Eve Bohnett

Eve Bohnett

Pema Osa Ling Summer Retreat, Santa Cruz, CA

Published in Temple

 The sun is setting slowly, and the redwood trees towering over the hillsides. I drive up to the pond at Pema Osa Ling for their spring retreat, which lasts for 4 days. The first hours there are mellow at the evening puja, low chanting, with no emphasis of tone, a gentle murmur. The voices are low and the pulse slow and steady, breathing becomes deep and relaxed. It’s a Santa Cruz secret that a Tibetan Buddhist ritual arts master, Lama Tarchin Rinpoche, has developed this center here for the last 20 years.  Buddhism itself is a spiritual journey, where travel physically is not required, going deeper into a pure plane of awareness and observing and realizing Buddha nature in all things, there will be a time when you can arrive at the Pure land of the Heart.

Pema Osa Ling is not remote, but is a 45 minute drive from downtown. The property is quite steep, almost mountainous part of Santa Cruz, and sits on over 100 acres.  The center is also an eco-friendly retreat center with indoor and outdoor meeting areas, overnight accommodations, a commercial kitchen, and a full size lap pool. In addition, there is a 20’ tall statue of Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava, and a Stupa peace park. Redwood trees shadow the multiple buildings and dirt roads throughout the property lead to divine places, allowing us to see the property as a celestial palace. 

How I arrived as such a magnificent place with such qualified teachers is a blessing I hold dearly. Everything arises as an expression of indwelling nature. When we see phenomenon other than manifest expression of our own being, it is delusion as opposed to liberation. These places exist so we can explore ourselves and our relationship with the deities, teachers, and community with deep inner work. 

What is the nature of the wisdom deity? 

Lama Tarchin is the current tenth lineage holder of the largest Tibetan yogi sect, the Repkong Ngak-mang, known as the “One thousand Phurba holders” because of the use of the ritual dagger, or phurban for tantric rituals. Padmasambhava, a sage guru, established the ngakpa tradition in the 8th century to bring cultural and spiritual education to the people. These communities of Repkong Tibet are characterized by very large-scale collective rituals, some of them annual, and others only one time events, which focus on the cult of the local village and mountain gods. The area is in the northern part of Tibet, and show many similarities to Chinese forms of religion. They go deep into channeling and experiencing deities, carrying palanquins of representations of Gods, with collective dance performances. Lama Tarchin was trained personally by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche in torma making, and served as the main shrine attendant in the protector temple at his residence for seven years, where he was responsible for making the tormas. He was also trained in song, mandala design, dance, and other sacred arts.

Lama Tarchin is returning from a trip to Bhutan, where they held a ceremony for the recent passing of Trinley Norbu Rinpoche, who passed away Dec. 27th, 2011. Trinley Norbu Rinpoche loved meditation, so we carry on the impact of meditation; Find confidence in meditation. We need to know the one thing that brings us liberation in every circumstance, receive direct instruction, meditate, and put into practice. Trinley Norbu Rinpoche is the incarnation of one of the seven sons of Dudjom Lingpa, Longchenpa, and was one of the most revered masters of the Nyingma lineage. This lineage is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and dates back to the 8th century when Buddhist texts were translated from Sanksrit to Tibetan.

Essentially the spring retreat is focusing on the teachings from lineage of Dudjom Rinpoche, who is a spiritual master. Guru yoga allows the mind to become drunk of yearning devotion, imagining our guru melts into light and dissolves into us, no longer distinguish anything different. Relax within our natural state of primordially pure existence. 

The meditation retreat begins with a morning puja, afterwards, I help in the kitchen where I get to know a few of the regular paid cooks on the property.  In the afternoon, a crew helps with the food preparations. I’m working with the head chef, who is a gourmet cook during the multiple weddings, retreats, and conferences held at the center. He is organizing several food preparations, and I’m there to assist him. He listens to rock music while working, and he chants Tibetan prayers in the evening.  There are many levels that the staff engages in and is involved in sacred practices if they choose to be. The program at night usually consists of chanting mantras in Tibetan.  
Many of the full time staff there is constantly engaged in sacred practices. One member of the cooking crew is a Torma painter. Tormas are traditionally butter sculptures which are sacred geometry, blending harmony from shape and form into a sculpture used for ritual purposes on the main altar, and on altars in peoples homes.

