with Semple Brown Design for the initial discovery phase of our building process. Semple Brown is a decades-old architectural firm with offices here in Denver and a multitude of projects under their belts, ranging from private homes to large public works. Their extensive experience gives us tremendous confidence in their ability to guide us throughout the planning and construction of our new temple, avoiding unnecessary and costly pitfalls and seeing the project through to completion.

In the initial discovery phase, Semple Brown will develop a conceptual site plan to be presented to city agencies for approval, and from which a building contractor could generate a preliminary budget.

Fundraising Goals

Although this plan is still in development, it is already clear that we will need to raise substantial funds to fully realize our vision. Initial estimates put total project costs for a 7,000-square-foot building somewhere between $1.7 million to $2 million.

Our sale of the temple on 31st Avenue, minus the cost of the the Columbine property, has left us with about $1.2 million. This, of course, means we need around $500,000 at a low estimate. There is, naturally, some flexibility in cost (due to materials selected and such), and if necessary we may leave the second floor or basement unfinished by way of completing core spaces first.

While we are still in the early stages of our fundraising campaign, the good news is that we already have substantial initial commitments that place us well on the path to achieving at least our minimum goal. With your support, we are confident that we can give Denver a true place of refuge for all beings.

Why You Should Give

Dogen wrote, “The zazen I speak of is not learning concentration. It is simply the Dharma gate of repose and bliss, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality. Traps and snares can never reach it. Once its heart is grasped, you are like the dragon when he gains the water, like the tiger when she enters the mountain. For you must know that just there (in zazen) the right Dharma is manifesting itself and that, from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside.”

In this tumultuous world, it is often difficult to know how to find understanding and equanimity. We all want to do good; yet everywhere we see harmful actions taken in ignorance. How do we know what is right? What is our purpose? And what, after all, are we in the first place? What is all this? What is the truth of things?

However you reply, it will be evident that your response will only be as profound as the depth of your inquiry. Thus we practice zazen, joining countless practitioners through the ages who have recognized it as both a profound means to awakening and as the perfect manifestation of awakening itself.

For such a practice, a community of like-minded practitioners, and teachers with clear insight, are utterly invaluable. This is the Sangha (one of the Three Refuges of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha), wherein we may set aside our preoccupations and simply be, at one with ourselves and with all things. And from this settled place, recognizing our essential unity with those around us, we may step forward wholeheartedly to act for the benefit of all beings. Robert Aitken wrote:

“I am coming to feel that Buddha Sangha, and by that I mean zendo membership, is a cadre of change. It is a community of people secure in their vision of universal Sangha, grounded in their personal sanctuary, who seek to transmute the poisons of the world in organized and coherent ways.”

We hope that you will join us in helping to create this sanctuary. To quote Dogen again, “One should give even a single coin or a single blade of grass – it causes roots of goodness in this age and other ages to sprout.”

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