Rev. Phoebe did an evening talk and a weekend retreat in New York, on invitation by Ven. Suddhaso of Buddhist Insights. The talk is here
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.
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.
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.
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 friendly 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 temple, 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.
The months of January and February were dominated by winter weather at the temple’s location in the mountains. The five-year-long drought in California was suddenly reversed by a series of winter storms which dropped a lot of rain even in Southern California. The National Weather Service reports that our valley has received close to 15 inches of rain in 2017, and over 19 since October 1, the beginning of the “rainfall year”. Most of that rain fell in wonderfully spaced, modest storms until the last one on February 17, which produced over five inches. That storm tested our drainage improvements made in the wake of the summer downpour in 2015; everything worked fine and we sustained no damage from the runoff. Spring weather has arrived now, in March, and promises to bring with it an abundance of wildflowers such as we haven’t seen in quite a few years.
The winter rains closed our local roads for parts of January and February, and so we had very few guests as a consequence. The temple was closed as usual in January so that the monks can recharge at the end of the year and the start of the new one, but in February the weather prevented many people who wanted to visit from driving to the temple. Our February retreat was cancelled due to the rain the previous day.
During January a group of people kept in contact with each other to do the Home Practice Month ( for info please ask rev. Phoebe), and here is a sample of what occurred:
Steve wrote: In a discussion of politics recently, I thought I was being calm and then I found myself on a cusp of anger and then just lost it and got angry. Not physical anger or name-calling anger, just a louder voice and much frustration. Later a scripture arose: “If you lost become, there will arise obstructing mountains and great rivers.” In this instance, the obstructing mountains were that which obstructed my perspective and the great rivers were rivers of emotion which swept me away. I later acknowledged my poor behavior, made bows, and resolved to try harder to see this cusp arising and work on Right Speech and Right Understanding. I noticed that my mind was pretty skillful at coming up with justifications for anger in this case, how the other person was unreasonable, and on and on. It was a chance to see my mind at work as slave of the self. On another day, I had a flare-up of a physical problem. It is most noticeable when I’m trying to sleep. It can result in poor sleep and a very long next day. Sometimes with this problem, I take the medication and follow the doctor’s orders and the problem does not abate. That was the case in the middle of a recent night. I found myself on the cusp of panic and despair. This time I did not fall into panic. I was able to keep coming back to the present and not identify with the problem. Sometimes, even when tired, I get up and meditate. There could be a scripture: “If you practice for some time, there will arise calm vistas and great bridges.” These don’t always arise for me; it’s a great comfort that there are times when they do arise. A monk once told me: perfect stillness is always present. I resolve to try harder to be open to that perfect stillness. With Bows, Steve Murray
Thank you Steve for sharing, as I have been struggling with the precept: “on feeding anger and hardheartedness…awaken in yourself a compassionate heart, cultivate in all beings the roots of goodness as well as the absence of controversy.” Not easy work…Changes…. As we in America witnessed the peaceful transfer of power in yesterday’s inauguration of our 45th President, I struggled with my own anger and sense of disempowerment. Yes my choice lost, yet won the popular vote by millions. And today hundreds of thousands of people march in cities for women’s rights. How do I accept my own anger and disbelief? Changes…How do I reconcile my dissonance with those who also live in my community? Changes… I cannot pretend that there are not these moments where my emotions flood my thinking and I suspect my behavior. How can my practice provide a path of action in my daily work life that can brings me back to my practice? Changes….With bows Gayle
Hi All. In connection with recent e-mails from Gayle and Steve, I just find it difficult not to get angry, disheartened and overwhelmed with all the suffering and current disturbing political changes in the world. I try to support various pressure groups who fight against the people causing the suffering, exploitation and injustices. At the same time I am aware that newspapers distort what is really going on and to divide things into black and white is also not helpful. If I didn’t try to have faith in people’s good intentions I would probably become very cynical. If I can just be aware when I am holding on to my own views and opinions too much and rejecting other people’s views, that is good enough I think. I believe a lot of people are doing the best they can to make this world a better place. but we can get too caught up in this. I think we have to first accept the way things are and to accept how we are. ‘Hatred can never be appeased with hatred’ to quote an old Buddhist truth The here and now is all we ever have. And then we can hopefully change things for the better. To offer your meditation period to all beings who are in distress is a good practice I think. May all beings be happy. Neil
In unsettled times when people tend to join (or be pushed into black or white) as Neil says, there seems to be a lack of true listening. When I am among those who don’t share my opinions, I’ve experienced a tendency of others to answer quickly or to interrupt—and I find myself doing that same thing. There was a popular song written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of What the world needs now is love, sweet love No, not just for some but for everyone
I was struck by the last line, “not just for some but for everyone.” Perhaps the best offering we can make is to try to listen and be aware that, as Neil says, a lot of people are doing the best they can—even angry or irrational people. Some years ago, Reverend Helen gave me a poem by Mother Teresa that seems relevant:
People are often unreasonable and self-centered forgive them anyway
Give the world the best you have and it may never be good enough Give your best anyway
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God It was never between you and them anyway.