The teachings with Lama Tarchin Rinpoche are several hours long in which he guides everyone through guided meditations and the Songs of Realization by Dudjom Lingpa. Our inner nature partakes in the inner nature of all things. We recognize our minds as naked awareness and recognize indwelling nature, maintaining attachment to magical experience of phenomenon. Everyone who meditates has this fallback. Thoughts arise, and so we let go into our indwelling nature. Look into the empty and clear awareness that’s always present. Clear awareness is the cause of omniscient wisdom. These meditations involve coming to these places internally and traveling through different layers of this life into a spiritual realm. The temple building engages all of our visual senses on visions of deities, spiritual beings, Gurus, that can reflect to us these spiritual realms. 

On Friday night there is a Khandro Tik Tuk ceremony that is performed. The cymbals are played, and they are joined by the horns and drum. The sheer noise of the ceremony is awakening and kind of shocking. The monks who lead the procession also play horns and other instruments. The practitioners chant the Tibetan prayers of the ceremony, and usually chant at a Tibetan pace with thunderbolt speed. On the last line of each verse, the cymbals crash and joined by the horns and drums. The dance continued for a while with the cymbals and drums keeping the beat. The practices of radical awakening involve an inner purification, burning away of fear and insecurity. We're living in a time when practices like these are engaging the deepest levels of our senses to envelop our consciousness with pure light energy. The tsok is distrubted, ritually blessed foods are given out, wine is served. We're given these blessings and partaking in them to engage our senses spiritually and receive blessings which take root at the deepest part of our minds. Reminders and reflections that we are capable of ascension and tapping into other dimensions. The chanting in Tibetan induces a trance like state where all of the breathe energy is dedicated to recitation and meditation on energy transmission. These mantras induce a fierce discipline of mind to be sharpened with the tools to cut through obstacles and entanglements, allowing dissolution of internal patterns to invoke inner harmony and tranquility with the environment. 

Several of the younger generation grew up with the practices here. The 18-22 year olds know many of the traditional Tibetan dances that they do every year. Elise, one of the young ladies, goes into detail with me about the dances, who teaches them and when. There are stories floating around about the summer retreat in which people are learning the dances, and the retreat culminates with the Black Hat Dance, a ritual dance performance. The dance demonstrates the innate sublime nature of the enlightened mind, and the performance of the ritual activity of pacifying evil, negative energetic hinderances. The Black Hat Vajrayana practitioner is meditative, slow and peaceful.  The dance was originally performed in 9th century Tibet, in response to Lang Darma who was destructive to monasteries and stupas and forced hundreds of monks and nuns to disrobe. A great practitioner Lhalung Pal Dorji, was determined to subdue the King’s actions, and went to Lhasa wearing a black hat and long black cloak with a bow and arrow hidden underneath. He danced for the king. Afterwards, he shot the King in his heart, killing him and bringing Peace and Harmony to Tibet. So these practices continue today to generate spiritual experience, and young students in their early teens also perform these dances at Pema Osa Ling.

Pema Osa Ling allows oneself an inner journey work to invite cosmic principles to transmute the physical nature into a divine celestial palace. We're here to go deep together into pure being with the truth that we are all powerful to relieve ourselves of sufferings of limitations. Purifying our senses that say "I'm separate from the spiritual realm" and lifting that veil of illusion wherever it may be presenting itself in our lives. Deep down in us, we know who we are. How can we not be ourselves? Limited somehow, we don't believe that. All the core, chronic levels of fear and illusion still exist. Deep feelings of feeling flawed, wrong, and acknowledging we have limiting beliefs. How is it that we're not aware of ourselves and our habits that keep us in the fear of life, fear of death, and attachment to that that keeps us going through those cycles? Even the most subtle clinging to life we must let go of during a retreat. Tibetan spiritual practices involve letting go of all barriers that suppress who we really are and allow us to be one with the spiritual life. The present moment is an expression of who we are. Everything is a mirror of where exactly we need to be, which may or may not include loving ourselves and engaging the truth of what is omnipresent indwelling nature which is inherently clear light luminosity. Coming to Pema Osa Ling allows skillful means for sublime insight, grasping what is positive and generating spiritual experience and realization. It is a spiritual path into the light of empty and clear awareness that can lead us to omniscient wisdom.  

