Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery
By Tim Holt
Story by Tim Holt
Photos courtesy of Shasta Abbey
A visit to Shasta Abbey on a Sunday morning is an adventure in time travel, one that takes you back to the original teachings of a religion that began in India 500 years before the birth of Christ.
As the services begin, Buddhist monks in black and brown robes form a semi-circle near the center of their inner temple. In soft Gregorian chants, they praise their founder and the principles of their religion. Above, high on an altar, a gilded statue of the Buddha looks down in golden benevolence on the proceedings. As the ceremony continues, large crimson goblets containing tea or sweet water, cakes or cookies are held high in the air as offerings to the Buddha.
Two dozen monks live on this sprawling 17-acre retreat along Interstate 5 . Shasta Abbey was founded in 1970 by Reverend Master Jiyu-Kennett, born Peggy Kennett in a small seacoast town in England. She was, from a very young age, a spiritual seeker. Her spiritual quest led her to Buddhist centers of learning in Malaysia, then to Japan and finally the United States. Along the way she founded numerous Buddhist temples and was a pioneer in carving out an expanded role for women in the Buddhist religion. She passed on in 1996. One of her disciples, Reverend Master Meian, also a native of England, now runs the abbey.
The abbey is situated about midway between Mount Shasta and Weed. It contains a worship hall, meditation rooms, a kitchen and dining commons and living quarters for monks and visitors. Its grounds are adorned with statues of the Buddha and other notable deities.
The monks lead a quiet and peaceful, but far from cloistered, life. The abbey encourages visits, some of them stretching long retreats, by those who want to deepen their faith or simply learn more about Buddhism.
The Buddhist religion is in some ways very simple. While other religions may give a lot of attention to an afterlife, Buddhists tend to be grounded in the here and now, seeking peace and serenity by immersing themselves in everyday tasks.
Becoming a Buddhist monk involves years of study and training and a willingness to sacrifice that goes beyond the requirements of other religions. Monks live a simple life in the abbey, with few personal possessions, and agree to give up alcohol and tobacco and lead a celibate life.
William Hollenbeck, now 63, was in his younger days a book dealer in Huntsville, Ala. Thirty-five years ago he began the rigorous training required of an ordained Buddhist monk. Now, as Reverend Oswin of Shasta Abbey, he helps keep the abbey running while enjoying the peaceful, contemplative life it provides.
As a practicing Buddhist, he likes to say that he “finds the universe in the wood I’m stacking.” There is a world of thought in that simple statement, but also the kernel of a simple idea: Everything in the universe is linked together; by focusing on the immediate and seemingly mundane, Buddhists find a way to connect to the whole.
Followers of other religions would find many similarities between their own beliefs and those of the Buddhist religion: Among them, getting away from a focus on oneself and toward more compassion and kindness toward others.
“We’re not the only game in town,” as Reverend Oswin likes to put it.
For a tour of Shasta Abbey or to attend one of the Sunday services, call (530) 926-4208, ext. 305. •