With Gratitude for this group and our exchanges, Steve Murray
Dear Folks, I’m sorry to have been pretty quiet this month, but I have deeply appreciated reading everyone’s offerings and Rod for being our facilitator. I started a 6 month wellness program with a specialty clinic this month and I’ve been up to my ears with classes, special food regimen, tests, etc. My focus on change has been on health and keeping me busy. As I hear from others in the group, I have also been meditating and chewing on the issue of how to act in the world that is moving so far from my core values. I’ve been trying to be involved with some kind of positive action on a regular basis (noticing opportunities to offer empathy, being quiet or disagreeing (i.e.. if someone says something racist, etc.), without acting in an angry way when I’m around folks who disagree with my views, marching while meditating, attending meetings where folks are trying to find positive paths for resistance, watching less news (a hard one for me), subscribing to journals who are endangered, and sending a little money to organizations I believe are trying to protect the environment, free speech, civil rights,…. Frequently, working on trying to be still in the midst of it all, as thoughts and emotions ebb and flow. I became a monk in 1971, with a group of us who had all come out of the turbulent and very political 60s. I had been very active politically in those years. Rev. Master Jiyu used to speak very strongly about it being wrong to be involved in political action. Instead, we should focus on our own training, and by working on and changing ourselves, we would change the world. I understand that view, and have seen in my own life and those of people I trained with, the power of personal change. When my husband and I were the priors for the temple in Eugene, Oregon and meditation group in Portland, many of our congregation members would get very caught up and obsessed about what what happening in the world, and would have trouble focusing on what was happening on their own zafu. I also remember Rev. Master Jiyu telling us about the life of her teacher, Koho Zenji. He was sent to the monastery when he was 7 to begin his training to become a monk. Because he was so bright, he was sent to university and became a historian. He was responsible for making it a legal requirement that girls be taught to read in Japan. Before that, most women were illiterate. At other times, Rev. Master would mention Buddhist monks in Japan, who had been politicians, or soldiers, or active socially, and spoke about what was important was that they took full responsibility for their actions and did them from a pure heart. I know that the Abbey was filling with new trainees at that time, partly because the events of the 60s threw in question the values, beliefs, and life styles many of us were raised in after WWII – especially having lives pretty devoid of a meaningful spiritual path. The whole question of how does a Buddhist behave when the government is threatening human rights has been something I’ve chewed on for a long time. I think that Rev. Master saw protests on TV and assumed that everyone participating in resistance was in an angry, polarizing state of mind. That was true of many, but, from my experience, not everyone. For myself, I feel, as a lay person, living in the world, instead of a monastery, and as a parent and a grandparent concerned about the world my grandchildren will inherit, that I have a responsibility to find ways to participate in being present with actions that voice my beliefs and best wishes for our country and our planet. As someone who is 70, instead of 20, mostly I feel a sense of deep grief about what I see happening, rather than the anger and fear of my youth, though those emotions can pop up. The need to act, in the public arena, even if it is in very small ways, is something I’ve made peace with what is best for myself. I hope I am taking steps that are in harmony with my Buddhist training and am not causing harm to others. I wish everyone a peaceful and hopeful year ahead, and I look forward to another training month later in the year. With bows, Joanne————-
At the Temple we are now back to our usual routine of weekend activities, including work Saturdays, Saturday Dharma talks and Sunday ceremonies and Dharma talks.
Near the end of December, our fearless dog Jasper, trying to chase off a group of four or five coyotes, got himself pretty seriously chewed up in a fight. Luckily Rev. Seikai was nearby to run the coyotes off, but Jasper had multiple puncture wounds and we took him to a vet in Ojai, as our usual vet in Taft was not working that day. The vet shaved off a lot of fur, treated wounds and sent Jasper back home, but in the end we made three trips, and Jasper spent two overnights at the vet when it appeared for a while that we was giving it up and ready to die. Modern veterinary medicine saved the day; Jasper was given I.V. medications and later an appetite stimulant, he started eating and drinking again and soon there was noticeable improvement. The vets were amazingly kind and generous, writing off one whole day’s vet bill of ultrasound and other treatment. We hope one day Jasper might begin to learn that discretion is the better part of valor where coyotes are concerned, but meanwhile he is back to being his old self.
