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City of 10,000 Buddhas

My first trip to the City of 10,000 Buddhas was in the spring of 2009. I with a man I was very much in love with.  I recently found a photo of myself from that day. I am standing on the side of the road, almost levitating with joy.

The next time I was there, it was fall of the same year. I was full of doubt and grief about this relationship. I wandered the grounds preoccupied, sad.

A few months later I was single again.

Through all of that, the City remained and remains beautiful, baffling, enigmatic.

The story, or at least part of it, starts in the 1970’s when California was in the throes of a water shortage. At that time I was growing up in Marin County, in Northern California, several counties south of Mendocino.  Everyone in Marin was handling the water shortage in the same way – by putting empty buckets in the shower stall. The water collected during the shower was then used to flush the toilet. That’s all I really remember about it, mainly because I was a teenager at that point and obsessing about other things besides the state of the local reservoirs.

However, in the case of the City of 10,000 Buddhas, the drought was a turning point event.

Let’s hold that thought right now. Just keep it close to you as we take a hundred year detour back to 1889. This was the year that the Mendocino State Asylum for the Insane was founded in the town of Talmage, outside of Ukiah. Like any and all state hospitals, this one had its share of horror stories, the most compelling being the rumored connection with the Jim Jones cult which had its flagship temple in neighboring Redwood Valley.  Allegations of People’s Temple infiltration, cult recruitment, LSD experiments, drug experiments on children, forced sterilizations, dead bodies still buried on the site and other stories continue to sweep cyberspace.

The Mendocino State Hospital reached its peak capacity in the 1950’s, when it housed 3000 patients and employed 700 staff members.  Here is a 1935 document describing  “the law of incompetency” and the parameters for admittance to a state hospital.

Over the years, I have occasionally run across people who have spent time in mental hospitals. The metric for admission always appeared to have been very flexible and usually cultural. Young women in particular would be incarcerated because their families could not control them in the way that their families and society felt they should be controlled.

Mendocino State Hospital may have also been the home or potential home of a Kirkbride Building, which was an architectural style used specifically for State Hospitals in the early part of the last century.  Although plans have been found specifically drawn up for the Mendocino State Hospital site, it is inconclusive whether or not any of those Kirkbride buildings were ever actually constructed on the site.

In the end, it was the 1970’s drought which forced the closure of Mendocino State Hospital. There was simply not enough water to run it. It was sold to a private investor who had thought to develop the property, but that ambition was not fulfilled and the property remained in a state of limbo.

Coincidentally, the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association had been searching for a rural site to develop their monastery. This search had taken them as far north as Seattle and a chance drive-by of the Mendoncino state hospital site had revealed that it was for sale.

Or was it chance? According to the history of the City of 10,000 Buddhas. the availability of this particular site at this particular moment was “predetermined limitless eons ago”.

The lack of immediate funds to purchase the entire 488 acres was not deemed to be a significant stumbling block and over the next few years, the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, under the leadership of the Venerable Master Hua, patiently negotiated a price until all parties were in agreement.

In spite of the ongoing drought during the years of negotiations, Venerable Master Hua was blissfully unconcerned about the lack of water at the site.

“It’s very strange: After purchasing the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, in order to solve the water crisis, the Venerable Master used his wisdom-eye to locate the water source and then hired workers to excavate a well. As it turned out, the water gushed forth in abundance. “A miracle!” people exclaimed. Everyone still loves to talk about it. How did that inconceivable event take place? The Venerable Master was walking around, holding a staff. Suddenly he tapped the staff on the ground and said, “Excavate here!” The worker said, “It won’t work—we’ve already tried excavating all around this spot. We’ve surveyed this area. There definitely isn’t any water here!” The Venerable Master said, “Don’t worry! Just give it a try. Dig on!” When they had excavated over a hundred feet down, water started coming out. The supply was so plentiful that even with ten thousand more people, there would still be enough for everyone.” From City of 10,000 Buddhas


If you are coming from the south, take a right turn in Hopland at the gas station and take the scenic route up Old River Road.

drive to the city

For those coming up or down the 101, the Talmage exit will also drop you right at the front entrance. You cannot miss the large golden entry arch at the start of the driveway.

entrance to city

The City is tucked into the same buildings that the State Hospital was, including offices, classrooms, the gymnasium (now the home of The Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas), basketball courts, and other institutional buildings of that era. Even with the brown robed monks strolling by, the overall appearance of the City is that of a regional high school campus.

girls school sign

Although very clean and well paved, the City is ramshackle with haphazardly maintained landscaping. Very few of the entire 488 acres are in actual active use by the Dharma Realm. Deer, peacocks, and squirrels freely roam the site. The surrounding countryside and mountains appear ready and willing to creep closer and closer to the City.





fall scene at the city

A friend of mine went to the City on a “date” and was disappointed in the plainness of the site. I guess that’s a matter of interpretation and expectation.  I never get tired of The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

wooden fish

For awhile I was coming frequently to The City of 10,000 Buddhas.  I loved to watch the landscape change and to see what was growing in the organic gardens.  It has remained one of my favorite places to photograph and video, although I have not yet made it there to record the springtime shrieking of the peacocks that freely wander the site.

