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JUST ANOTHER TRIP AROUND THE SUN

 

Week 12 of 52 - Buddhist Temple

 

So far have traveled about 135,000,000 miles.

 

The Visit:

 

Buddhist Temple  (11th at Maple)

 

I must have passed by this many times before - but had never noticed it.  It is not hidden by any means - flags and obvious Buddhist décor over about three previously residential properties.

 

I entered through the gate - and found mostly women.  They had a large vat of what appeared to be oil - with a propane heater burning under it.  They were placing large randomly-shaped food in the oil for frying.  It turned out that these were chunks of wax - and they were making large candles.  My presence was of obvious notice, though after a moment, comfort came, and they knew I was there peacefully.

 

I asked when services began - and one took command with broken English - and told me about 10:30.  It was about 10:00 now.  I looked around at the facility a little - but was uncomfortable and felt a little like I was intruding in a sacred place.  I left for the half-hour.

 

Two blocks away is that little (quite nice) donut shop.  I stood in line and bought a chocolate coated glazed donut - along with a carton of milk.  Leona is gone for a week - up in Seattle, as Bryan is having surgery (not very serious) - having some stress over it - and Leona is going to be with him for a week.  This means I feed myself this week - and a glazed donut seemed rather like a poor ox stuck in a ditch.

 

I returned about 10:30.  People were entering the temple.  Each removed shoes - bowed - and then entered.  They were all bare-footed, without socks.  I was unsure about the acceptability of socks, so I removed my shoes and then my socks - put them inside the shoes - and began to enter.  Looking inside, I could see that many of the men had their socks on.  Backtracking a little - I returned and put my socks back on, and then entered.

 

A nice young lady and an older man (perhaps my age) immediately saw my need.  They befriended me and helped me through the meeting.  (Dee and Paul.)  There were about four chairs against one wall - but essentially everyone was on the floor - folding their legs as I cannot do.  (Well, I can do it, but not stay that way for long.)  I sat on the floor taking up more room than most.  Four monks were at front on a shallow short stage.  They were robed such that their left shoulders were covered while their right shoulders were naked.  They spoke and sang rather as a single unit.  Usually in unison - with one occasionally taking a harmonious note different from the others.

 

This gathering lasted only about half an hour.  Many people had baskets full of food items - and toothpaste - and napkins, etc.  Sometimes there was a cabbage in the center - used to stick in large numbers of sticks.  The sticks were split at the top - and dollar bills - or fives - were inserted into the split ends of the sticks.  There were several hundred dollars worth of these baskets.

 

The service was spoken in another language - I think Thai - so I could not understand any of the words.  It became obvious that there was much comfort - a happy atmosphere - among all on the floor.

 

Some interesting feelings came to me during this gathering.  Because I could not understand any of the words, I had only to observe more general things.  I could not be trapped by my usual tendency to find details to fault or praise.  This made me introspective.

 

Most of the time, there was felt freedom to talk - even while the monks were singing.  Paul and Dee took the opportunity to explain some of what I was seeing.  The money was for the support of the temple.  It did not go to the monks for their support.  People could also give directly to any monk - but that would be separate.  "But the food items?" I asked.  "Those are for us.  We eat after this."  It was a kind of potluck.  "But toothpaste?" I asked.  "Oh yes - that is for the monks - and some of the other things too.  The food also - is for the monks first - they eat - and then of what is left, the rest of us eat."

 

After this meeting, there was also other food being served in back - like a large patio with tables, etc.  I got a bowl of soup - which was cooked only after an order was received.  This was not part of the coming potluck - it was sold to anyone who wanted it.  My soup, which had lovely meatballs and chunks of beef, was $3.00.  This was arguably the best bowl of soup I ever ate.  But it had meat in it - and this was a surprise for me.

 

There was a ceremonial thing going on outside also.  The monks walked among the people.  People would take a single large spoon of rice and place it in a large container each monk held.  When the monk was through all the people, his container was chock full of rice.  It was much more rice than one could eat - already cooked.  I'm not sure it was for consumption - but more symbolic.

 

Another gathering was forming in the temple.  I entered and found Dee and Paul.  I told them that when I was in Taiwan, I had visited a Buddhist Temple - a large facility that was a kind of seminary for Buddhist Nuns.  They were all strict vegetarians.  "Oh yes," said Dee, "That is another branch.  Same religion - just a different branch."

 

I wanted to ask more questions - and was made aware (nicely) that it was time to be silent.

 

After this part was over, I began to ask my question again.  "Dee - Paul - How are beliefs decided?"  Dee said, "Each person decides - " She patted her chest with the palm of her hand.  "Each person believes as that person is.  God - you know - God," she said in a way that indicated to me this was her way of using my term, "loves each one as that one actually is." 

 

I asked, "Then there is no argument as to what should be believed."  She said, "No."

 

"But these at this temple eat meat - and the ones I met in Taiwan do not."  She said, "They gather as they wish - meeting with those who feel enough alike to eat together.  There are also vegetarian groups here in Escondido."  It appears that they do not view the other group as wrong while viewing theirs as correct.  This is very interesting.

 

I think I know a little better than this, however.  One of the men with me in Taiwan did something in a very sacred place - a kind of central room in their temple.  It was very hot and humid - no air conditioning.  A fly, or some other insect, landed on my friend's arm.  He responded by lightly slapping his arm - killing the insect.  The little nun was visibly stressed - and with the sweetest manners said, "Oh - no - no - oh no"  Their view was that this little insect was a being of potentially just the same import as any of the rest of us.  This vegetarianism is not just a choice - but a firm belief very integrated into important dogma.

 

I think this "branch" must be as different from most of Buddhism as people sometimes view Mormons are from Christianity. 

 

One thing obvious again - meeting with these people - was that these are people of good will.  I tried always to be respectful - to do what was reasonably as expected.  The room was crowded - women often walked on their knees instead of their feet - a quiet way to move about the room - to take things up to the monks, etc.  Dee and Paul gave me a robe to take to one of the monks.  When I presented it, two people at once helped me to my knees and asked me to put my hands together in prayer-form, and to bow my head, which I did.

 

When I got up to leave the gathering, in this crowded room, I evidently stepped over a pot.  A woman was a little upset - and trying to instruct me that we walk around the prayers - not over them.  Her voice included some anger.  Evidently, the little pot had papers inside with prayers written on them.  Paul and Dee were (evidently) two of the liberals among this little group - nicely trying only to be helpful.  This little lady was (evidently) one of the conservatives - feeling the importance of correctness even on the very first try.  I liked all of them, but I do have a special place in my heart for the extra courage of liberals.

 

I will not pass this property again without an awareness.  This whole experience is making me more tender as I pass through the neighborhoods of Escondido.  There is so much going on under our noses.

 

 

12 of 52   Trip Around The Sun

 

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