Here are some pictures of Pema Osa Ling (Although not taken during the retreat)


Reggae on the Bay is a Bob Marley tribute festival held annually for the past 31 years in San Diego. The festival is run by the local World Beat Center, and hostess Makeda Makossa. The festival line up is incredible every year bringing major names together. The Itals, Junior Reid, Alborosie, Don Carlos, Yellowman, Sister Carol, Big Mountain, Wailing Souls, Johnny Osbourne, and many others blessed up the stage.

I went to high school in San Diego, and I would go to the World Beat Center for West African drumming classes, generally to hang out and play the drums. After having not been back for exactly 10 years, I decide to surprise myself with a volunteer visit back to this very special African and Indigenous cultural center. It looks the exact same as it was when I left. The building is an oval building with murals covering the outside, and once I get inside I notice there are several newer murals. It sits in Balboa park, which is a large park that is full of museums. The Bob Marley Day festival is partly volunteer run, and when I arrive on Friday morning to volunteer for the weekend I am greeted by a group of diverse and attractive young adults willing to give their time and energy to make the festival happen.

The festival runs on Saturday and Sunday.  Friday  is spent preparing. People are running back and forth between the center and the Broadway Pier, which is a Gold Standard Leed certified building on the pier in downtown San Diego and the location where the festival is held. I’m eventually asked to work in the kitchen at the World Beat, where they will be preparing all of the food for the World Beat center kitchen booth. Makeda's in the kitchen all day hanging out. She's so busy but we all get to spend time chatting with her. One word that describes Makeda is energy. She brings fire to the scene wherever she's at. The other people in the kitchen are Christina, who's Sudanese and wants to open a clinic in Sudan when she graduates from college, Jorge who's a long time volunteer, is DJ Mafondo, and researches and teaches college Latin American Studies, Oscar who shares about his Native American shamanic work, and many others. I just thought to name a few people so you can get an idea of the diversity.

The primary purpose of the World Beat Center is to celebrate traditions, and personalities of many of the world’s culture groups. The leader behind this center is Makeda Dread.  One thing that's so very important to Makeda is that she unites people of color together, and she's brilliant at it. She's nearly 70 years old, a raw foodist, and has been for decades one of the hardest working people in Southern California in the cultural and ethnic arts scene.  She brings forward live streaming radio and television programs. She educates young students about African hertiage and music. West African musical traditions are rich and varied in and of themselves and have a profound impact on the course of musical developments worldwide over the past several centuries. This was the region of the continent from which most Africans were brought to the Americas. Through this origin we can trace origins of blues, jazz, soul, rap, hip-hop, salsa, Cuban son, Puerto Rican bomba, Trinidadian steel band, Jamacian reggae, Brazilian samba, and many more genres and subrenres too numerous to mention.

After a full day in the kitchen the crew has gotten the chance to bond a little bit, and they go until late into the night. The next morning I arrive around 10am, and begin helping to load things into the truck to go to the festival. We drive downtown to the pier and unload everything. What seems like a small amount of stuff becomes truckloads and truckloads of food and equipment. We stay at the pier and carry everything through the building up the stairs and to the farthest corner of the room. It turns out to be a very labor intensive kitchen setup. It would not have been my choice of location. No way. We work loading and unloading tons of heavy equipment and supplies for 5 or 6 hours. I'm working with Oscar, who's this totally fit Native American guy, and a few other guys arrive to help out.The festival starts around 4pm. We're doing heavy loading the entire time up until the festival starts. Then afterwards, I take a moment to eat a Jamacian pattie, and savor the flavor. The curry and rice that Makeda makes is incredible.  The kitchen becomes busy, and we begin to get a lot of customers. We're all shuffled around trying to keep it together. Some of the volunteers come and go.  That's how it went for the entire two day festival. I went out and watched a lot of the music.

