Moving News From Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple
For the third time in its history, Pine Mountain Temple is moving. Originally the Santa Barbara Buddhist Priory, which was started by Rev. Jisho Perry in 1979, the temple moved once in Santa Barbara, and then over the mountains to Ventura County and the Ozena Valley in early 2000. Now, exactly 22 years later, we are moving again. Revs. Phoebe and Seikai have been the only two monks and residents of the temple since our last monk resident, Rev. Leon, moved on in 2009.
Since then, we have gotten that much older and no longer have the strength to maintain our many buildings and 45 acres of land. The Covid Era, with its ever-changing norms of appropriate human interaction, has radically changed society. Our original purpose for being here—to function as a retreat center for people wishing to immerse themselves in an environment devoted to Zen practice—can no longer be fulfilled, and it is time to move on.
The person buying the temple is awed and delighted by the facilities, the grounds, and all the care, love and attention to detail that have been poured into the temple over its 22 years of existence. She intends to hold retreats and maintain what she is inheriting from us. She treasures the stupa, the statues and the meditation hall. Exactly what the nature of her activities will be we cannot say, but we have been making this transition with the intent of helping her be a success in this location.
After the monks had made the decision to move and gotten the go-ahead from the head of our monastic order and our lay supporters last August, we set the wheels of moving in motion, putting the temple on the real estate market, and holding a large moving/yard sale at the end of September. The sale was a big success; with the help of many of our regulars we were able to move along a huge quantity of stuff which we will no longer have need of when we move. In downsizing the temple from three houses to one, and two large utility buildings to one 2-car garage, we’ve had to shed a lot of weight. Many people left the temple happily carrying some small treasure they had found—or a piece of furniture.
Around that time a couple who were looking for a facility like our meditation retreat found us listed for sale, and in October made an offer on the temple which we accepted. They asked for a 90-day escrow to give them time to raise funds for the purchase, which ultimately failed. In early December, the purchase agreement was dropped. We were sorry to have lost two months, but in the meantime we got a lot done in the way of tying off loose ends, organizing and packing. All during the fall we were actively looking for a house to buy and turn into a small temple, and made offers on four such houses, but the real estate market as it currently exists is very competitive and unless you have the money and/or a loan in hand with which to buy a place, you’re out of luck. But it was nevertheless an education in real estate dealings, and the agent we have been working with, Kelly Morgan, has been great in giving of her time and energy in helping us both sell and buy something new.
Seemingly without any time gap at all, our potential new buyer arrived at the gate inquiring about the temple just as the first sale had fallen apart. Being herself in the real estate business, she moved quickly to make an offer, which we accepted, and to open an escrow account. The offer was well under the asking price, but we accepted it rather than taking the risk of months or possibly even years going by before we would get another one. And since her intention is to continue using the property as a meditation retreat, it was the best thing to do. The conditional use permit is good for another 18 years.
Now it is January, and our search continues. Ownership of the temple has passed to its new owner on January 11 and we are actively attempting to purchase a house in the city of Santa Paula, California. Although the house would be well suited to being a small temple, and would accommodate the two monks very nicely, all sorts of problems have arisen with regard to actually buying the place. For a start, the house is owned by a realty company (not an individual) which is notoriously hard to work with. Ms. Morgan has told us many times that most real estate agents won’t deal with this company, and so far in our dealings, we can see why. Further, the house may have deferred maintenance problems; it is an “as is” sale, meaning that the seller does not take responsibility for problems the building may have in exchange for a reduced price. In theory.
All the expert advice we have received about the purchase of this house has been in the realm of “let the buyer beware.” So, on that level, taking in all the normal considerations, we would be wise to keep looking. The problem for Rev. Phoebe and myself is that, after 40 or more years of monastic life for both of us, we don’t think the way the world thinks. And here is a situation in which applied Zen practice comes into the picture, and few people understand why we think the way we do.
We cannot push away that we love the house and want to make it into a small temple. Our hearts are telling us to forge ahead despite the obstacles, in spite of it being a “flawed” house. If it weren’t flawed, it would have sold months ago. And this is how monks practice: we take something that is flawed, in bad shape or needing repair, and with love and care, improve it. I’ve done that my whole life with houses, and I’ve done it with my own life. The world tells you that everything needs to be really spiffy and modern and essentially without flaws. Subconsciously, it is probably the same message we tell ourselves. But reality is different: we are who we are, we’re not special or particularly spiffy human beings; but we have everything we need to engage in practice and awaken to the truth.
With each passing day in January, our perceptions of what is really happening with this move change—sometimes subtly and sometimes significantly. With each step that we take it becomes ever clearer that, more than anything, this house has been chosen for us and a sort of veil has been drawn over it so that the rest of the house hunting crowd doesn’t see it or doesn’t pursue buying it. Although the company owning the house hasn’t been easy to work with, nevertheless we owe them a debt of gratitude for making a mess of the real estate listing, which put people off. Their agent was unreachable. When we made an offer on the house, their counteroffer was not unreasonable, and so we accepted it. The house went into escrow on January 10, and escrow is set to close on January 25.
