Things I Like

It has been nearly three months since I arrived here. Updating this weekly as I originally hoped obviously hasn’t worked out quite as I planned. I’m going to try to start updating at least every other week but even that may be optimistic. Now that I’ve been here for a bit I’m developing a better sense of the place so I’m going to do a couple posts about what I like and don’t like about being here. Let’s start with the positive:

Lots of high quality food – We have a fairly healthy diet here. All of our meals are vegetarian and we eat a large variety of different foods; rice, bread, several types of beans, tofu, eggs, dairy and lots of fruits and vegetables, among other things. The variety ensures that we get all of the nutrients we need which is very important in a vegetarian diet. We get a lot of our vegetables and herbs from our two gardens, one of which was built about seven years ago while the other one was finished since I arrived. The new garden is actually one of the projects I’ve been helping out with, and it’s already producing an absurd amount of potatoes (I’ve heard we’re expecting about 5000 pounds total, possibly more, and we’ve only harvested about 300 pounds so far). Much of our fruit comes from the various orchards scattered around the property. There are several types of pear and apple trees, blackberry bushes, plums, oranges (which don’t ripen until October), and mulberry trees. Have you ever heard of these things? I didn’t know what a mulberry was before coming here but they’re similar to blackberries, except bigger and they aren’t surrounded by huge thorns designed to make your life miserable. They’re also one of the most delicious things I’ve ever been fortunate enough to encounter. I’ve been downing them by the dozen every chance I get. This past weekend a few people worked on picking hundreds of apples, which was then turned into about 40 gallons of some of the best apple juice I’ve ever had, and this process will be repeated the next couple weeks. Basically we have a lot of really great food, and one of the best things about it is…

Almost all of your meals are cooked for you – We have breakfast, lunch and dinner cooked for us every day (except Sundays, which is lunch only) by the volunteers here on a rotating basis. A lot of the people here have become good cooks over time so most of the food is really good, and everyone can at least make something edible. I can’t say I’ve had anything particularly bad while I’ve been here. Since people have different styles there’s a lot of variety in the meals and unless you’re the one cooking it doesn’t require any work except helping with meal cleanup.

Variety in the work I do – There are a lot of different jobs here. Some people work in particular areas and do the same job all the time. There’s a crew that works in our foundry that is currently working on a 20-foot bronze statue. There are a few people that live here but work at a book bindery at a sister community nearby called Ratna Ling. And then there’s the group that I’m part of. We pretty much do anything and everything that needs to get done. Here’s an abbreviated list of the jobs I’ve done in the last few months: hedge trimming, brush cutting, mixing and pouring concrete, laying cinder blocks with mortar, building wooden posts and boxes for our fire hydrants, painting, picking fruit, cooking, grinding / polishing metal, and gardening. Now that the statue is nearing completion I’ve been working in the foundry quite a bit as well. I’ve learned to use a lot of tools and machines I’d never used before coming here. I’m a lot better at digging holes than I ever cared to be. I never thought I’d have strong feelings about shovels, but I have a favorite shovel here (partially because most of them are so awful). At first learning so many new things at once was overwhelming, but now that I’ve adjusted I’m eager to learn new skills every chance I get and to improve on what I’ve already learned. Which brings me to…

An environment that nourishes growth – Odiyan offers seemingly unlimited potential to learn. Not only can you learn dozens of different work skills, but there is also an emphasis on personal growth through learning to cultivate awareness. Tarthang Tulku, the founder of Odiyan and its many sister organizations, is a prolific writer and has authored dozens of books about meditation, studying the mind, work, and many other subjects. The books are all available here in a library for us to read and currently there are several classes spread throughout the week to discuss a couple of the books in depth. One of the classes I have been attending is based on a book called Gesture of Balance, which has been incredibly eye opening. The book is a series of essays on various topics, but the main theme is the habits the mind creates in order to rationalize and justify negative and harmful behaviors. Many of the people here are also very supportive and willing to help with problems you might be facing in your life.