I got to see most of the headlining acts and a few others. So great to see the legends of Reggae come together. There was something for everybody. Young and old, to appreciate the roots and culture of Reggae. I was volunteering most of the time serving the people who were at the festival were all decked out in their rasta clothes and gear. It's an amazing scene to connect with the reggae community of San Diego who come from all walks of life. We all come together to praise Rastafari, and unite to hear the positive vibrations. Reggae is a really positive spiritual music, and this festival upholds those strong vibes by having legendary artists bring forward their fire. Everybody was blazing herb, and my friends from 10 years ago show up and bliss me out with some ganja. We're all irie dancing to the music and after 10 years of being away I remembered the sweet San Diego vibe. There's a lot of good memories I have from Reggae by the Bay 10 years ago, and World Beat.

Volunteering is a labor of love for World Beat Center. For me, the experience is extremely touching. The roots music that is created at the center has had a lasting impression on me. 10 years later I can see that the vibe here is strong and young, and many of the younger generation are coming together here.  I'll be back next year and future years when I can to participate as a volunteer.  


About a month before Musaique, a cross-cultural musical group, arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area, Israel bombed the Gaza strip, again. The Palestinians fired rockets at southern Israel.  Iran is being threatened to be sanctioned more because of their developing nuclear program and Iran is under threat of war, violence, and bombing from both Israel and America. Most likely it won’t happen.Overall increasing tensions between Middle Eastern countries are lamented by peace campaigns that unite people across boundaries, from different religions, and of different cultures.   Musaique is a music project that engages peace activism across borders. Ten musicians from several countries in the Middle East and Europe including Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, and England came together and joined with American musicians come together for solidarity in peace.

Musicians came together at the Quantum Center for Healing and Transformation, hosted by Jah Levi, in the San Francisco Bay area to unite those who hold high ideals for peace. Inside the building there is singing, dancing, and an art space with ceremonial masks, and hand-crafted instruments including guitars inlaid with translucent shell. The house is built around a giant boulder, which is more than a story high, and which people sit on at the level of the second floor. The cultural center was created as a welcoming space for world music artists, and as a healing center.

Lee Ziv is tall, slim, and so blonde. She came to America from Israel. She has a very commanding posture. As she sat cross-legged, her green eyes gazing into the room at the Center for Quantum Healing and Transformation, her face had the quality of a profile from a classical painting. Here in this warriors’ world, under a dark new moon of the spring solstice March 21st, 2012 San Francisco Bay Area, at a time when the human race everywhere is unshackling the chains of new slavery, she wears an armor of sunlight, unconquerable energy.

Musaique (see website) is the project she has been organizing for the past several years, working on peace activism in the midst multiple Middle Eastern conflicts.  She brings musicians together in an effort to break down the barriers that the borders and conflicts impose upon the region. The participation of these musicians to cross borders for peace can be seen as a threat to their home countries, and several musicians decline to participate because the military situation assumes affiliation with neighboring warring countries. Currently, Ziv is working with nearly 40 inspired musicians for this project to organize musical performance in different countries throughout the Middle East.  The idea was borne at the United Religions Initiative meetings that inspire the end to religiously motivated violence and encourage interfaith cooperation. The global grassroots peace organization sponsored Musaique to travel to America. Many of the members of Musaique are also active within the group Musicians without Borders, which is an international non-profit using music to heal war torn cultures.

