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.
In October the monks attended the annual Western Buddhist Monastic gathering, this time generously hosted by the Spirit Rock Retreat Center in Marin County. Last year’s meeting had been small, and it was encouraging to see 40 participants this year, about half of them being young in both monastic and bodily age. It seems perhaps there is renewed interest in living a life that “goes against the stream”, where people are celibate and dedicate their life to the practice and teaching. The meeting was very well organized and the topics of conversation ranged from personal and community practice to even the “Me-too” movement. It was brought up that there is sexual abuse in some monasteries in the Far East and a letter was composed and sent to various religious teachers to express our mutual concern about this and ask for serious measures to bring these situations to an end. So that Revs. Phoebe and Seikai could be away together, the temple and dogs were taken care of by a lovely family, for which we are grateful.
On October 24 Rev. Phoebe met with the Central Coast Meditation Group, thanks to rides and hospitality from Judy Walters and Sarah Foland. Most months this group meets by themselves, and a couple of times a year they invite Rev. Phoebe to join them. Help with transportation is necessary and much appreciated.
Our Segaki Ceremony this year was held on the Buddha house deck, a more intimate setting than the patio, and just enough people were there to make it a meaningful event.
On November 3rd Robert DeLoach was given the Precepts by Rev. Seikai, “who was given the Precepts before in the teaching of Shakyamuni, who is the Buddha of this world: therefore the universe rejoices.” We also commemorated the death of Rev. Master Jiyu on that day, which made the ordination even more meaningful. We wish Robert many years of fruitful practice and congratulate him.
The week of Thanksgiving Rev. Phoebe traveled to New York to host a five day retreat at the Buddhist Insights retreat center. Thanks to Margaret Buckles who provided transportation to the airport and a pleasant overnight stay at her home. The retreat was attended by 14 people and Rev. Phoebe gave a detailed introduction to our practice of Serene Reflection Meditation, including teaching people to sing scriptures, which they very much enjoyed.
On December 1st we did the first of three celebrations of the Buddha’s Enlightenment here at the temple, ending with a delicious potluck lunch. The second one was less elaborate at the Ventura Meditation Group meeting, where we simply read the nine chapters of the Life and Teaching of the Buddha as compiled by Rev. Seikai. The third occasion happened at the last evening of the Empty Moon (formerly known as Blue Cliff) Sangha’s Rohatsu retreat, held at the temple from December 6—9. Every time the story is moving, and being very familiar with it only deepens the experience.
The Buddha House water heater died in the fall and had to be replaced. As the Dharma House heater was nearing the end of its life, we decided to install two new on-demand water heaters, which are more efficient than the tanks. Fortunately we now have a plumber, who works from Taft, CA, and is willing to come out and do the work for us.
Also one of our roofs lost a few shingles, and here, too, fortunately we have our faithful roofer, Ryan Self, who is always ready to come out, make repairs and make sure the roofs are ready for the winter. And so he did.
So far this winter season we have had a small amount of rain and the immediate fire danger seems to have abated. Meanwhile, our insurance company stipulated that, for the sake of fire safety, it would be good to cut back the trees by the car port and in front of the Buddha House. With help of two retreat work groups we did the necessary cutting back and wood processing. Fire safety work is on-going at the temple, as fire season is now essentially all year.
The End of Year retreat held the last week of December is a good time for people to reflect on their blessings and intentions, either individually or as a family. During the month of January the temple will be closed for visitors, to give the monks a much needed rest. We encourage you to focus on your home practice, by doing some little thing every day to express your desire to make the best use of this precious life. We wish everyone a very blessed and peaceful year and look forward to seeing you again before too long.
Buddhists Help get out the Vote
“As long as followers of the Way gather together and meet in harmony can they be expected to prosper and not decline.
“As long as followers of the Way care for the vulnerable among them can they be expected to prosper and not decline.
“As long as followers of the Way tend the sacred places in their environment can they be expected to prosper and not decline.”
Dear Friends in the Dharma,
This is a critical time in American society. As Buddhist teachers and leaders, we recognize the importance of all who are eligible to participate in decisions that affect the well being of the whole. A mutual caring community is one of the central teachings of the Buddha.
Many have wondered what you can do at this divisive time. Across the country, tens of millions of eligible voters do not cast their vote — often because they don’t believe their voice matters!
We are joining together with Faith In Action, a NON PARTISAN group of churches, mosques, synagogues and faith communities to help make sure all who are eligible are supported to vote.
We joyfully encourage all in our communities who can help in these weeks ahead to connect with
Now that fall has come and summer is fading away, we look at the daily calendar and see that many people came for retreats and visits in preparation for a month (August) without temple time. In July, the festival of Kshtigarbha, the Bodhisattva of Optimism and Courage who also is our temple’s protector, was a good occasion for several members and newcomers to meet and share a delicious lunch.
Our last and old cat Nellie died very quietly on July 18th. She had been slowing down for several weeks and clearly was nearing the end of her life, yet was still very happy to see us several times a day. Even though she had stopped eating and moving, she still purred until a couple of hours before her end. She was given a cat size Kesa and buried in our animal cemetery. Nellie had been given to us as a kitten and she was devoted to Rev. Seikai. From the first she chose to live in the workshop, where she had her own corner, with a bed and later a set of stairs to get up to her spot by the window.
