In 1994, a Yale graduate-turned-monk bought 318 acres in the mountains of Tehachapi, CA and built a Zen Buddhist monastery and spiritual retreat center for people to practice meditation and sincerely pursue awakening for the benefit of all beings.

I'm a Kern County native and had no idea this place even existed until a friend told me about it.

I’m a Kern County native and had no idea this place even existed until a friend told me about it.

So on a recent road trip on my way to Mammoth, I decided to take a little detour and check it out.

So on a recent road trip on my way to Mammoth, I decided to take a little detour and check it out. A few nights before my visit, I spoke to a Buddhist nun who lives onsite. I asked if I could come by to tour and photograph the property and she said anytime after morning prayers would be fine.

So shortly after 8am on a cool brisk morning, I made my way up a winding dirt road to Taegosa Mountain Spirit Center.

So shortly after 8am on a cool brisk morning, I made my way up a winding dirt road to Taegosa Mountain Spirit Center.

After parking and being greeted by two very obnoxious barking dogs (so not Zen), I made my way to the Peace Bell which features children from all over the world wearing traditional costumes, holding hands, encircling the bottom of the bell.

After parking and being greeted by two very obnoxious barking dogs (so not Zen), I made my way to the Peace Bell which features children from all over the world wearing traditional costumes, holding hands, encircling the bottom of the bell.

The temple is located on a wonderful energy point according to oriental principles of geomancy.

The land itself has long been a place where the native people of this area came to conduct their vision quests, and it is the center’s hope to honor and continue this tradition of spiritual practice.

After buying 318 acres in 1994, Mu Ryang, the Yale graduate-turned-monk moved to these mountains, pitched a tent and began planning construction of the center.

Over the next two decades he devoted his life to building the Korean Zen Buddhist meditation and retreat center located 120 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

Over the next two decades he devoted his life to building the Korean Zen Buddhist meditation and retreat center located 120 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

He was born Erik Berall, a home-grown American kid, baptized in the Episcopal Church and raised in Connecticut.

Born Erik Berall, he was baptized in the Episcopal Church and raised in Connecticut.

Sahn was the first Korean Zen master to live and teach in the United States and became a pioneer in bringing Korean Zen Buddhism to Americans.

He began meditating and met Korean Zen master Seung Sahn. Sahn was the first Korean Zen master to live and teach in the US and became a pioneer in bringing Korean Zen Buddhism to Americans. After garnering a following among students at Brown University, Sahn founded the Kwan Um School of Zen in Providence, R.I which later became the head temple for more than 50 affiliated Zen centers around the world, including the Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles.

After graduating from Yale in 1981, Berall moved to Rhode Island to live and study at the Kwan Um School.

After graduating from Yale in 1981, Berall moved to Rhode Island to live and study at the Kwan Um School.

It was during these travels with his Zen master that he became inspired to build a Korean temple in the mountains of California.

Berall was ordained a monk and given his Buddhist name in 1983. (Mu Ryang means “infinite”; Sunim is the traditional Korean Buddhist title for monks). It was during this time that he became inspired to build a Korean temple in the mountains of California.

With donations and personal loans from friends and family, Mu Ryang raised about $100,000 to buy the land.

After raising $100,000, he bought some land near Tehachapi, hired a draftsman and designed the first temple building.

Using architecture books and his memories of Buddhist temples in the mountains of Korea, Mu Ryang hired a draftsman and designed the first temple building.

It was built with a deep concern for the environment.

Buddha Hall was designed by a team of craftsmen from Korea.

The temple is off the electrical power grid – electricity is generated on site by the power of sun and wind.

The temple is off the electrical power grid – electricity is generated on site by the power of sun and wind.

Well water is reused for irrigation of native plants and trees; therefore, care is taken to not use toxic chemicals, soaps, or detergents.

Well water is reused for irrigation of native plants and trees; therefore, care is taken to not use toxic chemicals, soaps, or detergents.

Mu Ryang hoped the Mountain Spirit Center could function as a bridge between Korean Buddhists and the growing number of American converts.

He hoped the center could function as a bridge between Korean Buddhists and the growing number of American converts.

As an American Buddhist who built a Korean-style temple, he hoped to erase the ethnic and racial barriers that had divided Buddhists.

As an American Buddhist who built a Korean-style temple, he hoped to erase the ethnic and racial barriers that had divided Buddhists.

After exiting the temple and putting my shoes back on, I finally ran into the nun who I had talked to on the phone a few days earlier.

After exiting the temple and putting my shoes back on, I finally ran into the nun who I had talked to on the phone a few days earlier.

She was extremely nice and didn't seem to have a problem with me being inside the temple by myself or snapping photos of its exterior. I let her know how much I appreciated her allowing me to stop by and complemented her on how beautiful the space was. After giving up an offering, she invited me to ring the gong and I was on my way.

She was extremely nice and didn’t seem to have a problem with me being inside the temple by myself or snapping photos of its exterior. I let her know how much I appreciated her allowing me to stop by and complemented her on how beautiful the space was. After giving up an offering, she invited me to ring the gong and I was on my way.

To reach the center, take Highway 58 east, exit at the Sand Canyon Road/Monolith exit, turn right at the stop sign, then make an immediate left onto Tehachapi Boulevard; go 100 yards to Sand Canyon Road and turn right. Go up Sand Canyon Road 2.5 miles. Turn right onto the dirt road and follow the signs to Mountain Spirit Center (Tae Go Sah temple).

To reach the center, take Highway 58 east, exit at the Sand Canyon Road/Monolith exit, turn right at the stop sign, then make an immediate left onto Tehachapi Boulevard; go 100 yards to Sand Canyon Road and turn right. Go up Sand Canyon Road 2.5 miles. Turn right onto the dirt road and follow the signs to Mountain Spirit Center (Tae Go Sah temple).

Questions about various retreats, events or volunteer opportunities should be addressed to monk Hyon Mun Sunyim at 661-822-7776.

Questions about various retreats, events or volunteer opportunities should be addressed to monk Hyon Mun Sunyim at 661-822-7776.