After the sun sets, the musicians gathered in the living area with one small amplifier. They freestyle warm up as a mostly acoustic ensemble, with one amplified bass guitar. From them came a steady mutter of voices and sounds, interleaved with at least a dozen different kinds of instruments- a noise like a Middle Eastern camp. Men and women with musical instruments such as the oud, ney, violin, hang drum, setar, and guitar blended into a musical arrangement. The lead singer began to sing in soulful Hebrew.  He sang strong, achingly comforting pieces. Music swelled-when the drums and instruments combined in unison, it was immense music, immense feeling. There was the familiarity of worship, and he sang a collection of devotional music which easily projected across the room. I sat listening as they were introduced being from their respective countries.  They performed several songs which I remember well including part of the Song of Songs of Solomon , a song of unity with Germany, they also sang some of the music that’s found on their website here. A Zikhr was held, with one dancer spinning, to the trance of chanting. At that moment, a thought came into my head which stopped my breath – there would be no moon at all that night. Even if the thin crescent of a new moon had escaped my notice, the energy of the night was dark, and the spinner dressed in white looked like an angel.

Many people spoke about the healing power of music. It symbolizes a form of hope, and for some it becomes a refuge. Not only is the sounds behind the music deep and meaningful, but the musicians are young masters. They come together for these performances only, and rarely have the chance to ever see each other. The music is incredibly in sync for how much time they have to coordinate rehearsal, showing their musical ability. Afterwards, some of the local SF Bay Area people who attended the performance began to spontaneously play music with Musaique. For a moment, there was a trumpet, and a French horn joined into the group. The music was going bananas with immensity at this point.  The room was flooded with dazzling lava tube lights, which people were dancing in and taking photos of each other.

After the music is finished, George Kandalaft, the Oud player sits next to me on the couch, and tells me about himself; that he is Palestinian and he got a degree in music therapy and teaches children how to play the Oud. Notably, he taught a child with no arms to play with his feet, and the child had his first rehearsal a month or so before.  He told me that he was born in Nazarath, and lives between Jerusalem and Palestine and travels across the border every week. I also had the opportunity to chat with Meira Segal, who is also a music teacher in Israel. She plays the ney and does sufi dancing. She was telling me that Israel is very populated, with people living on top of one another and she was having a beautiful time travelling to see the redwoods and other natural places. Another member of the group, Dvir Cohen Eraki, a Yemeni Israeli, who is a vocalist, singing in Hebrew and Arabic approached me. It was not his first time in America. He travels here with two other musical projects. One is the Diwan Project, which performs traditional Israli music form the Jewish diaspora in a world fusion mixture of cultures and sounds. You can see a video here.

Members of a group of Middle Eastern Peace Activists have been working with Jah Levi, a Jewish American, on his latest recording projects.  Jah Levi and the Higher Reasoning traveled twice to Israel to co-create the International Healing Music Festival in Israel. He has participated in the Jerusalem PeaceMakers, which is a group of spiritual leaders and mystics who are giving talks and organizing meetings for Middle Eastern conflict resolution within the center of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. He is emerging a new genre of music that connects him with his Jewish heritage, and is bringing together musicians from cultures that are traditionally in conflict.    He is creating a blend of klezmer, reggae world fusion, and resurrecting Hebrew songs in new world fusion recordings. He released the album “Face the Jewsic”  in 2011 with the group Jah Levi Klezmer Experience available online . Another recording project includes one group called Levi’m (listen here),  which is uniting cultures traditionally in conflict from America, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, etc. 

Overall peace music projects seek to expose people to that realm of music that is borderless. The religions and cultures do not have borders and are constraining music, religion, and community from forming a cohesive or holistic bond. Something inspires me, as if that at any moment the wars would come to an end, as unbelievable as that is. The conflict that can occur between generations could be a huge revolution. The youth growing up, reject a considerable part of humanity’s long tradition of conflict and bloodshed.  Customs, traditions, art, the entire cultural heritage can undergo a radical re-evaluation. The change can include a large number of areas about the attitude of war. Total reform would be necessary in schooling, reading material, film, to convey the scope of the transformation towards shared world unity, in all it’s ramifications. Will we live to see the end of religious and nationalistic motivated violence and aggression? Is it completely impossible? Who are you to end a war? Who are you not to?


