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.
Gloomy autumnal weather settled on the coast yesterday, making it the perfect time to rise above the clouds of Santa Barbara County and explore the back country. Our first stop was Painted Cave State Park, right off San Marcos Pass on Highway 154.
It’s times like these when I feel compelled to praise my little car, “Sally”; she can climb mountain passes, zip past other cars on the highway and get great gas mileage. Since our furthest destination of the day was sixty-six miles away and Matthew and I are college students on a budget, the mileage rate is something I feel very thankful for.
“Sally” wound up a narrow, curvy road where we pulled off to the side near a sign marking the location of the cave. The paintings were made by the Chumash Native Americans and date back from the 1600’s or earlier but the meaning has supposedly been lost, according to the State Parks website. The Chumash have lived in Santa Barbara County for 13,000 years. The Spanish missionaries arrived in the 18th century and the United States acquired the area in 1848, meaning these paintings were created shortly before the land and its people experienced a major shift. A grate has been placed at the mouth of the cave to protect the paintings from vandalism.
After appreciating the paintings, Matthew and I continued along San Marcos Pass until we reached Lake Cachuma, where we went for a nice hike through the oak trees along the edge of the water.