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.
As of mid-June, most Covid-19 restrictions in California have been lifted, and life is returning to what we judiciously call “normal.” Revs. Phoebe and Seikai were both vaccinated during the spring, as California slowly moved to vaccinate people over, then under 65. We have resumed accommodating overnight guests at the temple on condition that they have been vaccinated. At this point, given the widespread availability of the vaccines and the inexcusability of not getting the shots, those who have not been vaccinated must wear a mask and stay outdoors when visiting the temple, and may not stay overnight. We intend to resume holding weekend retreats in September.
We celebrated the festival of Wesak (or Vesakha) on May 2, and had a substantial turnout of people that day. Last year, of course, we were unable to hold this most important of Buddhist festivals during the Covid-19 pandemic. This year the weather was fair and some of the participants brought flowers to make up for the total lack of wildflowers on the temple grounds following a winter of very little precipitation. We started with ringing the temple bell 108 times, followed by meditation and a Dharma talk by Rev. Phoebe. Then we processed to the Stupa, placing flowers around it and pouring water over the baby Buddha. We recited a Wesak hymn (or poem) written by Rev. Seikai in the recent past, and finally gathered for a bring-you-own-food lunch in the Sangha House patio. There was palpable joy that day in coming together to celebrate the life of the Buddha after so many months of having to remain apart.
After years of putting it off, we were able to hire workers to rebuild the super structure of our carport/firewood storage area, which is attached to the work shop. The roof has solar panels on it and we had not ever beefed up the posts and beams to handle the weight of them plus a snow load. Our friends from Top Quality Roofing in Taft came and did the job. Rev. Seikai milled the posts for the project out of a huge beam of wood we were donated years ago, and which had sat under the carport ever since. Rev. Phoebe painted the posts barn red, and then the beams once installed. Now that it’s finally done, the whole project looks great and we are grateful for the financial support that made it possible to have the work done.
As usual we have put a lot of effort into clearing brush and cutting away dead wood in anticipation of another bad looking wildfire season. But this year there is more than usual, and two large pine trees have died, which inspired us to contact a tree maintenance company and negotiate their spending a day here clearing out dead trees. That day is scheduled for June 29; the plan is for a crew of six guys to come from Ventura to do the work. Once again, we’re grateful to be able to pay people to do what would otherwise be a whole summer’s worth of work, and make the temple a little safer in the process.
In Memoriam of 2+ million people in the world
Who died of Covid in 2020.
When we are one with enlightenment we know that there is complete immaculacy and universal light; utter quietness embraces the sky. When we return to the world we know that everything is as a dream; let us pray that the three treasures of the Dharma may be always watching clearly. We have offered incense, water, flowers and candles and have recited the Scripture of Great Wisdom and the Adoration of the Buddha’s Relics and pray that the merit we accrue in making these offerings will be given to all those who have died of Covid and related illnesses, of hunger, violence and despair.
We pray that when we are in delusion the jewels of enlightenment shall shine of themselves and that when we are in enlightenment the circle of japonica shall be high in the blue sky.
Let us walk on the way to enlightenment together with all living things.
Homage to all the Buddhas in all worlds,
Homage to all the Bodhisattvas in all worlds,
Homage to the Scripture of Great Wisdom.
The Covid-19 pandemic crisis eased up somewhat during the summer months but, as everyone knows, returned with a vengeance during the fall. We have had a small trickle of guests to the temple over the past several months prior to the second lockdown situation which came into effect in December. Some guests came for overnight/weekend stays, using the two houses—the Buddha House and the Dharma House—which are equipped with a kitchen that guests may use to prepare their own food. This situation has worked out well. Most visits have been day visits by members of our extended congregation, usually on Sundays when we have a double meditation period with walking meditation, followed by a Dharma Talk.
We have made every effect to comply with the guidelines set by the State of California and Ventura County regarding gatherings of people in public settings. There have been occasions when we had a half-dozen guests on Sunday, which was within the one-quarter of capacity recommendation that was in effect at the time. Now, with the second lockdown, things will be somewhat sparse until the wave of Covid-19 infections slows down to an acceptable rate.
On October 25 we were able to hold a ceremony of Feeding the Hungry Ghosts (Segaki) on the front deck of the Buddha House, attended by some of our long-time members. It was a beautiful day and everyone in attendance was uplifted by the opportunity to hold the ceremony and be together for a few hours.