Intrigued by a secluded monastery type of Zen hot springs resort in Carmel Valley, California, we begin driving into the Santa Lucia muntains even though it is quite late. We decide nighttime driving will be the best way to endure a long bumpy drive.  Tassajara is an extremely isolated and  rustic place. The drive is 16 miles off of any paved road through the mountains which then drops into a granite rock and hot springs valley. It is clearly a very remote space to practice Zen. There were dozens of reasons why the zen practitioners might have hidden themselves in this place: most of the personal Buddhist retreats are carried out a far as possible from civilization, and some had found no where else like it to practice in a community. 

Suzuki Roshi is the spiritual master that manifested the 126 acre Tassaraja Zen Center. This was the first monastic Zen center outside of Asia, and focuses on a tradition from the Tang dynasty dating back to the 12th century. It is included in a circuit with the San Francisco Zen Center and Green Gulch Zen Center in Marin. These adjacent communities participate in a unique work trade schedule. The students can work for several months, and in exchange meditate for several months at one of their centers. The result is a large community of Zen practitioners who maintain the properties, and cater to guests and residents with an elegant dining experience.

There is a "green" conference center that is newly constructed and one end of the property adjacent to the hot springs pools. The property has a large number of solar panel installations that power the facilities. There are rooms and bungalows that are even spaced throughout the property and range in price from $260 up. In the middle of the center grounds, there is a large Zendo meditation hall where there are group meditations and evening dharma talks. There is a large dining area for students, a separate dining area for guests, and a huge kitchen. If you're on a budget, camping is available in designated camping areas back down on the road. Staying for a day the pass is $35, and that includes soaking in the hot springs and participating in any Zen meditation classes that are offered that day. The center also features week long and weekend courses and retreats  about meditation or yoga that are separate and have their own pricing.

The Zen students occupy the facilities during the winter months for intensive monastic practices which is called a practice period. The center re-opens for guests beginning in mid-April - September. During this time the students serve the community at large and earn work-trade credits to participate in the practice periods in the winter.  The Zen students engage in a rigorous schedule involving zazen (meditation), study, and work. The central theme of work is preparing gourmet vegetarian food for the guests. The internationally renown artisan Tassajara Breadbook, published in 1970, is a bestselling vegetarian cookbook created by the authors living on site.

"What were we to do first? The hot springs, I think. Yes? And then the river- I want to go to the Narrows- and the Zendo- will they be having a talk today, do you think? Oh, I want to see everything!” He smiles and drew me closer to his side. He loves me for my impatience and eagerness. There are monks and nuns wearing traditional clothing suited for Zazen meditation practices, heads shaved, and disciplined and intentional demeanor. We try to keep the PDA to a minimum, finding it difficult not to seem boisterous or obnoxious in such a well-mannered place. Gradually a sort of peace pervaded us.  We know that we need to be grateful for the chance to behold the natural pace. 

The hot springs are separate for men and women until after 9pm or so. We decide to go in together since it’s about that time. The bath houses are elegantly constructed chambers, with finely jointed marble floors. The mineral pools are large and have a number of steps to sit on or stretch on. There are large open doors on both sides of the main pool, and outside there are places to soak in milder temperatures and dip into the river. From the main pool, there are carefully designed runnels to drain excess water into the dank wooden sauna. We were struck with admiration for the cleverness of the sauna construction. We peered under the sauna chamber to see how the conduits and ducts were arranged, and the hot mineral water fills the entire room with steam. Soaking for an hour or so calmed our energy. All of a sudden we are so quiet, and neither of us could abide silence for very long. Questions burst into our consciousness while we sit in the hot mineral springs, like Who am I? Why am I here?  

Looking for answers after we bathe, we wander the pavilion for tea, and find the tiny library building. Despite the size the library is filled with books about Zen and Buddhism, and other subjects with serious matters of the mind; they have a complete Tibetan Buddhism section, and other treasures of ancient Buddhist literature- memoirs of famous Buddhist reincarnations, large photo books, and art books. Zen Buddhism stresses that enlightenment comes from within and not through any specific doctrine. This place is prepared for those willing to go into a deep introspection and do deep spiritual work, so the library reflects the teachings of thousands of years of Buddhist teachings brought up to date.

