The abbey is based on the Soto tradition of Zen Buddhism and stresses shikantaza meditation as a means of completely eliminating the mind and body as a conscious entity; with enlightenment realized at the arrival of what can be considered ‘pure existence’. To gain skill in this, everyone at the abbey is expected to abide by the rules of the community and of the Order and to participate in the daily training schedule. This schedule provides a balance of sitting meditation, ritual and working meditation that is carefully regulated, with scheduled times for sitting meditation and religious service in the mornings and evenings.
Six to seven hours of community work occupy the bulk of the day. Apart from this participants are expected to not leave the premises, except for medical reasons or for alms, practice celibacy, bow upon entering and leaving a room; bow in gratitude; bow at one another in recognition of the Buddha within, and join palms at their heart, ‘Gassho,’ to center oneself and to express the unity in duality. I think that of all the tasks I would have the hardest time with seeking alms since all of the other routines as in line with the general philosophy of this movement.
Asking for alms is a kind of infringement on other people’s rights. Although the monks believe they are doing people a favor to give them a chance to donate money and understand that money is not the route to happiness, but that by giving money you get more happiness, I can imagine that they experience some negative comments, and probably don’t make much money that way. That is probably why the monastery sells all sorts of souvenirs.
This would detract from the meaning of the tradition for me, since its like they are selling their religion as a tourist curiosity, just like other religions do. The difference is that other religions don’t emphasize the policy of being disconnected from the physical world, whereas Buddhism does. I wonder how much money they actually make, whether abuses occur, and if they do, how often and how are they handled? Koho, K. C. (2000) Soto Zen: An Introduction to the Thought of the Serene Refection Meditation School of Buddhism, Shasta Abbey Press, ISBN 0-930066-09-X