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.
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.
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 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.
Born Erik Berall, he was baptized in the Episcopal Church and raised in Connecticut.
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.
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.
After raising $100,000, he bought some land near Tehachapi, hired a draftsman and designed the first temple building.
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.
Well water is reused for irrigation of native plants and trees; therefore, care is taken to not use toxic chemicals, soaps, or detergents.
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.
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.
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 retreats, events or volunteer opportunities should be addressed to monk Hyon Mun Sunyim at 661-822-7776.