The difference in culture – One of my favorite things about living here (and just outside of society in large in general) is the drastic difference in the culture. I think it’s important to explore new ways of living than what you’re accustomed to and Odiyan offers a radically different way to live. We are not constantly inundated with advertising trying to subtly trick us into thinking that we need to buy a certain product or watch a certain TV show for our lives to be good. We don’t have to deal with traffic or crowded stores. We share resources and tools so we don’t need to own as much and create less waste. Work is viewed as an opportunity to do something meaningful and fulfilling as opposed to a burden that must be done for the sake of survival. It’s by no means perfect but I prefer it to the mainstream society that seems to prevail elsewhere.

The people – There are about 35 people that currently live here. I don’t interact much with a lot of them since we work in different areas, but the people that I work with and see often I really like. The rest of the general work crew that I’m on are other guys around my age and we tend to have a lot in common and get along really well. There are a few other new people like me, but most of them have been here for years. Having only been here a few months it’s inspiring to see how much the people I work with have learned since arriving and how much they are capable of accomplishing. There are a few other people I don’t work with that I have become friends with as well and there’s no one here that I dislike.

The place that I get to live – Living in a place that offers a gorgeous natural environment has become vital to my long term well-being. I enjoy the privilege of getting to live in an absolutely beautiful little spot of the world. I’m surrounded by forested hills, gardens, flowers, and a view of the Pacific Ocean just a few miles away. The air is free from pollution and (except for our noisy machines while we’re working) it is quiet and peaceful. One of my favorite things to do here is stargazing. The night sky here is incredible since we’re so far away from a populated area. As long as the sky is clear, and especially when the moon isn’t too bright, there are thousands of stars visible. The Milky Way, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before being here, is a common sight as well.

So, those are a few of my favorite things about getting to live here. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before I can find some time to complain and tell you about the things I don’t care for so much.

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Why I Came Here

So, it’s been a couple weeks. Keeping up with this has proven difficult given my lack of available time and also motivation. But I’m working on it. Now, as for why I decided to come here.

As with everything here, it’s kind of complicated. Moving to a Buddhist community when you’re not a Buddhist, near on the opposite side of the country, to work 60+ hour weeks for little pay has at least a hint of insanity to it. Which is exactly why I thought it would be a good fit for me. But there are more legitimate reasons as well. Allow me to try to explain myself.

Odiyan offers a fairly unique combination of opportunities that appealed to me. I get to live in a place I’ve never visited before (Northern California), which happens to be absolutely beautiful. And it’s not just the natural landscape, hills and valleys fully covered in pine, oak and redwood forests, with the Pacific just a few miles off, visible in the distance. It’s also everything that has been built here in the past few decades. This area used to be fairly barren after the redwood forests were devastated by the logging industry. Since the 1970s, the members have Odiyan have reforested, planting over 200,000 trees. The land and buildings have been meticulously designed and laid out. There are huge and stunningly gorgeous temples and statues. There are colorful flags (more than I can count, probably numbering in the thousands) scattered around on flag poles or hanging from ropes off the tops of the temples or nailed to trees, containing Buddhist images and prayers written in Tibetan. There are animals all over the property, some domesticated but most of then wild. There are four Great Pyrenees dogs that roam freely to ward off unwanted animal visitors. There are dozens of ducks and a few swans that live in a pond surrounding the building we live in, which is called The Rim (I’ll try to explain that another time). There are two aviaries, one containing mostly peacocks and the other hosting a diverse mixture of cranes (one of which bit me), doves, pheasants and several other birds. There are small lizards everywhere, wild pigs (which we capture and kindly escort outside our gate), deer, wild turkeys, and even over a dozen horses that live around our reservoir. Essentially it is a place of indescribable beauty that incorporates nature into its design as opposed to attempting to distinguish itself from nature, as I’ve noticed to be the common theme among modern civilization.