As Rev. Phoebe’s birthday (March 11) approached we invited our members and friends to come and join us for the day to celebrate. Sixteen people joined us that Saturday for a morning of temple cleaning, working in the garden and doing trail maintenance, followed by a lavish potluck feast which included two birthday cakes. Since we hadn’t had a largish gathering of people in the temple for a while, it was a chance for everyone who came to meet new people and get caught up with old friends. It was a warm spring day and very enjoyable. Our longtime congregation members Asha and Teresa, who have relocated from Arcata to Sacramento, came for a visit of several days which spanned that weekend. The four of us took the opportunity of being together to go on a whale-watching boat trip in the Channel Islands. As luck would have it, we encountered both humpback and grey whales. Humpback whales are large, impressive creatures, and the ones we saw were surfacing to breathe while following a pod of dolphins, but the grey whales put on an impressive show, actually breaching up into the air near our boat. It seemed clear they knew we were there to watch them, and they obliged with a bit of whale breaching.
The political upheaval which is going on in America is something we cannot simply ignore, pretending that it has nothing to do with us or our Buddhist practice. We are all affected by what is going on to varying degrees; some people are very sensitive to political matters and others less so, but none of us live in a vacuum. The monks have been looking for ways to talk about this turn of events from the perspective of Buddhist practice and training, as opposed to the perspective of political action. We have nothing against political action, but it is just not our realm of expertise or involvement. And we also believe that for political action to be truly effective, it has to come from a deeper place spiritually than what we typically witness in the world at large. Just taking sides, based on your particular belief system, and jumping into the fray falls short of what it means to practice enlightened action in Buddhism. Trying to bridge the communication gap, which seems to grow wider all the time, learning to listen to diverse and opposing views without dismissing them straight off, are not easy things to do but they are what will actually help the situation. It’s possible that things have gotten so far out of whack that nothing really can be done at this point, but that possibility should not prevent us from doing the best we can to turn it in the right direction. In light of all this, Rev. Seikai put together a ceremony, “Prayer Vigil for the Spiritual Well-being of America” as a way for people to reground themselves, and reconnect with what the Buddha taught about these things. We held the ceremony for the first time on March 12, and the six of us who participated all felt like it touched something deep within ourselves, giving us all a positive focus for our efforts on a spiritual level. We hope that as time goes on we will be able to introduce more people to the ceremony and its message of loving kindness and understanding.
We included The Prayer of Saint Francis in the prayer vigil ceremony:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Because of the heavy rains that are making the roads impassible we have had to cancel this weekends retreat and rescheduled it for February 25 – 26. The retreat starts Saturday morning at 10 am, ( you are also welcome to arrive on the Friday before 5pm and join us for early Meditation and breakfast on Saturday).
The theme of the retreat is on generating and maintaining the Heart of Compassion, and Sunday will still be a Meditation Sunday.
There is still room available for the retreat, please register before Wednesday if you wish to attend.
Monks and dogs are safe and content, happy we have a dry place to live and offer blessings to all beings.
By Rev. Master Jisho Perry
This time of year is a time for celebration. I’ve associated it with Handel’s hallelujah chorus from the Messiah for many years. This year the poet/singer song writer Leonard Cohen died the day before the election. I had listened to his music in the 60’s but not since becoming a monk in 1971. I read recently of his life and heard his song “Hallelujah” which is a very Buddhist song. It is a song of joy in the midst of suffering. He had been a Buddhist monk for 4 or 5 years so it is not a surprise that Buddhist teaching manifested itself in his music.
This is not a jubilant hallelujah of Handel welcoming a savior. In Buddhism we have to save ourselves by converting our ignorance into understanding and wisdom through Compassion. The Buddha’ First Noble Truth is to accept the inevitable reality of the human condition, that suffering exists. I once asked a high school class: “what is suffering?” A young woman replied: “Wanting things to be other than they are.” The Buddha then went on the explain the cause and the cure of suffering. He described his enlightenment as “Seeing things as they Truly are.” He’s referring to Absolute Truth, which understands on a very deep level the Purity, immaculate Emptiness, of the Radiant Buddha Mind that fills and contains all things. The Buddha is also referring to seeing the perfection or the ideal within the actual.
I have faith in the Buddhist teaching that evil is vanquished and good prevails, even if I can’t always see it yet. Suffering is created in our minds and hearts when the external circumstances are not what I would like or want. Meditation is the opening of the Heart to convert the actual by inviting Compassion to arise and cleans our distress. There is joy in this practice. It is frequently a quiet, restrained hallelujah, seeing of the glimmer of light within the darkness.
So this is a holiday greeting of a quiet and restrained Hallelujah. And a recent photo of the mountain in its winter clothing. With thoughts of loving kindness, Jisho