April 22, 2015
Introducing Montaña Despierta: A Place for Zen Buddhist Practice on the East Coast of Mexico

A Branching Streams sangha profile

Montaña Despierta (Awakened Mountain, in Spanish) is a space dedicated to the practice of Buddhist meditation in the heart of Xalapa, a city located in eastern Mexico. It was founded in 2008 by several spiritual friends that came together under the mentorship and guidance of Dharma Teacher and Central Abbess of San Francisco Zen Center Eijun Linda Ruth Cutts. Since then Montaña Despierta has become a special place, unique in a society that has seemed so alien to the teachings of Buddhism.

Citlaltépetl (aka Orizaba Peak, Morning Star) above Xalapa

Citlaltépetl (aka Orizaba Peak, Morning Star) above Xalapa

Xalapa is a city in the center of the state of Veracruz, which borders the Gulf of Mexico, and although it is close to the coast, it is surrounded by two beautiful, tall mountains, the Citlaltépetl (Morning Star) and the Cofre de Perote. Because of the area’s elevation and weather, during the day the mist tends to alternately hide the mountains from view and reveal them as it disappears. This idea has become a koan and a metaphor for our practice.

Our Beloved Teachers Come to the Mountain

Montaña Despierta was first envisioned by Sergio Stern, a psychoanalyst and lay practitioner who received the bodhisattva vows and precepts from his teacher, Eijun Linda Ruth Cutts, at Green Gulch Farm in 2001. After moving to Xalapa from Mexico City with his wife and daughter, he decided to establish a practice group, which started humbly in the waiting room of his psychotherapy office. It is from this effort, steeped in beginner´s mind and warm heart-to-heart transmission, that Montaña Despierta arose and grew through the support of the community in ways that were very much a surprise for everybody.

Lay ordainees with Rick Spencer (back left) and Sergio Stern (back right)

Lay ordainees with Rick Spencer (back left) and Sergio Stern (back right)

From its inception Montaña Despierta has gathered together all kinds of practitioners, from the well initiated in the path of mindfulness to the curious. As the sangha is not directed by any resident priest, it has become truly like a Buddha´s bowl, where great teachings converge, given by different teachers who travel to Xalapa on a regular basis to lead retreats and offer public dharma talks. In 2014, seven practitioners received lay ordination from Anka Rick Spencer, the spiritual director of Puerto Compasivo (a Zen center in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico) and a direct disciple of Zoketsu Norman Fischer. We feel fortunate that over the years a strong link has developed between the sangha and the teachers who so generously come and visit us. The wheel of Dharma has come to spin in a very gentle and singular way here at Montaña Despierta.

Practice in the Community

Regular weekly practice takes place every Monday night, with two zazen periods, kinhin and a small service where we chant traditional Soto Zen sutras. After the service, Sergio guides a group discussion centered around diverse Buddhist texts and their relationship to the meaning we are trying to find in our daily lives on the spiritual path. Annually, there are three or four non-residential retreats with our different visiting teachers, when we offer public dharma talks and a library where people can come and consult many kinds of books and sacred texts.

Xalapa_combo1As Mexico is experiencing a difficult time with violence and corrupt governance, at Montaña Despierta we believe that sitting meditation and coming together in mindfulness and silence is a powerful way to create peace; it is a vehicle for expressing indignation and protest towards the harsh political and social realities of our immediate community. Our deepest wish is to foster friendship and insight, understandings that are rooted, honest, wide and inclusive, and which can genuinely have an impact on our lives, our creativity and the world at large. As the Mahamangala Sutta says: “To be generous in giving, to be righteous in conduct, to help one’s brethren, and to be blameless in action—this is the greatest blessing.”

Statements from Sangha Members

“Montaña Despierta is a parenthesis, a pause, an opening. As we pass through the threshold, we leave outside, together with our shoes, all that we think we know about things and believe about ourselves, in order to merge with the form and flow with it. Simply sitting and continuing a practice that comes from ancient times, in Montaña Despierta we create a gathering with a shared purpose: to become a little happier, a little more loving toward ourselves and therefore toward the world that surrounds us.” —Adrián Gómez (Nothingview Oo)

Sergio Stern with han

Sergio Stern with han

“The Mountain is temple and tower, breast and lighthouse, air and pathless path. It is inside, and fits in all who come and visit it. It is outside, serving as signpost between ourselves and everything else with which we come into contact. And what I liked the most about this mountain since I arrived here is that it is alive, awakened.” —Ana Valderrama



Montaña Despierta: Espacio para la práctica de la meditación inspirada en el Zen.

For more information, please visit mdzen.com, or email contacto@mdzen.com.

For more information about the Branching Streams network, or to use the directory to find a group near you and read more profiles and news, visit the new website at branchingstreams.sfzc.org.