On the topic of natural things, the 140-acres of land that the community resides on includes several acres of vegetables gardens, several more acres of gorgeous flower gardens, and huge expanses of various fruit orchards; apples, plums, pears, and oranges, among others. Throughout my work day, I can casually walk by a tree and grab a snack. If I want lettuce or kale, I just have to walk to the garden to harvest it. And that in itself a profound beauty of this place and others like it. There is something extremely gratifying about being responsible for (at least a portion of) your own food supply. There are no questions about use of pesticides or GMO’s. There is no concern about how fresh it is because in most cases it was picked right before it was cooked. It’s by no means perfect, as we still receive a large amount of our food in a weekly delivery from Sysco, including milk, cheese, and some fruits and vegetables. But much of our food grows here naturally, and provides not only sustenance to our bodies but also beauty to the land.

One of the main aspects that attracted me to this place was being able to live in a small community that aligns with my values. After spending a little bit of time in an intentional community in Virginia last year I realized that, for me, it is a very appealing way to live. It significantly reduces waste by allowing resources to be shared among many people instead of just a few. There are solar panels that provide some of our electricity, we compost food for the garden, and recycle almost everything while producing relatively little garbage for the number of people living here. It brings people together of different backgrounds and skills so it provides a diversity of culture and talent which allows for a high degree of self reliance. There are people here are are knowledgeable about electrical work, construction, gardening, metallurgy, landscaping, cooking, baking, and a whole host of other areas of expertise. Occasionally professionals are consulted if necessary, but for the most part the people here are extremely capable of achieving whatever needs to be done, or figuring out what to do if they don’t already. This also means that while living here I will be exposed to a wide variety of work and skills I’ve never encountered before, so I get to learn a lot of new things. Just in the first month I’ve been here I’ve done at least a half dozen jobs I’d never done before and learned to use several machines and tools I had never encountered, and that’s just a narrow slice of how much actually gets done here. They’re willing to work with people that don’t have prior experience, such as myself, and basically train people from scratch in several different area of work. There isn’t really any formal training, but instead it’s education by full immersion; it’s all hands-on and you immediately use the skills you learn.

As for the community being built on the foundation of the Buddhist philosophy, that attracted me as an intellectual curiosity. There were only a few things I knew about Buddhism before arriving; it was nonreligious, non-theistic, and what little I did know about it seemed to make sense to me. It promotes nonviolence, not only toward other humans, but all living things. The diet here is vegetarian so that no animals need to die in order to sustain us. I still don’t know a whole lot yet, but I’m learning more the longer I’m here by reading books and talking to people. There are a lot of things I don’t understand or currently agree with, but as a philosophy it is a very sensible approach to discovering reality. Hopefully I can write more about that later when I know more.

So, that’s pretty much it. I get to live in a really beautiful place that provides a lot of really great food, produces little waste, and I am learning a lot of new work skills from a lot of very cool people. I feel good about the work I’m doing and the contributions I’m making as opposed to just having a job to make a paycheck. The atmosphere is mostly relaxed because people aren’t stressed about money or work or traffic, etc., and we aren’t constantly exposed to the mass culture focused on getting people to buy more things. We do work a lot here, but it’s so that we have a beautiful and fulfilling place to live, and after a long day of work you can really appreciate what you’ve done.

That, and a dash of the aforementioned insanity.

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Week 1: Wednesday, June 19 – Sunday, June 23

… or five days, or whatever. Bear with me while I play catch up.

