The three-day silent meditation retreat this spring was near capacity with about 15 retreatants. We had reasonable weather and a quiet atmosphere which allowed everyone to go deeply into their meditation practice. Rev. Phoebe gave two Dharma talks on The Scripture of Great Wisdom, which were the stimulus for some very interesting, wide-ranging discussions. In trying to understand what is meant with the word emptiness we explored various other ways to express what Rev.Master Jiyu called “void, unstained and pure”. “Without permanent substance, without color and of one essence” seems to help open up our mind to the indescribable quality of this notion, even though it is a bit lengthy. One day we had a longer walking meditation with a break for sitting in the Spirit Canyon on the new Path of Faith trail which goes deep into the canyon and creates an impression of complete solitude. We are seeing some new faces at our spring and fall silent retreats, and hope that trend continues. These three day silent retreats are open to people who have done retreats here before, and start on Thursday with dinner at 6pm, ending after lunch on Sunday.
Wesak was held this year in early May just after the full moon at the end of April. We did not have an abundance of wildflowers as has often been the case in years past because of the scarcity of rain over this past winter—seven and a half inches total for our valley. This lack of wildflowers was made up for by one of our members who brought lots of beautiful flowers to place on the Stupa during the Wesak ceremony. Rev. Phoebe again gave a moving Dharma talk, inspired by the Buddha’s words:
Live in Joy, in love, even among those who hate.
Live in joy, in health, even among the afflicted.
Live in joy, in peace, even among the troubled.
Look within, be still, free from fear and attachment,
Know the sweet joy of the Middle Way.
(From the Dhammapada.)
Rev. Phoebe talked about applying this attitude of mind to whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, be it home and family, friends, workplace or the society at large. A few weeks later at the Ventura Meditation Group Meeting rev. Phoebe used the same verses in regard to our inner life, cultivating an accepting attitude even while our own thoughts may be troublesome or afflicted by greed, aversion or fear and our mood sick with worry. Our practice of the Middle Way points us to trust the effectiveness of sitting still with all those pressures and apply the Precepts. The joy is often simply a quiet sense of satisfaction when we know we did not let ourselves be completely swept away by them, and were able to act wisely.
After the Wesak ceremony the temple bell was rung 108 times before we all walked out to the Stupa to make our flower offerings and meditate for a while in the stillness of the open valley. After returning from the Stupa, there was a groaning table full of delicious food; everyone contributed something. Four weeks later Revs. Phoebe and Seikai were able to attend Wesak at the An Lac Mission in Ventura, and join a monastic Sangha of about 15 monks from the Vietnamese and Sri Lankan Buddhist traditions, including the Ven. Thich Thong Hai who founded the temple at about the same time that Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple came into being in 2000.
We were given the remains of a half dead tree that was cut down, and David kindly transported the large sections of wood up to the temple, where they are now drying out in preparation of splitting.
On May 21 Rev. Phoebe was part of a three women panel at the Church for Spiritual Living, led by Brock Travis and with the title of Universal Oneness. The other panel members were the minister of the Church, Bonnie Rose and an AA speaker, Samantha, who were both had a very animated presentation. There were some interesting questions from the audience to rev. Phoebe at the end about how to deal with difficulties and dark thoughts.
On May 26 a couple of kind friends gave rev. Phoebe a ride to Templeton, where she officiated at the wedding of Amanda and Dan. On June 4 Christian and Frauke came to the temple to renew their wedding vows on their 9th anniversary, and on June 6 Paul and Kelly had their wedding here at the temple, surrounded by their grown children and numerous siblings with spouses. We wish all these people many years of good health and contentment in their deepening relationships.
Upkeep and maintenance of the temple is a constant occupation and part of our devotional activities. Visitors often comment on how well-kept the temple looks, and without words that expresses the care we put into every detail of our practice. This past winter seems to have been especially hard on our trees, several more of which have died, including a network of five poplar trees in the back yard of the Dharma House, where Rev. Seikai lives and male guests stay when here for retreats. The monks have been slowly clearing away the dead wood, processing it into kindling—and also planting new trees. Poplars are short-lived trees with invasive root systems. People often plant them to get a quick screen of vegetation in a windy environment like this one. Now we have the luxury of planting more enduring and less bossy tree species, and Rev. Seikai has planted two different plum varieties, a desert willow and a liquid amber tree in the back yard. He hopes to find a few more ash trees to plant there as well. We already have a handful of these attractive, deciduous trees on the temple grounds.
The annual temple members meeting and board meeting was held on June 10, and seven of our members were able to attend. We do not have any real pressing issues this year, but it is good to talk over the on-going prospects for the temple and our current maintenance projects. The temple remains solid financially, and we continue to have a steady stream of visitors, usually on the weekends. We value everyone’s contributions, no matter how small they might seem at the time.
Thanks to a generous donation of shade cloth and helping hands, we were able to recover the front deck of the Buddha House this spring. The original shade cloth, at about 17 years old, was wearing out. A Saturday work party did most of the work involved. The light tone of the new cloth lets through a bit more light than did the old one, but does a better job of keeping the deck relatively cool.
Our modest vegetable garden was late getting started this spring, due to the up-and-down weather. It was very hard to start seeds, so we also bought some plant starts at a nursery. We ordered five rugosa roses through the mail, and 15 individual plants arrived. So Rev. Seikai planted nine of them behind the Sangha House patio where we intended to have five, and the remaining six roses went to the front garden of the Buddha House. In that garden, a plum tree planted during the winter suddenly flowered in April and now has a small crop of plums! Fruit almost never sets on our fruit trees, courtesy of the late spring frosts we get every year. We will see if the plums will get to ripen and then the birds will probably be a bit quicker than people in deciding when they are good to eat.
We have added four wooden chairs and three “leggles” seats in the Meditation Hall, since most people these days seem to want to use a chair for meditation. When rev. Seikai made the meditation platforms he constructed them with two separate panels in the seat, that can be taken out to make a space where one can put one’s legs down. Most people need a little support when sitting that way, and the leggless chairs seem to work well. Ask for one if you would like to try it.
Our Ceremony Scripture Books are getting a bit old and sparse – regularly people want to have one to use at home. So we are planning to reprint a batch, with a few additions, and are offering the opportunity to contribute to the cost of printing (probably about $1000) and have a dedication of your choice put in the front of the booklet. This is a very Buddhist thing to do, any amount will be gratefully received and if there are more than one dedication, that is not a problem. We hope to go to the printer before the end of July.