While visiting Christy in Santa Cruz, I was shown this beautiful meditation temple called Land of Medicine Buddha. After driving a long and narrow road beneath towering redwoods, I wandered the trails with Christy and examined altars that visitors had collectively decorated in the nooks and crannies of the forest.
One of the most lovely things about living in Southern California is enjoying the mild, sunny days of autumn. The heat of summer has subsided and is no longer unbearable during mid-day. The grass that covers the hills dies and turns golden and brittle to match the leaves of the maple trees. If lightning strikes, the brush is consumed and the ashes enable wildflowers to bloom and the seed pods of some species to germinate which wouldn’t otherwise.
This beauty was well displayed on the drive up to Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple. From Ojai, Matthew and I drove up highway 33 along the Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway. (See: Shadows of Sage Brush in Jacinto Reyes.)
About a mile after turning on to Lockwood Valley Road, we encountered the entrance to the temple. I had e-mailed the two monks in residence to ask if our visit would work well for their schedule, as requested on their website, so they were anticipating our arrival.
Two friendly, mellow dogs greeted us at the car before we were welcomed by one of the monks. We were the only visitors for the moment and received a full tour of the temple grounds. His colleague came out of the kitchen to welcome us, saying that she was making soup for the guests who would be coming later that afternoon for a weekend retreat.
We were shown a garden with a koi pond which he said had trouble keeping koi because the herons would occasionally visit and take a snack for themselves. I laughed and mused that the herons must have thought it kind that they had provided such a convenient spot to hunt. The urge to anthropomorphize never ceases to provide opportunities for humor. To dissuade the herons, they had erected a life-size decoy bird near the pond since herons are territorial.
We were also shown a green house in construction and told that it was hard to grow food in the area, including fruit trees, without an animal beating them to the harvest. Rabbits weren’t the only culprits; coyotes love grapes, apparently, and a bear had feasted upon their apple tree, bending and breaking the branches like a broken umbrella. Besides the trouble of growing food, the temple is quite self-sufficient through the use of well water and a solar panel system that covers all their electrical needs.
Hsi Lai Temple feels like an oasis in the middle of white-hot urban sprawl of Southern California. The dry “Santa Ana” winds were blowing at the time of our visit, adding an invigorating charge to the air. On our way there, Matthew and I paused at Sycamore Canyon to go for a leisurely hike and listen to the dry brush speak with its rustling. The air is usually so still in Southern California that the plants never otherwise have a voice. It is wonderful to feel everything come alive when these winds visit every autumn.
Upon arrival, we meandered through the gardens and gazed upon the faces of statues with expressions ranging from serene to crazed and comical. Since I lean more toward Zen Buddhism than Mahayana Buddhism (the former being more minimalistic and the latter being more ceremonial), it was peculiar for me to see a “forest of faces” in those gardens. I was further awe-struck by the extravagance of the meditation temple, featuring three giant gold statues of the Buddha and so many tiny golden lights to entrance and humble the observer that it was easy to let go of extraneous thoughts and be still, if only for a few moments in the day.