And now for the overwhelming task of figuring out where to begin. I suppose I should start by describing what this place actually is, which is also an overwhelming task. It’s called the Odiyan Buddhist Retreat Center, located in Northern California. It’s a community of about 35 people (I haven’t been able to get an exact figure from anyone, just vague estimates) living on 144 acres of land. It was started in the mid 1970’s by a man named Tarthang Tulku, a Tibetan Buddhist who moved to the United States to bring Tibetan Buddhism to the West. He first began several non-profit organizations, including a book printing operation that makes Buddhist texts and has widely expanded and is still in operation today. But I’ll save the rest of the history lesson for another post (it seems like I’ve been saying that a lot…)

Since I’ve only been here about a week and a half now I don’t know a whole lot about the place to write much, but I can tell you more or less what I’ve been doing, which is working. Lots and lots of it. The schedule here is rather relentless:

Monday – Saturday
6:30am – Breakfast is served
7:00 – Morning meeting (basically a few people get together and figure out what needs to be done for that day)
7:30 – 9:30 – Work
9:30 – 10:00 – Morning break (not mandatory)
10:00 – Noon – Work
Noon – 1:00pm – Lunch
1:00 – 4:30 – Work
4:30 – 5:00 – Afternoon break
5:00 – 7:00 – Work
7:30 – Dinner is served

For those of you keeping track, that’s nine and a half hours of work. This does not include meal clean up, which is done after each meal and is scheduled on a rotating basis. This also does not take into account the fact that some people work past 7, and some work through their breaks. Not necessarily because they have to, but because they can and it simply doesn’t phase them anymore. However, since I am a new member I work shorter hours to help me ease into the schedule. Here is an example of my schedule for a typical day so far:

6:00am – Wake up. Hit snooze on my alarm. Repeat.
6:40 – Jump out of bed, realizing I missed breakfast. Go to the kitchen to grab some leftovers (which is what a lot of people seem to do and is entirely acceptable)
7:00 – Rush to try to get ready to go to the meeting
7:05 – Arrive at the meeting just after it gets wrapped up and everyone is leaving. Whoops.
7:30 – 9:30 – Work. Finally doing something that’s on the schedule.
9:30 – 10:00 – Break time. Try to sit or lie down and move as little as possible. Grab a small snack.
10:00 – Noon – More work. Look forward to lunch.
Noon – 12:30 – Usually arrive a little bit late after putting equipment away or stopping at my room. Eat lunch.
12:35 – 12:55 – Lie on the ground in my bedroom because I’m too tired to change out of my work clothes and they’re really dirty so I don’t want to get into bed.
1:00 – 4:30 – Work. Try not to die of exhaustion.
4:30 – This is when I get off for the day, but only for the first two weeks I’m here
4:45 – Lie on the ground for a few more minutes until I can muster the energy to take a shower
5:00 – Shower. Feel a lot better
5:15 – 7:30 – Relax and get personal tasks done.
7:30 – Dinner
8:00 – 10:00 – Relax and get personal tasks done.
10:00 – Pass out (oftentimes before 10, actually)

After two weeks I’ll be working until 6pm, and I’ll start helping out with meal cleanup. I’ll have two weeks on that schedule until I start on the full schedule, which is also when I’ll begin preparing meals (this will have to be another separate post).

As for the work I’ve been doing, it’s been pretty varied. My first day here they pretty much just let me rest, so I slept in pretty late and didn’t work in the morning. Then I helped setting up some sprinklers for a new garden that they are in the process of building. The rest of the week I’ve been doing a lot of what is essentially yard work, like hedge trimming and brush cutting, and I’ve also worked in the garden a bit. One of the more grueling tasks has been digging shallow holes around a few of their irrigation pipes and then hand mixing and pouring concrete around them. Thankfully that project is almost done, but I know as soon as it is there will just be another to take its place.

