Surrounded by redrocks, Utah couple’s Zen Buddhist meditation center in Torrey aims to relax and open the mind

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Genpo Merzel Roshi, from left, celebrates with Michael Mugaku Zimmerman Sensei and Diane Musho Hamilton Sensei after the dedication and eye opening ceremony at Torrey Zendo Meditation Center, Sept. 13, 2017, in Torrey. The Torrey Zendo, founded by Zimmerman and Hamilton, is now a year-round facility for Zen study, practice and retreats.

Torrey • The silence was deafening.

For several minutes, about 75 teachers and students of Zen Buddhism stood in meditation in the newly constructed temple surrounded by the redrock monoliths that make up Capitol Reef National Park.

They came from Holland, France, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico and Canada to celebrate the dedication Wednesday of the Torrey Zendo Meditation Center, the dream of former Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Zimmerman and his wife, Diane Hamilton.

It seemed a perfect assimilation between the inner-self discipline of Zen and the awe-inspired surroundings of colorful domes and serenely deep canyons that Native Americans once called the Land of the Sleeping Rainbows.

“The bones of the Earth are not hidden at Capitol Reef. It reminds me of the cycles of life,” said Corinne Saunders, of Calgary, Canada, a retired pediatrician and monk who attended the ceremonies.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Torrey Zendo Dedication and Eye Opening ceremony at Two Arrows Zen Meditation Center, September 13. 2017 in Torrey. The Torrey Zendo, founded by Diane Musho Hamilton Sensei and Michael Mugaku Zimmerman Sensei, located near Capitol Reef National Park, had been seasonal but is now a year-round facility for study, practice and retreats.

The massive vistas help empty one’s mind to experience inner peace, said Zimmerman, who with Hamilton founded Zen Buddhist meditation centers in Torrey and Salt Lake City.

“Meditation is a means for allowing yourself to connect with other parts of yourself, including an internal exploration, as well as outside of yourself in your physical environment,” Zimmerman said.“The mountains, oceans and other natural environments are what we need to relate to, rather than enterprises that humans create. From the Zen perspective, we are a little uneasy and don’t know why because we are so absorbed in what we’ve created mentally and culturally. The redrock country makes meditation instantly different from an urban environment.”

Said Hamilton, “Things are simpler in natural, beautiful settings and spaces. The mind can relax and open.”

Inside the center, the silence was broken by the chiming sound of a metal rod tapping the rim of a bell. That was followed by reverent attendees chanting in unison, a representation of joy and compassion, Zimmerman said.

The chants seemed to come deep from souls of the individual members, but the voices came together as one.

The ceremony continued with the burning of incense, bowing with hands in a prayer position, a tradition showing respect, called gassho. Respects also were paid to a statue of Manju Shri, a male figure representing wisdom, and to Kanzeon, a female figure representing compassion. Together, they are considered enlightenment.

The dedication concluded with officiant Genpo Roshi, who founded the Big Mind Zen organization in Salt Lake City, requesting the presence of all Buddhists and “our ancestors.” 

Zimmerman and Hamilton had opened the Torrey meditation center in 2007, but it was small with accommodations consisting only of a large canvas tent. The husband-wife team opened Artspace Zendo in Salt Lake City four years later but always returned to Torrey, where Hamilton has had a home since the 1980s. Enveloped by exquisite earthly and celestial vistas, they decided to expand the Wayne County Zendo meditation center and build a more permanent facility.

Both are ordained teachers in the lineage of the late Taizen Maezumi Roshii, a Japanese Buddhist teacher and the founding abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles who opened other centers across the United States, Mexico and Europe. Hamilton is known as Diane Musho Hamilton Sensei; Zimmerman is Michael Mugaku Zimmerman Sensei — titles they received after completing their Zen Buddhist training.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Michael Mugaku Zimmerman Sensei, center, during the Torrey Zendo Dedication and Eye Opening ceremony at Two Arrows Zen Meditation Center, September 13. 2017 in Torrey. The Torrey Zendo, founded by Zimmerman and Diane Musho Hamilton Sensei, is now a year-round facility for Zen study, practice and retreats.

Their approach is broad. Some attendees simply want relief from stress or pain while others seek more strictly Buddhist teachings. Daily meditations for the former are free while there are membership costs for more detailed programs, workshops and retreats.  

“We are oriented to laypeople and professionals to help them empty out their minds and tap into a part of themselves they don’t normally reach,” Hamilton said. “We want people to find a peace that is naturally present.”

Hamilton’s and Zimmerman’s paths to Zen were as different as their own experiences and heartaches.

Zimmerman was a Utah Supreme Court justice and has since returned to private law practice. He was reared as a Presbyterian, and later he and his late wife, Lynne, attended the Episcopal Church in Utah. When Lynn died of cancer in 1994, Zimmerman tried meditation to cope with grief, responsibilities of the court and life as a single father to three young daughters.

Hamilton was an accomplished horsewoman, once crowned as Miss Rodeo Utah. When she first began meditating, she became more aware of the environment and could slow racing thoughts while riding in the mountains surrounding her Tooele hometown.

By the 1980s, she was naturally drawn to Zen Buddhism. She also pursued a parallel career in mediation, eventually becoming director of court-annexed alternative dispute resolution. She has written two books on the subjects: “The Zen of You and Me: A Guide to Getting Along With Just About Anyone” and “Everything Is Workable, A Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution.”

When her only child, Willie, was born in 1989 with Down syndrome from her first marriage to artist Tony Smith, Hamilton already had some coping skills.

“With meditation, we are disciplined to stay in the present,” she said. “When we experience a sick wife or loved one, we go to the future to play out negative scenarios. It’s easy to get worried, but with meditation there’s a huge difference in working with the way things are.”

VISIT THE CENTERS <br> The public is invited to weekday meditations at the Torrey and Salt Lake City centers. There is no cost, and no prior experience with meditation or Buddhism is expected or required. More detailed programs, however, have a fee. <br>Torrey Zendo Meditation Center: Open house from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 57 S. 300 West, Torrey. Daily practice from 7 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. Monday through Friday and 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through the end of October. <br> Artspace Zendo: 230 S. 500 West, Suite 155, Salt Lake City. Daily practice from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday; meditation class 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Thursday; dharma class from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Tuesday; sitting class from 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Thursday; and a mindfulness class from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Sunday. <br> For more information visit www.twoarrowszen.org.