The American Zen College was founded in 1976 by Zen Master Gosung Shin on a 12-acre farm near Germantown, Maryland, with the purpose of practicing and teaching Zen Buddhism.
The building of the college included the erection of an impressive 30-foot-tall pagoda carved out of Indian limestone and flanked by statues of the Buddha. The pagoda can be seen by people hiking the Greenway Trail in the Seneca Creek State Park adjacent to the college but otherwise, it is hidden from the view of motorists driving by the entrance of Zen College.
In Buddhist tradition when a master dies and is cremated, pearl-like objects called sarira are placed among the remains. Sariras are believed to have spiritual significance.
When the Zen College pagoda was constructed, the national treasury of South Korea donated four sarira from the historic Buddha Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, to be housed in the pagoda. This pagoda is one of only two sites in the United States containing remains of the Buddha (the other site being the Lu Mountain Temple in California).
Know Before You Go
You can visit the Zen College between 8AM and 6 PM. The Zen college is a private property which houses a community of teachers and students of Zen Buddhism engaged in its many activities, so please do not go beyond the area of the pagoda without permission. If you want to visit other areas of the college or talk to the staff, make an appointment at their website by filling their Contact form. The entrance to the Zen College involves a sharp 90-degree turn from Germantown Road into a driveway, so exercise caution. The driveway into the college is a one lane road, so be mindful of other cars exiting or entering the college. The pagoda is a religious shrine, so do not touch or disturb any of the items found on or around it.
Note to the Editor: I put together this article by reading archival material on the pagoda from the Zen College website and other sites and by talking to a staff member of the Zen College for up do date information.