Thankfully there is a break from the madness, and it’s called Sunday. Sunday are our days off, except for a one-hour community chore that everyone has to do. Most of it is cleaning the shared common areas, like the kitchen, hallways and bathrooms. Other than that we are free to do what we’d like, and since many people here have cars they occasionally leave to drive to a nearby town to get back to traditional civilization for a bit. I got my chore done in the morning, which was cleaning the kitchen floor along with one other person, so I had the rest of the day free. I used that freedom to take a nap, and it was glorious. This particular Sunday also happened to be a ceremony day (another separate post!), which happen four times a month, not necessarily on Sundays, but based on the Lunar Calendar. People generally cannot attend the ceremonies until they’ve been a member for six months, but there is a part of it that I was able to attend called a circumambulation. Basically it’s a long walk around all four of the temples and one of the gardens while chanting Tibetan prayers. But the prayers are spoken in Tibetan, so I have no idea what they meant or what was said. It was really great seeing all of the temples though, because there are a couple places we went that we’re not generally supposed to wander to unless it’s for work.

Well, it’s getting late and this is getting long, and I’m pretty much done writing about my first “week”. Hopefully I’ll be caught up in the next day or two and then can start working on some of these posts about specific aspects of living here. In the meantime, I’ll try to learn more about this place so I actually know what to tell all of you. Until then, cheers.

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Arriving to Oyidan: Tuesday, June 18

Hello everyone. This is a little journal I’m hoping to maintain while I’m living at Odiyan so people who are interested can kind of know what I’m up to and also to reassure everyone that I am not living in a cult. I’m not really sure what it’s going to be like, but let’s see what happens. My tentative plan is to update once a week or so, probably on Sundays because that’s our only day off, but it might take me a bit to get caught up to that point since I’m starting it over a week in. So, here we go.

I arrived late Tuesday night after a long day of traveling. I left home around 4:30am and my Mom drove me to the Detroit Metro Airport for a 6:45 flight to Denver. My layover in Denver took a couple hours longer than suspected, but I made it to San Francisco in time to catch my shuttle. I learned later that I narrowly missed a security threat in Detroit that required evacuation of the airport and I escaped a tornado that touched down on the runway in Denver a few hours after I left there. So far so good.

The shuttle to Santa Rosa Airport took about two hours. It was mostly uneventful but we did cross the Golden Gate Bridge and so I had a nice view of Alcatraz for a minute. Apparently Charles Schultz hails from Santa Rosa, as the airport and random spots around the city were adorned with several statues of various Peanuts characters. I had to wait around the airport to catch another bus to finish my trip. It was another uneventful ride but most of it was through some gorgeous scenery along the California Coast. It was another few hours before I finally reached a shop called Stewart’s Point, where I got off to wait for a few minutes until a man named Kevin arrived to pick me up for the 20 minute drive back to Odiyan. By then it was 7pm local time, over 17 hours since I’d left. I was worn out, but once we got there Kevin showed me to my room and helped me drag my luggage in.

Wow, this is already getting lengthy and I’ve only just arrived. Okay, more to the point…

My bedroom is very simple. There’s a desk with a few drawers and a couple lamps on it an an office chair. There’s a closet and a couple bookshelves, a sink with a few cupboards underneath, and obviously a bed, as well as a frame for another bed as I may end up having a roommate eventually. A nice added touch was a small vase on the desk with some freshly picked flowers that grow here, placed there by Leigh. She is in charge of volunteer coordination here so I spoke with her quite a bit during my application process. There are windows and a door that exits onto a shared porch facing toward the south, and that’s the real beauty of the room. Aside from being able to see a lot of trees and the pond that surrounds the housing structure (called The Rim), the ocean is also visible on clear days, as well as a huge, domed bronze Temple. I will have to save the descriptions of the temples for another post, but it’s a pretty amazing building, with intricate designs and large statues embedded into the sides around the dome.

Moving on.

After I got settled into my room a bit I went to the dining room for dinner. Meals are another thing I’ll have to explain in another post because this is already a bit long. During dinner I got introduced to a lot more people, including a woman named Carolyn who grew up in Royal Oak less than a half hour away from where I lived in Michigan. She’s a really cheerful person and she was very excited to have another Michigander around so I received a very enthusiastic welcome from her, which was very nice. After dinner Leigh talked with me a bit to make sure I had everything I needed and said not to worry about working right away and just take the next day or two to rest up if I needed, which was very much appreciated. By then I was really exhausted and pretty much got straight to bed.