The organic fields just planted

One of the fields, freshly planted

tulip fields

Different flowers grow in the gardens at different times of the year

red flowers

The summer flower garden


Sunflower Time at the City

“Peacocks pose a large problem on the farm, so countermeasures have been taken against the peacocks, including covering the plants, moving the peacocks to a walnut farm, and planting extra food based on the assumption that a significant fraction will be eaten or damaged by peacocks.” City of 10,000 Buddhas


On New Year’s Day 2011, I went to The City with my friends 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 we’d have a small picnic, but it was a very cold day and as we drove further north and rose higher in elevation, it got even colder.  We could see snow on some of the mountain tops. By the time we got to the City, the cold was merciless.

We wandered around the grounds for a bit and spent some time in the bookstore where even the clerk was wrapped in a coat, scarf and hat.  We hastily ate our picnic in the car. On our drive back, we stopped at the side of the freeway by a river and Evelyn and Teresa went down the trail for some closer shots. I was tired and my back hurt, so I stayed in the car and may have dozed off. Norma kept me company.

When Teresa and Evelyn came back, we took some group photos and drove back.  I was getting ready to move to the yurt in the field, so when they dropped me off I gave all three of my friends some of my plants, as I wouldn’t have room for them where I was going. We decided that we would make a practice of going to the City every New Year’s Day and set our intention for the year.  My intent for 2011 was going to be “exploration”.

Later, when Evelyn emailed me the photos she had taken, I was appalled at how badly I looked. Really bad. I felt bad too, tired and listless, my back was hurting badly all the time. About a month later I was diagnosed with 4th stage cancer, including in my spine, and soon after started five months of chemo. My year of “exploration” truly became that, but in ways I could have never imagined.

ghost warning on tree

But my blessings are many. One year later I was solidly in remission, and on New Year’s Day 2012, Norma, Evelyn, Teresa and myself headed up to the City again this time with much better weather.  We decided to forget about the picnic and ate lunch at the Jyun Kang vegan restaurant. In addition to being Vegan, they also do not cook with garlic or onions.  The food is outstanding, and now that I am a vegan, I have an even deeper appreciation of what they are trying to do at the City of 10,000 Buddhas.

Koi Pond City of 10,000 Buddhas

There are many points of interest at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Of course, one of them is the Jeweled Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which is located in one of the former gymnasiums.

entrance to the City of 10,000 buddhas grand hall

“Finished in 1982, the hall is adorned with streamers, banners, lamps and is graced in the center by the presence of an 20-foot (6 m) statue of a thousand-handed Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, popularly known as Guan Yin in Chinese and Chenrezig in Tibetan. Rows of yellow bowing cushions are lined upon the red carpet. Walls are adorned with 10,000 images of the Buddha, molded by Hua”. The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas

gold Buddha

An enormous incense burner sits right before the entrance to the building, at the end of a path through the middle of a lawn. Enormous colorful murals decorate the outside of the building. Inside, in the entrance, there is a small lobby with books for sale and Buddhas on all the walls.

lobby altar at city of 10,000 Buddhas

No matter how many times I have gone into the Hall, I have never been alone there.  Someone is always praying.  There have been times when ceremonies have been in session, so I have not entered, with the exception of the Liberation of the Animals. There are folding chairs around the edge, but the bulk of the worship area is taken up with bowing cushions

Monks going into hall

It is a comfortable place. You do not need to be Buddhist to feel at home there, to feel spiritually fulfilled. The ten thousand Buddhas line the walls, starting from the lobby. They are everywhere, encased in little wooden boxes and covered with clear plastic.

House with a Buddha in the window

Over the years I have seen the City change.  I have not made it up there as many times as I did before I started chemo. The trip has just been too punishing.  The first time I went back there by myself after chemo, I spent several days afterwards in bed – crumbling with fatigue. I have gone back once or twice since then, each time a little bit better.

Like Master Hua, I push on, convinced that at one point in the future I will drill a hole into the ground and be rewarded by an unexpected spring of water.  More than ever, I feel that the time will be soon.



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