Blog

News update July 2018

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.

News April 2018

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.

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News December 2017

              The whole of next year’s calendar is published on the website; for 2018 we have not scheduled any work days but will announce them on the Upcoming Events or by email when there is a need.

The first week of October we were joined by Rev. Master Saido Kennaway, who lives in England at the Telford Buddhist Priory and lived at Shasta Abbey in the late seventies and early eighties while he underwent his monastic training.  He is a good friend of both Revs. Seikai and Phoebe and we had a lovely visit.  Rev. Saido came with us to the Ventura Group Meeting and talked about his work as a prison chaplain in England.  There is a video of him explaining the Four Noble Truths on YouTube which you may enjoy watching.  While he was here we went for a long walk on the beach where many surfers and wind surfers offered an entertaining view, and then, courtesy of Jack and Wendy had veggie burgers, fries and cheesecake in a real American Diner,  to the delight of Rev. Master Saido.

Thanks to Amanda and Kerry who drove Rev. Phoebe to LAX and back so she could go join the annual Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering.  This year it was held in Hendersonville, NC, and instead of the usual 35 – 40 participants there were only 10 guests, which made for a very different experience.  We discussed among other things the question of how much Buddhist monastics can or want to involve themselves in politics, and in what ways, when it is necessary or good to speak out against social ills, and how to be an influence for the good of the community.

This fall we saw our usual collection of Cal Poly students, who were taking a course in “religious extremism” come for their 24 hour long monastery experience. One group of four spent a couple of hours doing trail maintenance with Rev. Seikai on Sunday morning before they left:  it was the “high point” of their visit, they said, and a very kind service to all those who walk the trails.

For the Segaki Ceremony we had six guests, just enough to make it a strong offering of love and Dharma to all our loved ones who have passed away, the unknown people who have died in difficult circumstances, and any hungry ghosts that might be interested.

The 3 day Autumn Retreat in November was fully booked, and even with two last minute cancellations we had a very full temple.  We used Rev. Seikai’s book Depth Spirituality as a starting point for deep discussions, went for walks and generally enjoyed seeing the many friends who have been coming to this particular retreat now for 14 years.  If you are interested in joining next year, please check the calendar.

Asha and Teresa, also long time friends, came to spend the Thanksgiving week with us and we were joined by others who came to visit with them on Sunday, when we shared our meditation, walk, and very good food.

Our carpet in the dining room had moved a couple of inches, and before the repair man came Rev. Phoebe laid new vinyl tiles on the kitchen floor.  It all looks as good as new again.

On November 30th Mike Dunham came to take the Buddhist Precepts, accompanied by his wife Kathy. It was a lovely, quiet ceremony.  It is an honor to witness someone becoming seriously committed to doing something about themselves—as Rev. Master Jiyu put it—and we wish Mike all the best in his practice as a lay Buddhist.

David Oliver came to be away from the smoke from the Thomas Fire (see opposite page) for a couple of days.  His visit was very timely, since Rev. Seikai has been given a new table saw and David is a professional carpenter.  He helped Rev. Seikai reorganize the workshop and setting up the tools in a fraction of the time it would otherwise have taken him.

The Thomas Fire

On December 4 a Santa Ana wind episode triggered off several large fires in Southern California. By far the largest, and the one that affects us and many of our members and friends is the Thomas Fire, which began near Santa Paula.  The temple has so far not been in immediate danger, as the fire is well to the south of us nearer the coast.  Two weeks into it, the Santa Ana winds have not really abated for more than a few days at a time, and the fire rages on. Currently the third largest fire in the history of California, it will soon surpass the top two and become the largest. The fire has threatened and burned parts of Santa Paula, Ventura, Casitas Springs, Oak View and Ojai in Ventura County, and has moved into Santa Barbara County where it is burning on the edge of Carpinteria, Montecito and Santa Barbara with no end in sight. The five year long drought, climate change, global warming, and last year’s rains which spurred the growth of chaparral and brush have created our current worst-case scenario conditions.

Highway 33, our most direct route to the coast, is closed for an indefinite period; the monks have not been able to visit the Meditation Group in Ventura.  The next meeting will be on February 1st, if all goes well.  One woman from Ojai came to take shelter at the temple for a few days; the temple remains open as a refuge if anyone else needs to do so. We have been dedicating merit for all those who lost their homes, and did a ceremony for the fire fighter who lost his life in the fire, as well as for all animals and trees that have perished in the flames.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smoke from the Thomas Fire billowing above Pine Mountain.

 

 

 

News October 2017

 

This summer was relatively quiet, with a small but steady stream of visitors during the months of July and September; the temple was closed during most of August as usual. Both Reverends Phoebe and Seikai were able to go on an outing or retreat of some kind. Rev. Seikai joined a Sierra Club backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada the last week of July; it was a five day trip in Sequoia National Park which circumambulated Alta Peak, an imposing mountain in the north part of the park. Rev. Phoebe traveled to Colorado during August to a Buddhist retreat center which has just started up in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains near Boulder. She was able to camp out on a stream which runs through the property, and join in hiking trips and meditation periods during the day. She thoroughly enjoyed not being in charge of anything apart from sweeping out the dining area every day.

June and July were unusually hot this summer. Whether this is an aspect of global warming or not is difficult to say; meanwhile, we’ve had many more thunderstorms than usual as well. It has been good to have the extra rain, especially during the summer when it is so dry; fortunately there hasn’t been anything like the deluge of July 30, 2015. We have lost a few more pine trees due to the long term effects of drought, and continued to plant trees every spring to replace them. Rev. Seikai planted three desert willow trees in the Buddha House garden where they had been pines, and within two months they had grown up to three feet in height and were flowering profusely.

