A Week at Mt. Baldy Zen Center

Shingen, Noah and Soken
Left to right: Shingen, Noah, Soken
Click on any of the photos to see a larger version.
There are more photos at the bottom of the page.

April 28, 2001

Dear Friends,

I'm writing you from the Mt. Baldy Zen Center, just NE of Los Angeles. I've been here since Tuesday noon. I came because a friend of mine has a brother who is a monk here (Soken). They are hosting 40 Tibetan Buddhists who are here for a retreat, and were short-handed, so I volunteered to help.

I had no idea what to expect, except that I would be meditating some and working a lot. These things have turned out to be true. There are three monks living here (Soken, Shingen and Noah), and four others who live nearby but are all new parents so they are only here sporadically. Soken is the brother of my friend Adrienne, who is also here.

The first morning we got up at 4 a.m. for over two hours of tea, chanting, meditation and listening to a tape of the teachings from the center's Roshi (master/teacher), who is currently away. (Yes, believe it or not I really managed to wake myself up and show up on time at 4:15 a.m. at the Zendo.)

The monks wear formal black robes for the morning meditation, and the ritual is very strict. Luckily they give me whispered cues whenever I need to stand, sit, hold out my tea cup, etc. The chanting is in Japanese, and there is a drum beat to keep tempo. There is a book with the words of the chant, but still it's hard to keep up reading aloud the unfamiliar syllables.

Now that there are guests sleeping in the room next to the Zendo, we can't make noise so early, so we've been forced to sleep in until 5:30 a.m. the past couple of days. You can imagine I'm not complaining about this -- and neither are the monks. We've also had to abbreviate the ceremony: tea at 5:45, chanting at 6 followed by a brief meditation, then off to the kitchen at 6:30 to start breakfast for the 40 hungry retreaters who will show up at 8 a.m.

The food is good, vegetarian of course (plus eggs). They make most things from scratch (including yogurt and bread). Now that the guests are here they also make coffee in the morning, which is a treat for us all.

We work for 2-4 hours at a time, with breaks for rest or meals. So far I have done laundry, made beds, cleaned washrooms and toilets, swept, vacuumed, mopped and hand-scrubbed floors, raked walkways, picked up litter, peeled and juiced tomatoes, chopped veggies, and of course done lots of dishes. Work ends around 7 or 8 p.m. when the after-dinner kitchen cleanup is finished.

Generally I've been getting to bed by 9 p.m. but last night Soken talked Adrienne, Shingen and Noah into a game of Risk. I was exhausted after working outside all afternoon, so a went to take a shower at 7 while they started the game. When I returned at 8 the world domination ethic was in full force. At 10:30 they finally had to write down everyone's positions and pack up the board. Adrienne is currently in the lead, holding South American and most of North America, but Soken has a grip on Africa, Shingen has substantial holdings in Europe and Asia, and Noah is well bunkered in Australia. So the game could easily go a few more hours. (See the Risk photos.)

So am I finding what I was looking for here? Since I'm not yet sure what I was looking for, it is hard to say. I have learned that I can get up early and work hard if I have a clear schedule. I've seen some pieces of myself and how I interact with the world in a different and (seemingly) clearer light. I've gotten a bit better at sitting cross-legged but still need to use a chair most of the time. I've made some new friends, and have had the opportunity to get to know people who have chosen a different life path. So I'm glad I came. Still I am looking forward to my own bed and a bathroom that is not 200 yards away! {grin}

My best to all of you, thanks for reading.

Love, Donna

Click on any of the photos to see a larger version. The Risk photos are on a separate page.

Soken washing dishes
Soken washing dishes
Shingen, Noah and Soken
Shingen, Noah and Soken
in the kitchen
Noah stirs the soup
Noah stirs the soup.
Taste tester Noah
Noah as taste tester
Chip washes dishes
Chip helps out
with the dishes
Donna, Noah, Soken
Donna, Noah and Soken
in the kitchen
(Shingen took the picture)
Adrienne (Soken's sister)
Adrienne working
in the kitchen
Soken cracks a smile
Soken cracks a smile

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