It was getting late, and we had forgotten our flashlight. It was completely dark outside, and luckily there are oil lamps conveniently placed near the library, and Zendo. Everyone is asleep by now so we borrow the lamp and walk back to our camping spot. That night, much midnight oil was burned at the camp. I was frankly skeptical that I would ever be able to turn myself into a human capable of seeing more in the present, having already built up an elaborate superstructure of American lifestyle focused on the past, future, and among other ways of conditioned life here. That night I did not sleep well. I dreamed that I was walking along a road that stretched in both directions as far as the eye could see. I had been walking for miles, lifetimes, when I came to a signpost, and when I reached it I found that it was broken and the two arms were revolving in the wind. As they turned I could read the words on the pieces. One said simply: To the Future; the other: To the past. Suddenly I felt like an object moving in two directions at once. 

In the morning we soak separately in the mineral springs, where on the ladies side are less than ten people lolling in the water, and dipping into the cool river. 

Afterwards, we catch up with each other and walk out into the courtyard.  We decide go to “the narrows”, which is a long natural granite rock slide that falls into a large deep pool.  The river in this area is so remote that it’s clean and cool. In the heat of the morning we can hike and play in the water feeling a little bit giddy diving off the cliffs into the waters.

Above the dining area towers the Zendo meditation hall where meditators sit, which is organized with Zazen cushions lined up around the walls of the room and next to walled dividers. This practice of meditation is to face one of the divider walls, with eyes barely open and to focus on counting the breaths. Everytime you lose your count, you start over. This practice can take one into a deep meditation where difficult lessons reemerge, distractions, and emotions can all be observed from within.

We hear bells ringing, which signal lunch, dinner, and meditation times. We decide to go in for pre-lunch ceremonial chanting, and carefully step into the Zendo. Gongs are ringing, chanting books are passed around, and we’re finding the full Zendo arrayed: young San Francisco students, black robed monks, and a swarm of visitors. The head resident monk walks fiercely into the room, bows and lights incense. He stretched forth both his hands, and enormous gongs began to sound.  We’re standing in rows facing different directions doing prostrations, and reciting the booming Japanese prayers in unison with the practitioners and monks. It is a scene of grandeur, and feels quite overpowering.

Most of the resident monks here are westerners, of European decent, but what we saw in terms of ritual and ceremony was authentic, and a function of the same obsessive discipline that had given Zen meditation its rigidity of form. Not that we had noticed an excessive concern with authenticity on the part of the practitioners, it is full of casual recognitions and bowing towards one another to create a substantial sacred culture.Several rounds of prostrations later, we finish the session and go to the lunch area for delicious beet soup, tea, and Tassajara bread. It is absolutely delicious. In the dining area we sat together at a table, a large wooden slab draped with a maroon cloth, and decorated with a candlesticks.

We stood talking by the side of the dining area for some time before a friend came up to us. She had been staying at the center for the last several months. I started joking to her about a book I found in the library about the Laughing Buddha, and how there were statues around the complex with these image of a fat happy Buddha with his arms raised into the air.  She was telling me that the Laughing Buddha was a lot like a Santa Claus in Buddhism and he would laugh, and give presents to the children. He's an incarnation of Maitreya Buddha.  There was a long silence. Then our friend spoke in a very thoughtful voice. She said that everything was done intentionally, every movement, every word. She also mentioned that the discipline is revolutionary, preserved by a miracle and brought down the ages for the self-control and enlightenment of mankind. If enlightenment was important as she believed, then their caution, dedication, and behavior is understandable.

The silence was complete. We moved and noticed at the Zendo, at the practitioners, and the overall harmony that had been created for the last 40+ years.

We take to the car again, and driving back down the 16 mile dirt road during the day showed us a vast view over the Big Sur park property. From here we could see far down the valley, and the coast was clearly visible against the mountainous landscape.

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