On December 6 we held another outdoor ceremony, this time for the Buddha’s Enlightenment. After meditation, walking meditation and a Dharma Talk given by Rev. Phoebe, we processed to the Stupa and offered pyracantha branches laden with orange berries around the rim of the Stupa. Following a recitation of The Scripture of Great Wisdom, Rev. Seikai sang the offertory for the Buddha’s Enlightenment, written many years ago by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett. It was another beautiful day which made being outdoors quite enjoyable.
On October 10 we held a funeral ceremony for Carol Barker, a temple member for many years, who died in September. He ashes were sent to the temple and were scattered on top of the Jizo Hill, as per her wishes. We also held a memorial on October 30 for Donald DeLoach, the father of Robert DeLoach. Robert lives up in this neck of the woods and has taken the Buddhist Precepts at the temple. He and his partner Billy Koar were able to come for the ceremony.
The annual November retreat, which has been going for about 16 years now and attended by the same group of people, was of course canceled by the pandemic—sadly. However, one of the regular participants, Rafael Siqueiros, was able to come for the three days which would have been the retreat. We were very happy to see Rafael, and have at least one token member of the group, which originally was associated with Rev. Master Teigan, who would come every year to lead the retreat. Rev. Master Teigan died this past year at the age of 85 after 44 years of monastic life.
No one knows what 2021 will bring, but many are hopeful it will be better than the very taxing year of 2020. Covid-19 vaccines are just now being distributed and given to health workers and people at high risk of infection. Nevertheless it might be several months before the pandemic is brought under control and things return to some semblance of what we considered “normal” before its onset last March. Revs. Phoebe and Seikai enjoy good health and, with all the recommended precautions in place, are at low risk. We are not currently scheduling events for 2021 as we normally would towards the end of the year. As and when we are able to return to a more normal routine we will of course let everyone know how that is going to work.
On September 12, 2020, Carol Barker died in a Denver, CO, Hospice Center, of bowel cancer. Carol had been a member of the Santa Barbara Priory, and then of Pine Mtn. Temple, while she lived in California and some of our older members may well remember her bright and courageous presence. Even when she moved out of state she remained in regular correspondence with Rev. Phoebe and supported the temple. Last year her youngest son Marvin fell ill with cancer, and he died in April, 2020. Carol became ill soon after that, and recently Rev. Phoebe spoke with her on the phone once a week. She is survived by her other two adopted children, Cyrus and Jane, and we offer our condolences to both of them. We held a funeral service for Carol on October, her ashes were scattered in the hills on her request.
With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic era, life certainly has changed for the two monks of Pine Mountain Temple, as it has for everyone else. For a while we had almost no visitors; with the easing of restrictions, we’ve started to have overnight guests again, only now with some guidelines in place to minimize the potential to spread illness. Our Sunday routine (see p. 3) has worked quite well, and we’ve had a number of day visitors on Sundays for two periods of meditation and a Dharma Talk. During the week life goes on pretty much as it always has, given that the temple is a big place and needs constant care and maintenance. Needless to say, we are aging, and so the day-to-day challenge of maintaining the temple slowly increases over the course of time. The day will come when we will have to decide whether we can continue for much longer, but until that day arrives, we both love the land, the animals, the wildlife, the quiet and our countless blessings so much that we hope to stay as long as possible.
The County of Ventura, meanwhile, hasn’t moved on our renewal application for an extension of our conditional use permit. The pandemic threw their internal workings for a loop; we were assigned a new case worker who essentially started over from scratch. We’ve been told the application will go through, but at this point we continue to wait to see when and how that might happen.
Our tiny garden has produced a steady flow of zucchini, tomatoes, chard and arugula since about the middle of summer. Rev. Phoebe also harvested a large bowl of ripe grapes, which hasn’t happened in years because birds or coyotes normally get them before we do. There will be some leeks this winter.
Rev. Phoebe painted all the decks this summer, a large undertaking, which was facilitated by Jack Collings, who loaned us his pressure washer. This amazing tool makes removing the old paint and prepping the wood comparatively easy. Rev. Phoebe used a roller instead of a brush this time, so all-in-all the job was not as hard as it used to be.
Thanks to Dorothy Scovil and Karen Hillman, who stayed at the temple and looked after things for over two weeks during August, Revs. Phoebe and Seikai were able to take a break and go camping. We spent some time in Mammoth Lakes, CA—luckily before the fire season hit that area—and then continued into Nevada. We both love the huge, open spaces and mountain ranges, one after the other, of the Great Basin. The day we re-entered California, arriving in Bishop, we were greeted by thunderstorms, which where happening all over the state, starting fires as they went. Most of those fires are still burning a month later, but none of them are near the temple, which is a great blessing in itself.
Kneeling with respect for George Floyd and all those who died at the hands of other people.