On July 28 Marcia Roberts was the only one present of the group of old friends who have been coming annually for about 25 years to bless the memory of Patrick DuBray and his father Dick. Marcia’s devotion and loyalty are amazing.
The monks started their rest period with a whale watching trip in the Santa Barbara Channel. The boat followed a pair of humpback whales and some dolphins for a while; there were sea lions near the harbor entrance and the usual wide assortment of sea birds. As always, it was wonderful to be at sea for a day.
The monks were able to travel for two weeks, thanks to the kind help of Dorothy Scovil, her friend Karen Hillman, and Karen’s daughter and son Joy and Diego from Ventura. They took turns looking after the temple, and enjoyed being with our two dogs and the fish. Meanwhile, both Rev. Phoebe and Rev. Seikai went on hiking trips and came back refreshed and rested.
Robert DeLoach very kindly came over for a whole day in late August and did a good job deep cleaning the common room, and helping Rev. Seikai with some repair work. It is encouraging to have help with temple maintenance, which of course is unrelenting, and the monks generally have as much as they can handle in the way of temple upkeep.
It was a good year for green beans, cucumbers and carrots in the garden. Tomatoes, and everything else we tried to grow, never made it to maturity, having been discovered and devoured by rodents and various other critters. We had a population explosion of wood rats this year; they took up residence wherever they could, crawl spaces being their favored habitat. A few moved into the workshop and even chewed through a water hose in our car. To combat the invasion, we placed sound-producing rodent repellers in key spots, and Rev. Seikai used a live trap to capture and deport at least ten of the little darlings.
The first weekend in September saw several of our regulars back, as well as a few new people, and the Ventura Meditation group meeting was very well attended.
Rev. Phoebe was invited to show some of her paintings at a Show at Art City Gallerie in Ventura, together with 6 other artists. from September 16 to the end of October. Several of our regulars joined the many visitors at the opening reception, enjoying live music and beautiful art.
We enjoy sharing Pine Mountain Temple with other Buddhist groups which lack the kind of facilities that we have. Last June the Blue Cliff Sangha under the direction of Rev. Myoun (James) Ford came for a three-day sesshin; there were about 15 retreatants altogether, the sesshin went well, and they expressed enthusiasm about returning in the fall for another retreat. In late September, as this newsletter is being printed, the Blue Cliff Sangha will again hold a three-day sesshin, from the 20th—23rd.
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.
This has been a challenging winter weather-wise, beginning with fierce Santa Ana winds in December, which fanned the Thomas Fire into a conflagration, the largest fire in the history of California, which consumed over 700 private residences. The temple was not affected by the fires, other than the fact that Highway 33 was closed for a period of time, necessitating a longer trip to get to the cities of Ventura and Ojai from here. The fire was followed immediately by a heavy rain which caused massive damage along the coast, particularly in the town of Montecito, adjacent to Santa Barbara. That heavy rain storm in early January has been the only really significant storm this winter. Only now, in March, have we gotten more measurable rain—putting off, perhaps, the onset of drought conditions, which were interrupted by last year’s very wet winter. Such is life in California.
This winter has also been one of the worst flu seasons in several years. Rev. Seikai became ill during the last week of December, and it took a full two months for him to completely recover from it, the bronchitis form of flu. The monks had a relatively restful month of January in the midst of all the conditions bearing upon us.
The end-of-year meditation retreat went well this year, and our small group enjoyed the quiet and their time together. We welcomed in the new year with a ceremony on the evening of the 31st, followed by the festival honoring Maitreya Buddha, the incoming future Buddha, on January 1.
In February, Rev. Phoebe traveled to New York at the invitation of the Buddhist Insights NYC group, led by the Theravada monk Bhante Suddhaso. Rev. Phoebe gave a Thursday evening public talk and then led a weekend retreat from Friday afternoon till Sunday afternoon. Both events were pretty well attended, and there was a lot of enthusiasm for Rev. Phoebe to return and lead another retreat, which tentatively is planned for this coming November. Whilst in New York, Rev. Phoebe was given a tour of some of the sights: parts of Manhattan, the Museum of Modern Art, the Cloisters—and, of course, the New York subway system. The Buddhist Insights group rents a building on Long Island just outside of Brooklyn. Rev. Phoebe loves to travel and this is a perfect way for her to share some of her wisdom with others.
On March 9 we welcomed James Ford and his wife Jan for a visit. James is a well known Buddhist author who now lives in Long Beach after many years on the East Coast, where he also served as a Unitarian Universalist minister. James, who has the Buddhist ordination name Rev. Myoun, was originally ordained by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett in 1970. He is currently working with a newly-formed chapter of the Boundless Way Zen organization located in Long Beach. We discussed the possibility of their group holding a retreat at Pine Mountain Temple.
On March 14 Amanda Estremera received the Buddhist Precepts from Rev. Phoebe. Amanda has been visiting and attending retreats for two years; we offer Amanda our congratulations and welcome her as a member of our congregation. She was accompanied by her fiancé, Dan; they are planning a wedding ceremony for this coming summer, to which they have invited Rev. Phoebe to officiate.
We hired our roofer and general handyman, Ryan Self, and his crew to enclose the front entrance of the Sangha House to make a coat room. We already had the window, left over from a job many years ago. The crew also rebuilt the roof of the patio, replacing the roof joists and the shade cloth, making the entire thing stronger and good for several more decades of use. These guys work really hard and we are grateful for their work on these two upgrades.