To her credit, our agent said to Rev. Phoebe and I that if we really love the house, we might as well so ahead and make an offer, even if it is overpriced or has flaws. She was sensitive enough to what was going on to see this, and it was after we had all sat around at the house and had a conversation about it that she was able to arrive at this place of sympathy.
Meanwhile, packing up the temple, cleaning it, and reducing the sheer quantity of stuff is an ongoing project. Lots of people have offered their time and energy to come and help us with this, and Rev. Phoebe and I are deeply grateful. Starting with the moving sale in September, and now with the actual move happening, all the help we have received is very heartening. People want to help the temple continue to be a success and a place of refuge. Our small Sangha is pulling together to make it happen.
On a day in January three different inspectors came to the house to do their various jobs. It turns out that, yes, there are a number of maintenance problems and minor code violations, but on the whole it wasn’t enough to discourage us from going through with the purchase. So now we have passed the point of backing out of this real estate deal on account of there being too many substantial flaws in the building. It was built in 1985 and is basically in good repair; it does have termites in spots and will need to be tented and fumigated. We will need to hire people to do that; to do electrical work, painting inside and out, rebuilding outdoor steps.
Houses always need work somewhere. The home inspector who came to look at the temple compiled a report which was 108 pages long—seemingly in spite of my many years of wholehearted maintenance of our buildings. On one level it was humbling, even if the vast majority of these defects were very minor in nature. An offer was made to increase what we receive for the temple if we went through the list and fixed them all, but I could see that I never would be successful at that even if I tried. Before I could come close to the end of the list, new problems would manifest. It would be, and is, endless.
Which brings us back to being human and needing to work on ourselves. However long we may have lived up to now, whatever shape we may appear to be in, physically, psychologically or spiritually, we can look honestly at ourselves. It means putting down pride, thinking that we’re really good people, better than most. It means putting down the self-defeating thoughts that we can’t do it. Training your mind, like maintaining a house, requires that you keep at it from one day to the next without worrying so much about whether you’re ever going to be finished. Chances are, you won’t.
As I’m writing, we are still at least two weeks away from moving. As I said, escrow closes on January 25th, and then there will be some work to be done prior to moving in; that might not happen until the last few days of January. Rev. Phoebe and I are excited about our new place, about setting up a new, small temple with a beautiful meditation hall, and having events open to the public. We hope to see you at some point in our new location, Santa Paula, California. We will be keeping our name, Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple, and status as a non-profit religious corporation.
Escrow on the new temple closed on January 20, and the actual move took place on the 28th and 29th. The movers we hired to haul all the heavy stuff did a good job, and their work was paid for by members of our congregation. We also had the help of several of our friends who hauled stuff in their cars and pickups down to Santa Paula. Moving itself is always a chaotic business, and in this situation, given that we were downsizing from a large place to a small one, the challenge to reduce and organize all the temple furnishings and our own belongings was great.
Moving is also exhausting, and Rev. Phoebe and I both fell sick within a week after the move. Rev. Phoebe spent a day in the hospital, which fortunately happens to be about six blocks from the new temple. As of mid-month we are both regaining strength day by day. Meanwhile, work on the temple itself is an on-going process that will continue for several months—or longer. We have hired a man who had worked for us at the Ozena Valley temple—building the stupa and its surround, for instance—to rebuild a stairway which runs alongside the house and down into the back garden. The old steps were made of wood and had largely rotted out, and, as we discovered, rotted a hole in the house. The new concrete steps are beautiful; the concrete workers who came for a day did a fantastic job. The masonry crew is working on the last phase now, a flagstone walkway. When completed, there will be a series of five terraces along the steps leading down to a water feature in the garden, which awaits resuscitation. Garden designing and rebuilding also await for the future.
Our beautiful meditation room just got a new carpet, and much of the rest of the house will have old carpets removed and new flooring installed. In the Covid Era, with its supply chain problems, all of this seems to take considerably longer than it used to. It’s an opportunity to practice patience.
Rev. Phoebe and I helped to build Shasta Abbey during its early years, and then in our middle years we built Pine Mountain Temple; now it appears we will spend our later years in a small temple that will be more along the lines of a small temple or priory of the OBC. In that light, temple building seems metaphorical for ones life as a Buddhist trainee, and in our case, as monks. Temple building is only possible because we first work on ourselves. Since that process will be ongoing until we die, it should come as no surprise that work on the physical temple will continue as long as we are alive. We are happy that we have found suitable circumstances to do this, and grateful to everyone who has supported us in any way over the years to make it possible.
As we have done for years, the temple is closed during January. Also, on January 11 the temple and its grounds are sold, and the monks are in the process of relocating in the greater Ventura Area. Please check this site for news. Blessings for the coming year, and gratitude for your support.