Kneeling with sorrow for the suffering we humans inflict on ourselves.
Kneeling with the recognition that I too have the potential to hurt or kill out of fear and anger.
Kneeling with knowing that only I can change myself.
Kneeling with gladness, seeing there are many people right now stopping and wanting to change.
Kneeling with sympathy for the painful consequences of our past collective acts we will all still have to bear.
Kneeling with devotion, asking That Which Is Greater than any of us to help and protect us all.
I am not one to join public demonstrations – yet – and am not telling anyone what to do. I just want you to know that I am kneeling.
Our conditional use permit process has moved forward to the point of Ventura County acknowledging that our application is complete. We have one hurdle still to clear, which is the holding of a public hearing to go over any remaining issues, if there are any, and give the permit its final seal of approval. We don’t know yet when this will take place, but the county has indicated it will probably be in May. Our thanks to Jack Collings for dealing with the vast majority of the paperwork and back-and-forth throughout this process.
In late December we had a few visitors for the end of year retreat, and our lay resident, Adrian Cuevas, asked to stay on in the temple during the month of January, when we are normally closed. He helped Rev. Seikai build a shelving unit for the utility room of the Dharma House, which was finished in late January, and did a maintenance job on all of the hill trails, which is close to a mile of trail. Then in February, Adrian decided to return to his family in Texas and we bid him farewell.
After a wet early winter, January and February were the driest on record in California history. It simply didn’t rain more than a few drops during the time of year when the state typically gets most of its rainfall. This seemed an ominous sign with respect to the upcoming wildfire season. But, as sometimes happens, the month of March has brought with it some substantial rains—and some snow at our altitude. Our three snowfalls are more than we’ve had in quite a few years. And the stars of our ever-changing resident bird population this winter have been the meadowlarks. We’ve had a large flock of them cruising over the fields, and their joyful singing has been up-cheering.
We had a nice gathering of people at the temple on March 8 for the usual Sunday events and then a potluck to celebrate Rev. Phoebe’s birthday. The food was great, we wish Rev. Phoebe many more years of good health, and bow in gratitude for her continued sharing of the Dharma with all who come to the temple.Our upcoming Spring Retreat has been canceled and Jennifer, who misses coming to the temple for that, had made a drawing of our kitten Ivy, “spending time at the temple” while doing that. Anyone who has temple related artwork, please feel free to send it in and we will put it out here, with joy and gratitude.
The autumn has been relatively busy, with a steady stream of guests for retreats and weekends, in addition to our two lay residents: Adrian, who arrived in September, and AnneMarie, who arrived in early December. There was a good group of people on the last weekend of October for the retreat including the Segaki Ceremony—Feeding the Hungry Ghosts. The musical kwatz, performed by three people playing a bell, small drum, and cymbals in a complicated sequence, calling the ghosts to come and to ward off the insincere, was particularly good. (Doing this and other ceremonial is a very effective—and challenging—way to learn meditation in action. It requires paying attention not only to what you are doing yourself, but also to stay in sync with others and be flexible to accommodate subtle changes in speed and volume. You have to let go of all self-consciousness, fear of failure and worry what others will think. When ceremonial is done correctly, all those inner and outer entanglements are addressed over time and transformed into “just practice”. )
Bijou the dog had a fairly major surgical procedure done to remove about a dozen teeth, his upper and lower incisors. These teeth were worn down to basically nothing but exposed roots, in all likelihood the result of being put in a metal cage as a pup and then gnawing on it. The vet said that the teeth were slowly going to rot and were probably painful, so they were all pulled. They also removed a small growth on Bijou’s back. It was a tough week for our little pal, but he got through it and returned to his usual happy self—if possible even sweeter and a bit more relaxed.
In October three women of the Central Coast Meditation group helped with driving and hosting Rev. Phoebe for a group meeting in Morro Bay. About a dozen people were there and meditation was followed by a Dharma talk with discussion. The group meets once every month and Rev. Phoebe has been visiting twice a year. The next time will probably be in the spring.
So far this fall the weather has been kind and we have been able to visit with the Ventura Group every month. In January there will be no group visit, but we will pick it up again in February ”if the creek don’t rise.”
