August 15, 2010

Is there hope for Hope Cottage?

Buddhism in the West is often derided as a hobby for rich people, just another self-indulgent thing to do, like therapy, yoga, shopping organic, and wine-tasting. For example, did you know that it costs $250 to rent San Francisco Zen Center's remote Hope Cottage for just one weekend?

For that price, the cottage operates at a loss.

For the past 15 years, the center has rented Hope Cottage to anyone hale enough to haul his gear up and down the mountain. With its walls of windows overlooking the sea, stone hearth, thick Oriental carpets and tiny kitchen stocked with provisions, Hope Cottage is a unique, idyllic place to stay in the Bay Area.

But maintaining it is proving to be a headache that is perhaps too much for even Zen Buddhists to bear. It needs a new roof. And new windows. And new plumbing. Hours of labor are required to prepare it for each new guest, as freshly chopped firewood, water, propane and other supplies must be hauled up the mountain.

Then, in perhaps the last straw this June, the local Roto-Rooter truck driver refused to make his annual trip up the deteriorating fire road to pump out Hope Cottage’s septic tank. He eventually relented, but faced with all these demands to maintain a property that operates at a loss, the center has stopped accepting reservations for Hope Cottage past the end of this year.

“We wanted to create a pause to make us think about it,” said the center’s executive director, Jeremy Levie, as he hiked up to Hope Cottage on a rare sunny afternoon.

The options are to close it or to renovate it and greatly increase the price, which is currently $250 on weekends. But Zen Buddhists charging Ritz Carlton rates becomes a cultural issue. “The basic ethos here is inclusiveness,” Mr. Levie said. The center also maintains a 15-room guesthouse on the valley floor.

Read about the many difficulties and high cost of maintaining this retreat house. (And the next time you see a retreat price that makes your jaw drop, stop and reflect on the many hidden costs associated with housing humans in relative comfort. Of course, it may still be overpriced!)

Part of the difficulty with Hope Cottage is the "simple" cleaning of it. Read "The Dust Behind the Cushion," Gary Thorp's Tricycle article about cleaning as practice.

[Image: Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen]

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