May 31, 2010

At Felsentor

I went by train, boat, and cable car from Zurich to Felsentor which sits on a shelf high above Lake Luzern. Since all the connections are timed, there is no waiting from one conveyance to the other, simply a reasonable time to go from one to the other and then it departs, almost always on time. Only something extraordinary would keep the trains behind schedule. It's Switzerland!

Lake Luzern has mountains than come straight down into the lake and in a fog they are mysterious and exotic with stone walls that shine with dampness and are alive with small waterfalls. The day I arrived the weather was fine, but afterward we dealt with either rain or fog and thunderstorms at varying times throughout the day and night. As it is quite slippery on the trails when it rains, at one point a rescue helicopter hovered about 30 feet from my room, looking down the ravine to see if there was someone who needed assistance. Many people need rescue at this still wet time of year.

The word "Felsentor" means stone gate and it comes from a Franciscan monk who lived on the mountain a few hundred years ago. When the hunters came in search of animals, the monk called the animals into the protection of the stones and away from the hunters. Legend has it that the stone developed into the shape of a monk. Indeed, it clearly looks like a monk and it is the gateway to the piece of land that sits out on the shelf where the residence is and where the Zendo is. The priest who developed the present place of practice is Vanya Palmers, a Transmitted priest of Kobun Chino Roshi. Vanya has also developed an animal shelter to save animals from the slaughterhouse.

There are seven residents who live full-time and work to maintain the facility for retreats. Two are administrators, one is a cook, one is full-time with the animals, and the others are works who garden, keep up with repairs and the myriad duties that are needed to keep such a place going. Access to Felsentor is either by a 15 minute hike from the cable train, or by the old vehicle that is used to transport food and supplies from the cable train. It's a rugged drive and not for the feint of heart.

I spent a quiet weekend sitting Zazen with the residents in the mornings and evenings, reading, sketching, taking photos, and just looking out at the mountains. My workshop had been cancelled and although it was difficult on Felsentor, I was thrilled to have the time to myself. I'd not been feeling so well and it was a chance to take the mountain air and just quiet down. I also enjoyed wonderful vegetarian food which we ate in the dining room that looks out onto the great vista. Even in cloud, it's breathtaking.

The Zendo was built in San Francisco and then transported to Switzerland. The only way to get it up the mountain was by helicopter where it was delivered piece by piece and then reassembled. Pricey, eh? I can't think of what it would take, but we might build our Olympia Zen Center several times over. But, it's a gem and a treasure on the Rigi Mountain and hikers stop to admire the beautiful Japanese architecture.

More later. I must get ready to take Esther, my granddaughter to her ballet lesson next door to the Opera House.