Our annual autumn retreat was completely full this year, including some very old friends who have been practicing for many years. We looked at a small book by Pema Chodron entitled Awakening Loving Kindness. On the first evening, Rev. Phoebe invited people to share an experience of tenderness that they either had witnessed, or felt in their hearts, or been the recipient of. Tenderness is one of the four aspirations of the Bodhisattva according to Dogen, the one which usually gets the least attention. Interestingly, the atmosphere in the room began to subtly change, and became very tender just by us all contemplating how and when we experience this feeling. This tenderness remained very present during the retreat, and it changed the way people interacted. Our discussions of the four aspirations: charity, benevolence, tenderness and sympathy, were particularly poignant. At the end people were asked to express their impression of the retreat in a single word: heartfelt, beauty, family, grateful, homecoming, caring, nurturing, heartened, unexpected, mellow, joy, honesty and inspirational all came up. This retreat has been going on for 16 years, and we plan to continue doing it. The Spring Retreat in April is its counterpart; please check the calendar if you are interested.
Rev. Phoebe had eye surgery in November to remove a cataract and implant a lens. This was her second eye for this procedure, the first one having been in 2006, which restored a better level of vision in that eye. As of three weeks after the surgery, the eye is healing and Rev. Phoebe is experiencing better vision, despite the fact that this eye is the weaker of the two.
In early December we held a well-attended festival of the Buddha’s Enlightenment. It was a joyful occasion. On Saturday was the lay ordination of Adrian in the morning, and the reading of the Life Story of the Buddha in the evening. On Sunday, after two periods of meditation, Rev. Phoebe gave a moving Dharma Talk, followed by the festival ceremony and then a potluck lunch. It was a rainy weekend but many people were able to make the trip to the temple in between showers—and the roads remained open. At the beginning of the Festival ceremony the sun broke through the clouds and suddenly flooded the hall with bright light—very inspiring! Several more people came for the day in addition to those already here for the retreat.
Now that the temple has been here for 20 years some things are starting to show their age. We had the ceilings in the Buddha and Dharma House painted and the many of the walls as well; we needed to replace the shower stall in the Sangha house; and we are replacing one washing machine which has worn out. We are grateful to have the support to do these things and keep the temple in a good state of repair and comfort for everyone.
We’ve had early rains this year—and snow in a substantial amount of about seven inches, for the first time in several years. The early onset of winter has meant the early abatement of fire season, which always comes as a relief.
The first 20 years of Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple are nearing completion! 20 years ago Revs. Jisho and Phoebe were looking for a new location for the Santa Barbara Priory, and were told about this piece of property, which had been on the market for four years. In January of 2000, the move started, and went in stages as the three houses here were vacated by the previous residents, the Roberts family. Looking at photos of the temple grounds then, and comparing them with the way things look now, the appearance of things is vastly different. The old photos suggest a fairly windswept desert, while today this property is clearly an oasis with a well-cared-for look. The three residential buildings have all been upgraded with internal improvements and external stucco. We’ve planted hundreds of trees, and the already existing trees have become mature, shade-giving canopies. And the land itself has slowly rebounded from having been grazed by farm animals.
We don’t know if we’ll be here another 20 years—but the process of maintaining and upgrading never ceases. This year our big-as-life Jizo statue (front cover) arrived seemingly out of nowhere; we replaced one refrigerator and added a window air conditioner to the Sangha House; and now it’s time to repaint the interiors of the Buddha House and the Dharma House. In September, as this newsletter is being printed, a father-son team of painters will arrive to start work on that project. They will focus on our old “popcorn” ceilings, and repaint most but not all of the rooms. Although Rev. Phoebe loves painting and previously had painted the whole temple, the time has come to contract out the work. The monks are grateful that we have the financial support to make it possible to do this. And we extend our grateful thanks to everyone who has been a part of this temple for the past 20 years and made it possible for us to continue to be here and provide a refuge for meditation practice.
Summer was slow in arriving weather-wise; June was relatively cool. We held a meditation retreat focusing on world peace (see article, p. 12). The prolonged spring made for a lengthy wildflower season: the goldfields were very striking this year. In July things warmed up to almost “normal”, but we had fewer really hot days this summer than usual, as the temperature reached 100 only a handful of days. In August the two monks went on a fairly long road trip, camping and hiking in several locations, including Mammoth Lakes, California; driving up through Nevada into Oregon, stopping at Crater Lake and then getting deluged by a summer storm at Diamond Lake, Oregon. That meant leaving early and driving to Eugene, where Rev. Seikai’s family lives, earlier than planned. But it worked out. On their way home the monks stopped at Shasta Abbey for one overnight, and were warmly received by the monks there.
We learned of the death of a long-time friend and supporter of the temple, Richard Markley, who lived in Fresno. He is survived by his wife, Yasuko. Richard and Yasuko met and married while Richard was living in Japan in the early 1970’s. In the 1980’s they moved to Berkeley and first met Rev. Seikai when he was the prior of the Berkeley Buddhist Priory in Albany, CA. A memorial for Richard was held at Shasta Abbey on August 31, and his ashes were interred there. We held a memorial ceremony here at the temple on September 15.
