Kannon Do has been providing opportunities for contemplative practice for the San Francisco mid-peninsula and South Bay for over fifty years.
In 1965 Suzuki-roshi came to the US from Japan and established Zen practice in the San Francisco area. Soon Zen practice began to root in several locations throughout the Bay Area. The San Francisco Zen Center was started; practice communities grew up in Santa Cruz and Los Gatos; and a fledging community took hold in Los Altos, located in the heart of what would soon be known as Silicon Valley.
The Los Altos community established a daily practice of zazen that was made possible by the generosity of one of the Sangha members, Marian Derby. Marian insisted that the garage of her home be converted into a meditation hall, or zendo. Suzuki-roshi and the Sangha did the construction. It had room for seventeen cushions. As seventeen is the number of syllables in a haiku poem, they named the new center Haiku Zendo.
Suzuki-roshi or Katagiri-roshi came from San Francisco each week to Haiku Zendo. Suzuki-roshi’s Wednesday night lectures were recorded. The significance of these talks was to be illustrated a few years later when they were transcribed, forming the heart of the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.
The philosophy of Haiku Zendo had several important characteristics:
A pervasive atmosphere of giving was created by Marian, who prepared Saturday breakfasts for the Sangha and made frequent trips to San Francisco Zen Center to drive Suzuki-roshi or Katagiri-roshi to and from Haiku Zendo.
Haiku Zendo was often filled to capacity. Frequently, people had to stand outside the zendo, unable to join in zazen. More room was required to meet the increasing demand.
In 1968, Marian wanted to deepen her practice by leaving Los Altos to spend several years at Tassajara. She asked Les and Mary Kaye if they would move into her house and become stewards of Haiku Zendo. They agreed. Leaving their home in San Jose, they moved to Los Altos in September with their two children.
In 1970, encouraged by Suzuki-roshi, the students of Haiku Zendo invited the Zen monk Kobun Chino to come from Japan to be its spiritual leader. He arrived in early 1971 and the practice flourished. In 1976, the City of Los Altos discovered Haiku Zendo and determined that it was functioning as a public meeting place, thereby violating residential zoning ordinances. The city gave Les and Mary official notice to discontinue Haiku Zendo activities at their residence. Fortunately, the city was lenient, giving the Sangha time to address the situation.
In response, the Sangha made plans to move and to make the meditation center more accessible to the public. In two years, they raised sufficient funds to purchase the Gospel Assembly Church in the old Castro City district of Mountain View. In 1978, It was transformed into Kannon Do, which means “Place of Compassion.”
The gift-giving spirit of Haiku Zendo extended to the new Mountain View location. The Sangha extensively remodeled the church, removing its theater type seats and linoleum floor tiles. They refurbished the underlying wood and moved a wall that separated the zendo and Sangha room to expand the size of the Sangha room.
The floor to ceiling windows of the former church were replaced with clerestory, the clapboard exterior was covered with stucco, and the roof was replaced. The neighbors welcomed Kannon Do and its members, who added a stabilizing influence in what was at that time a somewhat troubled neighborhood.
In 1983, Kobun appointed Les Kaye the spiritual leader of Kannon Do and moved to New Mexico to assist in establishing a new Zen Center. In 1985, Les received Dharma Transmission by Hoitsu Suzuki-roshi, son and heir of Shunryu, in a month-long ceremony at Rinsoin, the family’s home temple in Yaizu, Japan. In 1988, the Kannon Do Sangha invited Les to become its first abbot.
In 1990, the Kannon Do membership felt the need for a larger facility to accommodate its growing activities and to widen its accessibility to the larger community. Following ten years of fund-raising and three years of searching for suitable property in a tight real estate market, a one-half-acre property, with two houses, was purchased at 1972 Rock Street for $800,000. An additional year and a half was required to obtain the Conditional Use Permit from the city of Mountain View. Final plans for the new center were completed in 2004, construction took place in 2005, and the Sangha moved into the new Kannon Do in 2006. A formal dedication ceremony was held March 3, 2007. Today our membership has grown to nearly 400 members and has spawned new Zen Centers in California, Oregon, Maine, France, and Italy.