On July 9 we held a memorial for Patrick DuBray and his father Dick , a ceremony we have held almost every year since moving to Pine Mountain. Marcia Roberts and Juliet Betita continue to faithfully remember their old friend and make an annual pilgrimage to the temple to honor their memory.

In August Rev. Seikai made a trip north to Shasta Abbey to participate in a week-long retreat held in the monastery. He was one of six monks doing the teaching for the retreat, five of which were guests from other temples. There were about 30 people attending the retreat. Rev. Seikai gave a Dharma talk (see article, p. 7), as well as spiritual counseling and answering questions together with Rev. Master Mugo. He continued on into Oregon to visit his family in Eugene. His parents are now 90 and 87 years old—and in pretty good health.

In September we have had several guests who have been to the temple previously for a weekend or a retreat. It’s nice to see this, to get to know people better, and see people grow in their practice, many of whom are new to Buddhism or are attempting to incorporate some kind of spiritual practice into their daily lives. That the temple can continue to be a refuge for such people fulfills its purpose as a place to immerse oneself in an atmosphere of quiet and meditation, and learn to look inwards. As this newsletter is being printed we will be holding a three-day meditation retreat from the 22nd to 24th and are expecting several participants for it.

Rev. Seikai has been working on a footpath into the temple’s West Canyon, which extends back into the wilderness. The canyon is about a half mile deep, and the trail goes up to the point where it becomes very steep. We intend to use the trail and the canyon as a place for walking meditation during meditation retreats in the future.

News July 2017

April brought clear and lovely weather and so people started coming again.  The 3 day Silent Spring Retreat was attended by seven experienced participants and both monks.  The big thing this year was that Rev. Phoebe had proposed that we try to stay away from words even more than through just not talking by also not reading in the private times.  This met with some surprise and resistance at first – but when rev. Phoebe also made available paper and pencils it was not long before pictures started to appear.  It was pleasant to sit together in silence and use the other side of the brain for a bit, and those who were happy to share their pictures did so.  Of course we did have a dharma talk every day, and in the mornings between meditation periods we took a longish walk in the dry river bed and on the hills to see the wonderful wild flowers.Wild Flowers

Our work days have seen many helping hands and good progress is being made on brush  and weed clearing, as well as the taking down and processing of a couple of dead trees on the property.   We are not done yet and invite anyone to come join us on these mornings.  Work mornings end with a meditation period before lunch and a Dharma Talk after.

The first Sunday of May was the Buddha’s Birthday ( Wesak) and we had a smallish group of people here for the Saturday evening ceremony, where we read about the Buddha’s Life together.  On Sunday morning we woke up to rain, which turned to snow during morning meditation.  Several of the guests decided to leave before there was a chance of getting stuck on the pass, but a few stayed.  The snow did not fall very heavily, and to our delight at exactly 11am several cars drove in.  A group of people who meditate together in Claremont ( they have been here before on day retreats) came, and some of our regulars.  Because they were disappointed to have missed the meditation, we did a short period before rev. Phoebe gave a  delightful Dharma talk.  After the Wesak Ceremony and taking turns to ring the Bell 108 times we walked out to the Stupa with our flower offerings.    By then the sun was out and it turned into a lovely day, with a splendid potluck lunch.  The back field was awash with blue-purple wild Bluebells, interspersed with yellow Goldenbush and Mustard and orange Fiddlenecks.

Our usual grocery shopper, Dee, has been incapacitated for a while now with the effects of surgery, and so the monks are doing shopping from time to time.  We are even more appreciative of how much time and effort this takes and are sending blessings to those who help with keeping the temple provided in this way by asking what we can use before coming up for a visit or retreat!!

Al Cruz’ grave marker was delivered by a very Adolph Cruzfriendly shipper who helped rev. Phoebe put the stone in place and then stood there with her, exchanging stories about friends who have passed.  Thanks to the military to provide these beautiful markers.

One day in May rev. Seikai was sitting down in his room when he looked up and realized most of the view was taken up by something large and black.  It was a smallish black bear who wandered over to the Quan Yin fountain in front of the house and settled in for a soak.  The fountain basin used to be a bath tub, so it was not an outrageous idea.  The bear was very careful and did not disturb the fountain or bird bath, and stayed in the water, enjoying himself, while rev. Seikai stood looking at him from about 20 feet away.  Once the bear walked away we have not seen signs of him since.  Unfortunately no camera was present, so there are no pictures.

We have had 2 homing pigeons for several days each, sometimes these birds get lost and need to rest for a while.  We try to give them what they need and hope they don’t get in trouble with the local hawks while they recover.

We have a good garden again after a one year hiatus in 2016.  Rev. Seikai has returned to gardening – he was the monastery gardener at Shasta Abbey for many years – and has filled up the “glass  house” and the “green house” with vegetables.  Leafy green in particular have been plentiful: chard, spinach and lettuce.  Eggplant and tomatoes have been raised from seed and planted, and are waiting for warmer weather to flower and set fruit.  We are hoping to get some beans and squashes: really late frosts thru the end of May have made that a challenge.  Meanwhile there are also arugula, beets, carrots, green onions and cilantro doing fairly well. Over the winter we received 20 inches of rainfall, which is a very high total for our valley and this has brought about a resurgence of our ornamental gardens, trees and shrubs which had been struggling over the past five years of drought.  Of course the wildflower display this year has been spectacular.

Copies of Rev. Seikai’s book are available at the tempDepth Spiritualityle, or you can email us to send you one.  This is a dana book, meaning it has no fixed price and one is free to make a donation to the temple of any amount.