It’s hard to spot this Ann Arbor site. Driving down Packard Street it looks just like any other house on the road. And you don’t second-guess at the wall, Packard’s busy and who wouldn’t want to block the noise and eyes?
But once you know it’s not a house, but a Zen Buddhist temple, it’s hard to resist taking a peek inside.
The grounds are covered in gardens from the moment you step in. Small ones hug the fence in the front yard, and as you make your way towards the back you can see the larger one that takes up half the backyard. The left side of it is a vegetable garden, the produce is all eaten at the temple house's vegan meals, and there is a small meditation pool as well. Behind the garden, on a plot of land the temple latter acquired, is a tiny children’s area and the small building where the resident priest lives, Rev. Haju Sunim.
It’s a little bit of nature among the urban landscape of Ann Arbor, so it’s not hard to see the attraction in its services: daily meditation practice, weekly courses in meditation and yoga, as well as monthly retreats. The temple also holds public services every Sunday, at 10 am and 4 pm, to allow the general public to experience a Buddhist service of chanting and meditation. There is also a weeklong family Peace Camp the temple hosts at a nearby lake.
The Ann Arbor temple has been around since 1981, and in addition to the house and gardens, houses
a small museum with a collection of Buddhist artifacts and books. Behind the museum is the meditation hall where services and classes are held. It’s a sparse room, with wooden floors and white walls, but there are always plenty of cushions for visitors.
The house is open for residency, meaning anyone looking to study Buddhism or cultivate their practice is able to stay on the grounds for free room and board in exchange for participation and help in morning and evening programs that follow Buddhist practices. This means 6 am prayer.
Ann Arbor’s Zen Buddhist temple is one five temples in the Buddhist Society for CompassionateWisdom, the others being in Toronto, New York, Chicago, and Mexico City. The society was founded by the Venerable Samu Sumin, and priests at these sister temples were personally ordained by him.
Sumin founded the Buddhist Order in 1967, and it focused not on the monastic side of Buddhism, but on how the salvation and enlightenment of the religion could be passed on to those who weren’t monks. It’s a modern-day renewal and application of the five major Mahayana teachings hoping to open up the religion to the every day person looking for peace.
The five temples in the order then serve as peace bridges in the order’s eyes, mission centers whose goal it is to advance the meditation movement and train workers how to promote a culture based on enlightenment and green spirituality.