Well, I just reached Page 2 here so it seems like a good place to call it quits for now. Hopefully my following posts are a bit more concise and I can actually talk about living here instead of just how I showed up.

Until next time.

Oh, also, I have no idea why there’s a picture of a tree at the top of the page. I’ve never seen that tree in my life and I’m not the one who put it there. Eventually this page will probably look much different once I figure out what I’m doing. You can also ignore the post before this which is a just curry recipe I wrote up for a friend.

EDIT: The local time is 6:36 P.M. on June 26. This was allegedly posted sometime on June 27. It would appear that I’m living in the future! But everything here makes it seem more like the past. How odd.

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Curry for Krys

After a full week and a half of procrastination on a request by Krystina, I’m finally getting around to providing a rough approximation of the curry recipe I brought along for the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day trip. I made this batch a couple days after we got back so it’s different than what I brought with us, mainly in the aspect that I actually measured the amount of spices I used instead of haphazardly adding things and hoping for the best. I still didn’t really measure the ingredients very precisely because it’s not very fun. Also, this was a huge batch. I made it a week ago and I’ve been nibbling on leftovers since, so unless you want to be eating curry for a week straight then you might want to tone this down a bit to suit your needs.


  • 14 oz. package of tofu (this was a mistake. The curry I had in Chicago I made with tempeh which was a lot better. You could also use chicken, beef, etc.)
  • whole red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 yellow squash
  • 1/2 pound carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • approx. 1/2 pound broccoli and/or cauliflower
  • large sweet onion
  • 8 oz. package of mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp shredded ginger
  • 2 1/2 cups coconut milk (alternatively you could use 2 cups with 1/2 cup of water)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce



  • 1 tsp. cayenne
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. tumeric
  • 2 tbsp. sriracha
  • 2 tsp. curry powder (I didn’t have this when I made it the first time so I compensated by using extra cumin, tumeric and cayenne and it turned out fine)
  • Salt to taste
  • Garlic powder (optional and to taste)

The spice lineup. Most of these are pretty potent (as spices tend to be), so be careful about adding too much. Start with a bit and taste it to make sure it won’t turn out too spicy.

The actual cooking part:

  1. Chop all the ingredients to the desired size. I chopped them pretty small but you can do whatever you’d like.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet (you may want to use two pans for a recipe this size). Add the vegetables and stir fry over medium heat. I started by adding the carrots since they take the longest to soften up, then added the red peppers, squash, etc. Add the garlic and ginger last so they don’t burn.
  3. In a separate pan cook the meat (or tofu, or whatever) in the soy sauce over medium heat. I marinated the tofu in the soy sauce for a bit while I was chopping the vegetables and then added everything into the pan with a little extra soy sauce.
  4. While the meat and vegetables are cooking, pour the coconut milk (and water, if you’re using it) into a large pot and bring to a boil. Once it starts boiling reduce heat to a simmer.


    If your stove doesn’t look like this then you’re doing something wrong

  5. Once them meat and vegetables are done, add them all into the pot with the coconut milk and keep over a low flame.
  6. Now for the fun part: spice the hell out of it. As I mentioned earlier, some of these spices are pretty volatile so be careful. Add a little bit of each, stir them in and taste it to see how it is.


    Hopefully yours turns out less blurry than mine

Once it tastes really good or you start hating your life because you fucked up, that’s when you know you’re done. Let it simmer for a few minutes and then enjoy. This is really good served with rice or quinoa.

One last thing to note: I made this on Tuesday with the intention of having it for dinner on Thursday (and then leftovers for the following week). Part of the reason this was so good in Chicago is that it had been sitting for a couple days so it had time for the flavors to all blend into each other. It’s still really good as soon as it’s done cooking, but if you make enough for leftovers a couple days later, then you might really be impressed.

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