(Inside) A Dharma Initiative

Main courtyard of the Dharma Rain Zen Center grounds (taken with Velvet 56)

Welcome to my installment of the fourth month of the Lensbaby blog circle. I’m particularly excited about this post because it’s part of a new project that being involved in this circle has pushed me to figure out.

Over the next several months I’m going to share stories from local businesses and organizations, starting very local in my own neighborhood of Madison South, in Portland, Oregon, USA. I tend to be a “choose a place to explore and stumble upon interesting things and moments” kind of shooter, but I wanted to push myself with a project that that had a bit more of a photojournalistic and deliberate component to it. I’ve done these kinds of projects before, they push me more out of my comfort zone, but it had been a while.

My neighborhood of Madison South, in Northeast Portland, is a (mostly) quiet neighborhood that tends to fly under the radar, bordered by 82nd Ave (think car dealerships, strip clubs, fast food restaurants) and – this is key – the impassable Rocky Butte, an extinct volcanic cinder cone. The butte is covered with woods and wildlife, has a picturesque public works-era monument and huge lookout space at the top. Sharing space with that wildlife are some pretty big houses with some of the best views in the city. But you can only go to the top…you can’t go up and then down the other side, so it tends to keep our pocket neighborhood fairly quiet without a lot of through-traffic.

Main courtyard at Dharma Rain Zen Center, taken with Velvet 85

I digress. I spent a rainy afternoon – but one with nice soft light! – officially touring the Dharma Rain Zen Center. I am neither buddhist nor do I practice mediation (though I’ve been thinking of trying meditation) but I spend a lot of time on the grounds of Dharma Rain because it is open to the public, and it’s a huge patch of land with gardens and paths and trails and little patches of woods, that Ozzie and Mike and I traverse regularly on our walks. Built in 2013, it’s an oasis of calm and nature that further shields a huge section of the neighborhood from 82nd Avenue. Every time I’m walking on their property, I am so thankful. I can stand in a field of wildflowers and look up at Rocky Butte and am amazed again that I live within city limits, 7 miles from downtown Portland, and am surrounded by so much nature. I’d been inside some of the buildings very briefly, once before when they hosted a Friends of Trees volunteer day in the neighborhood, and was eager to get back inside.

Below is Dharma Rain’s story, Part I. I took so many photos…and there are so many visual pieces to this story, that next month I’ll continue and feature more of the grounds.

Genko Rainwater, one of the “transmitted teachers” at Dharma Rain, was my host for the afternoon, and she kindly showed me around and answered my questions, and waited patiently for me to get just one more shot.

Genko Rainwater in her under-construction room, taken with Velvet 56

First stop on the tour was a construction site – two new buildings that look done from the outside, but very much still in the works on the inside. One building will be a new space for the Singing Frog Montessori school that currently splits space with the Dharma Rain administration office. The rest of the space will be dormitories for those who live on the property, and some common space.

This is Genko, above, in her room in one of the dormitories that are still under construction. She spent some time in Mexico and fell in love with the bright, rich colors in everyone’s homes, so decided she wanted something similar in her own space. From just spending a an hour and a half with her, it seems obvious that it matches her personality.


In the midst of our tour we encountered Co-Abbot Kakumyo Lowe-Charde attempting to single-handedly move a sizable water heater up a makeshift (and moveable) ramp. So we pitched in to help (I grabbed these 2 photos quickly first, then joined in pushing the pallet end up the ramp). I’d met Kakumyo before though not officially, a couple of times while walking Ozzie through the property. Ozzie loves him, because he crouches down to pet him, and lets him climb (and slobber) all over him. According to Genko, Kakumyo, beyond his important Co-Abbot duties, pitches in on everything from construction, to grant-writing, to everything in between – he’s very hands-on on every aspect of building the Dharma Rain facility and community.

Dharma Rain used to be housed in a very neat old building near Lensbaby HQ, but they’d outgrown it, and it was continually needing tons of work and upgrades so they started looking at other properties in 2011. They tried to purchase another larger building but ended up losing out to another buyer – but then they found what was a gigantic empty space in Madison South – one of the very few and last undeveloped parcels of land in the city. It provided a blank canvas to realize their vision. Though, along with unlimited possibilities comes the added time and expense of building from scratch, so some things have been slow going.

After our water heater assist, we moved onto the main building which houses the meditation and event space. Off went the shoes, and the tour continued.

The main meditation and prayer space, taken with Trio 28
A closer view, courtesy of Velvet 56

The kitchen in this building is amazing (it has six sinks – six!!) and unfortunately none of my photos quite do it justice – it was so gigantic in height and overall space that I really needed the Circular Fisheye – alas, it didn’t occur to me to bring it. Dharma Rain hosts retreats so sometimes they need to cook for up to 40 people at at time.

Taken with Velvet 56
Taken with Velvet 56
Taken with Trio 28
Meal and meeting space taken with Trio 28
Closet with robes in the lobby, taken with Trio 28
The sanzen room (small room designated for student/teacher interviews)

The building has a huge wrap-around wooden porch, with benches, places for shoes, and beautiful views.

Shoe cubby on the porch taken with Velvet 56
Looking down one side of the porch with Rocky Butte in the distance, taken with Trio 28

A little bit about my choices of lenses to shoot this project with: mainly Velvet 56 (you can’t go wrong with a nifty fifty and I felt like Velvet’s softness channeled the vibe of Dharma Rain nicely). Velvet 58 for a bit more compression and that longer reach – Trio 28 for the wider scenes. And a different mix for the outdoor shots, which brings me to…

The next Dharma Rain, installment with grounds photos and more story coming next month.

Next up in the blog circle, get a glimpse of Spring through the eye of the talented Birgit Fostervold!

4 thoughts on “(Inside) A Dharma Initiative

  1. That is indeed a nice idea for a project. I dabble in street photography, and find it easier (as in less invasive and stressful) to photograph people at work rather than random strangers passing. Along with a group of friends I’ve just done a spontaneous portrait project, but nothing this elaborate. Hmmm… now I consider doing this as a local blog / facebook project! With the LB optics and lenses it will stand out from the usual glossy and polished portraits. Thank you for the prompt. 🙂


    1. Awesome! 🙂 I dabble in street as well, but am NOT a portrait photographer…I find that this sort of combination project, where there are portraits involved but everyone knows it, and the people are already engaged in an activity so there’s less awkwardness…makes a good combo. And yes – LB optics and lenses give the images a different feel and add something to the story for sure.


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