I was returning from a writing retreat in Frazier,
& I decided to drive home through the mountains.
The Lockwood Valley highway winds through
an eroded desolate wilderness of creeks & pines.
Harshly starkly beautiful
as only lonely deserts can be.
I passed a gate with a sign saying –
Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple.
I knew that there was a Zen center.
I had been meaning to visit for years.
I also knew they didn’t really appreciate
impromptu uninvited visitors.
But the gate was open.
So I turned around.
I parked my car off the dirt road
by a little cluster of wooden buildings.
An elder lady appeared.
She asked, “What can I do for you?”
I told her I’d just leave if it wasn’t okay,
but would like to walk around the place.
She said they were busy working,
but I could look around awhile.
The property was developed very simply.
A small house with a few cabins.
Many statues of Buddhas.
A little bit later I noticed that
she was carrying a box of firewood,
so I called, “Do you need a hand?”
She asked, “Do you have any gloves?”
I said, “I don’t need gloves to move a box.”
She said, “I have some gloves.”
She got the gloves & led me into a shed.
“Do you see this pile of wood marked ‘Curing’?
It needs to be moved over to the ‘Cured’ pile.”
So I re-stacked the woodpile.
A scruffy dog kept me company.
I wasn’t quite done, when she said,
“Well I guess you’ve earned some lunch.”
I said, “I’m going to have to finish stacking.”
She said, “You can finish after we eat.”
I took some soup & salad
to a wooden table on a patio.
There were a couple of other guests there,
& we were joined by a tall quiet man.
He said, “It seems I might have heard of
a Brock that teaches Zen in Ventura.”
I said, “I teach Mindfulness for Veterans
class at the Camarillo Healthcare District.”
We got to talking about
& Reverend Phoebe & I agreed that
people’s belief that they are supposed
to be able to cease thinking is a real issue.
“I tell students that the early Zen masters
taught that the belief that thought stopping
is equivalent to enlightenment is a delusion…”
“Yes! And right after the meditation
students complain that they couldn’t
get their thoughts to stop!”
At this point Reverend Seikei said,
“You know, Zen is the Middle Way…
(Scattered, chattering thinking on one hand
& the silence of no thinking on the other.)
We’re trying to settle into the middle.”
(Between both of these extremes.)
After the meal I said I felt
a need to finish the woodpile.
Reverend Phoebe said to drop by
the big hall when I was done.
Reverend Seikei said that
my service was appreciated.
On my way out I stopped by
a large wooden structure.
Reverend Phoebe showed me the Hall.
It seemed to me to be very holy,
but she said that I could enter.
She pointed toward two statues,
one in the right corner –
the Bodhisattva of Compassion;
one in the left corner –
the Bodhisattva of Determination.
She said, “You know,
prayer in Zen is meant
to invoke these qualities
into our selves.
Because it is only through us
that compassion & determination
come into the world.”
Just before I left the Hall
tears sprang to my eyes –
“It is so beautiful to be standing upon land
that is dedicated to compassion.”
She said, “That’s why we stay.
That’s why we keep shaving our heads
& wearing these funny clothes.”