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Our history

Founder Dainin Katagiri Roshi envisioned Hokyoji as a temple complex modeled on Eiheiji, one of the two head temples of Soto Zen in Japan and the site of his own clerical training. The original site included 280 acres of land formerly used for grazing cattle, located on the Winnebago Creek two miles west of the Mississippi River in Houston County. 

Katagiri Roshi chose an interior portion of the site to house the eventual permanent complex, but meanwhile Hokyoji’s first “structures” were tents set up in a clearing closer to the entrance and used for zazen and cooking. Temporary platforms were later built under them in response to the wet ground, and wooden structures eventually replaced the tents on the platforms as the number of practitioners grew. A permanent workshop was erected to serve as a base for the construction of other buildings, and a residence went up as well.

Katagiri Roshi died on March 1, 1990, before a final design for Hokyoji could be developed. On July 7, 1991, some of his ashes were placed under a memorial stupa on a hill overlooking Hokyoji.

In 2002, MZMC reached an agreement to sell a significant portion of the land to the state Department of Natural Resources in order to raise much-needed funds. The remaining 105 acres, the current Hokyoji holdings, include the access road, buildings, Katagiri Roshi’s memorial stupa and the nearby grave sites of other sangha members.


from The Ceaseless Daily Effort: The Life Story of Dainin Katagiri by Andrea Martin

With things established in Minneapolis, the sangha looked to the future with a new goal: to realize their teacher‘s dream of building a monastery. Katagiri Roshi had said, “This is my dream, to establish a Zen monastery in the United States. A monastery is not only the building, not only the people, but also the molding of an environment. You have to think carefully how to use space: how to put the tatami (woven rush grass) mats, where Manjusri should be placed, where the toilet is, lots of things. And then when you are there your life is completely inside a bamboo stick. Usually your life is just like a snake, always going zigzag. But when you are right in the middle of a monastery, even though your life is like a snake, that snake is in the bamboo stick and very naturally you straighten out. Your life is straight and that straight is really wonderful. Then, when you leave this bamboo stick, your life is really alive. This is what I have learned in a monastery. I like it very much. That‘s why I want to have a Zen monastery. That is my dream.

 “My dream is beautiful, a huge job in my life, but even if my dream doesn‘t come true in my lifetime, it is going on life after life. I can still have a chance in my next life. If I believe in that way it‘s not necessary to rush into it, it‘s not necessary to go slowly. When we have to hurry, we have to hurry; when we have to be slow, we have to be slow. But if I really want to build a monastery in my lifetime, I have to really rush.”

 The search for a location led to a lovely parcel of undeveloped pasture, creek, and woodland near the small town of Eitzen in the rolling hills of southeastern Minnesota. Katagiri loved the site, choosing it over other less challenging options. Still, it was a manageable drive from Minneapolis and well located to serve students in neighboring states. Zen Center refinanced the original mortgage on the Lake Calhoun house, taking on more debt to improve the house and also make a down payment on this land. On July 7, 1978, the sangha purchased the property for $109,000 in a signing event at Nancy James‘ Blue Heron Cafe.

Katagiri‘s vision was to recreate Dogen‘s thirteenth-century monastic training practices in a quiet, natural setting. He believed inthe importance of time spent in more primitive conditions, leaving behind the distractions of modern life for a while. He wanted two large buildings: a Buddha hall for chanting and services and a zendo for zazen. Cupboards for personal belongings would be at each sitting place in the zendo so students could sleep there. With future construction needs in mind, 2000 Norway and white pines were planted in April and May 1979. Thirty years later some of these pines were harvested and used to frame the sodo building at Ryumonji, the monastery founded by Katagiri‘s disciple Shoken Winecoff.

 The first sesshin on the land was held in October 1980 under a large Army surplus tent. Over the next two summers, a zendo, teacher‘s cabin, and kitchen/bath house were built. A workshop/dormitory was built in 1989, and other development continued over the years. In 2007, the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center and Hokyoji amicably separated into two independent organizations. The monastery is now incorporated as Hokyoji Zen Practice Community, and is guided by Katagiri‘s disciple Dokai Georgesen. . . . (p. 14)

The Minnesota Zen Meditation Center‘s city and country practice centers received their official temple names in 1983. Katagiri Roshi followed the time-honored traditions of naming Buddhist temples by giving each facility a two-fold name: a mountain name and a temple name. In ancient times, practice centers were situated far apart from worldly affairs, usually in the mountains. Thus a temple would come to be identified not only by its proper name, but also by its location. Katagiri explained that the mountain represents a place where we can create harmonious lives and show a good example for living in peace to our world and our friends. The mountain is an important symbol. It reminds us that our practice must be centered in this world, strong and firm as a mountain, yet reaching out to penetrate the heavens above. The city center received the name Kounzan Ganshoji (Cultivating Clouds Mountain, Living in Vow Temple). For the country center, Katagiri chose the name Chogetsuzan Hokyoji (Catching the Moon Mountain, Jewel Mirror Temple). The inspiration for these names came from this poem by Dogen Zenji:

 Yearning for the Ancient Way

 The Way of the Patriarchs coming from the West
I transmit to the East
Yearning for the ancient ways,
Catching the moon, cultivating the clouds
Untouched by worldly dust fluttering about
A thatched hut, snowy evening, deep mountain

“. . . About the country center name, Katagiri said, “In the name Chogetsuzan Hokyoji (Catching the Moon Mountain, Jewel Mirror Temple) we have the image of the moon, symbol of our highest aspirations for life and the perfect ideal illuminating life. We can strive to touch or catch it, yet practically speaking there is no way to truly catch the moon. However, this does not mean that we don‘t try or that we don‘t care about the perfect ideal in our lives. On the contrary, we have to be a constant reflection of that perfection. We have to be a jewel mirror, reflecting the moon so exquisitely that it is possible to think that the moon that is reflected is exactly the moon. Of course it is not, but still our lives must become this clear reflection of highest reality, a Jewel Mirror untouched by worldly dust. This is our practice for each moment.” (p. 15)