Categorized | Event, Northern California

Liberation of the Animals at the City of 10,000 Buddhas

Entrance to the City of 10,000 Buddhas

Entrance to the City of 10,000 Buddhas

Over the last 18 months,  The City of 10,000 Buddhas has become my “go to” place for serenity.  Located in Talmage, California near Ukiah, it is an easy ride north from my home in Sonoma County.  In spite of my naturally social nature, I tend to go to the City of 10,000 Buddhas alone, finding that the peaceful drive up the 101 to The City already sets the tone for a contemplative experience.   While  there, I walk the grounds and look at the organic gardens.  I spend some time in the reading room and incense scented Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas.  Sometimes I have lunch at the vegetarian restaurant, Jyun Kang. When I head back home, I am at peace.

Monks at the City of 10,000 BuddhasThe City of 10,000 Buddhas is one of the largest Buddhist Communities in the Western Hemisphere.  The City was established on the site of the former Mendocino State Hospital in the mid 1970’s by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, who originally founded The Dharma Realm Buddhist Association (formerly the Sino-American Buddhist Association)  in 1959. Currently, it houses Instilling Goodness Elementary School and Developing Virtue Secondary School.  There is a laity training program and the Dharma Realm Buddhist University.  Monks live on site and can be seen serenely gliding across the grounds.  The buildings are solidly institutional in architecture and are slowly being re-purposed – for example, a former gym now houses the jeweled hall of 10,000 Buddhas.

I talk so much about the City, that my BFF and always enthusiastic travel partner, Teresa, decided that she wanted to go see it also, so one Sunday in late July, we hopped in the car and went.  Part of the motivation for this trip was that we were each pissed off at certain people in our lives and needed some spiritual regeneration – pronto.

Old River Road

Old River Road

There are two ways to reach the City.  From the 101, the Talmage exit will drop you directly at the entrance to the City.  There is also a slightly longer, scenic route for drivers coming from the south. Below Talmage, the 101 cuts through the tiny town of Hopland. Instead of continuing north, turn right at the Valero gas station on CA 175.  At the roundabout, bear left up Old River Road for 14 miles of bucolic pleasure.  Vineyards, orchards and pretty views.  At the end of the road, the entrance to the City of 10,000 Buddhas.

Ceremony of the Liberation of the Animals

Crates of partridges await their imminent liberation

After parking at the administration building and signing in, we started exploring.  My original intent was to go to the gardens first, before it got too hot, but there was an unusual amount of activity on the grounds, so I suggested that we go to the Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas to see what was going on.  The hall was buzzing with people and we arrived at the same time as six plastic crates filled with partridges, which were being pulled out of some vehicles by the side entrance. “We got them in Chinatown”, one of the workers mentioned to another as they hauled them in.  The crates were placed on plastic tarp at the back of the hall and at that point, the people started filing in.  Through a series of swift and inexplicable circumstances, Teresa and I ended up joining the several hundred Chinese Buddhists worshippers, in the middle of a row, holding Chinese language prayer books.  Nobody else there seemed to think this was unusual, so we went with it.

The ceremony we witnessed was the Liberation of the Animals.  It is not surprising that such an event would be celebrated. Buddhists are vegetarians and at The City, the peaceful veneration for animals is witnessed by the many animals, fish and insects that populate the grounds.  In the springtime, the air is filled with the shrieking of peacocks that freely roam.  I have seen squirrels and butterflies, koi and goldfish.  On a recent visit during the fall, I saw small birds and squirrels happily eating the seeds directly out of the heavy headed sunflowers in the garden.

The hall was filled – with children, with monks and with members of the general public.  Occasionally a page number was shouted out in English, but most of the prayer session was conducted in Chinese.  Both Teresa and I were fortunate enough to have neighbors who pointed out where we were supposed to be in the prayerbook. Thankfully, there was transliteration, so it was possible to follow the chanting. which was done quickly, hypnotically and in sets of threes.

The worship hall does not have chairs, only low slated stools.  The ceremony is done from a standing position, with occasional bowing to the ground, using the low stools.  As with the chanting, the bowing was done swiftly and in sets of threes.

The ceremony ended and the books were gathered up.  The crates of birds were taken away, and everyone began filing out. First the monks, who were at the front of the hall, and then the worshipers.  We waited until our turn came and followed everyone out.  The chanting continued outside.  The crates were laid out in a long row on the pathway leading up to the jeweled hall.  As the worshipers chanted, the crates were opened and the birds flew free.  Here is the video of the event.

After the ceremony, everyone dispersed. Teresa and I wandered over to the school playground, sat on a bench in the shade and thoughtfully ate the snacks we had brought with us.   Even without special ceremonies, The City of 10,000 Buddhas is a remarkable destination.  To have witnessed this event was an honor, a privilege, and a revelation.
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2 Responses to “Liberation of the Animals at the City of 10,000 Buddhas”

  1. Hey very nice blog!! Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds also…. Greetings from the Speedy DNS.

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  1. […] Teresa, Norma and Evelyn.  Teresa had come with me a few months before and we had witnessed the Liberation of the Animals, however Evelyn and Norma had never gone there. We brought some food for the trip, thinking […]


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