Our two cats have adjusted to life at the temple, roaming around their new domain—the workshop, the Sangha House patio and yard, and the Dharma House garden. They have both been neutered. So far they have not shown much proficiency at rodent-getting, but time will tell.
The Empty Moon retreat at the end of September was canceled for lack of participation, so we rescheduled the weekend with our own Compassion Retreat. Rev. Phoebe will be in Morro Bay on October 23 to meet with the Central Coast Meditation Group. There are also still spaces for the Autumn Retreat, November 7—10. The Ventura Meditation Group has been rescheduled to Thursday, November 14.
As in much of California, we had a wet winter and spring, with close to 20 inches of rainfall. The wet season lasted into June, with several thunderstorms, one of which caused a small flash flood, which fortunately was nowhere near the scale of the deluge in July, 2015. The previous flood control engineering we have done works, and Rev. Seikai added to that this spring after studying the water flow past the temple. At times during the wet season, the local roads have been closed or restricted to residents of the area. The net result of this has been fewer visitors to the temple, but the extra rain has meant for a luxurious growth of wildflowers and weeds! The wildflowers have been beautiful and the weeds have required repeated mowing to be kept in check; like bad habits, they keep coming back!
Our Spring Retreat in April was well attended by old friends and new,
Rev. Phoebe was driven to Morro Bay and back by Sarah Foland and Ruth Handy respectively to host the Morro Bay Meditation Group Evening on April 24th. A dozen people attended the meditation, Dharma talk and discussion. Rev. Phoebe has been visiting the group twice a year for the past couple years and hopes to go again in October. We’re grateful to the group members for the driving which makes it possible for her to go.
Wesak, the Buddha’s birthday celebration on May 5, was attended by a substantial group of people this year. As usual, we sang the Wesak songs, rang the temple bell 108 times, and processed out to the Stupa to offer flowers around its base. It did not rain, but the spring wind kicked up at that point, and everyone retreated to the Sangha House for a lavish potluck of wonderful food. Two weeks later on the 19th, Revs. Phoebe and Seikai attended the “Buddha Day” festival at the Thai Buddhist temple in Goleta, next door to Santa Barbara.
There were about 15 monks present, seven or so monks of both the Thai and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, several of whom live in or near Santa Barbara. There was a good-sized group of people who attended a dialogue/forum at the end of the gathering. Members of the audience posed questions to the monks, who took turns answering. Several people thanked our two monks for their contributions to the Q&A, saying it was helpful to have Buddhist teaching expressed clearly in English. The Thai temple is hoping to hold follow-up events like this one in the future.
We’ve had a number of visitors this spring, including Rev. Master Haryo, head of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, and Emmy van Woerden, Rev. Phoebe’s sister. Emmy has come twice before, and her visit occasioned a trip to Ganna Walska’s Lotusland in Montecito. Lotusland was the estate of the former opera singer, who converted the property into magnificent gardens. We were too early for the lotuses, but many of the exotic plants found there were in bloom—and the weather cooperated.
On June 2 our annual board meeting was held, with several members present. We discussed past and future changes to the temple, noting that there was a period of time about a decade ago when we made numerous changes to the temple facilities, expanding the boundary of the conditional use permit area, building the stupa and the meditation huts, etc. Since then, as the monks have aged, we are less inclined to tackle such large-scale projects. However, our original conditional use permit (CUP) was for 20 years, and is expiring next year! So the question was posed whether or not to renew the CUP—which everyone agreed would be good to do. To renew it for another 20 years—or however much longer we remain on this site—will involve submitting a pile of paperwork to Ventura County, showing that we are in compliance with the terms of the Meditation Retreat Ordinance, under which the CUP is issued. We met with the Ventura County Planning Dept. to get an outline of what needed to be done, and our member Jack Collings came to that meeting, offering to help out with the nitty gritty of submitting all the necessary paperwork, an area of expertise that he works in as a fire safety engineer. Our grateful thanks to Jack for his help and to everyone who in any way has played a role in making it possible to the temple to exist here for 20 years and to prosper.
Completely unexpectedly at the end of December we were donated a large granite statue of Jizo, Kshtigarbha, the Bodhisattva of Optimism and Courage, who has been the special protector of our temple from the very beginning. Mr John Chen of Los Angeles made the donation to promote world peace. (More statues have been given to other temples). Now we are waiting for our stone mason to pour a footing before we can have an installation ceremony. It will require a crane to put him in place, and we will let people know when all this is going to happen, hopefully before too long.