Thursday, April 17, 2014

Repentance and Compassion

It had to happen.  We had to turn south again and today was the day.  Most gloomy we were too as this has been a great trip.  Marvellous scenery and lovely people too.  So it was with regret we headed out of Eureka back along 101 – I think retracing steps is the gloomy part.  Things start becoming familiar instead of creating that squiggly feeling in your belly about the new things that you are about to experience.

We stopped briefly in Ferndale largely because we’d watched a Food TV programme called Diners, Drive Ins and Dives which had featured this small town.  Located 15 miles out of Eureka it is definitely off the beaten track but we found a healthy sprinkling of tourists like us with cameras at the ready. 

Annoyingly the reason we’d come was closed today!  This was a bakery making bacon and cheese scones that appealed to Viv so our stay was brief.  Cute town though with lots of Victorian style buildings.

Our trip to the next destination Ukiah (the county capital of Mendocino County incidentally with a county topping population of 36,000) took us through the Avenue of the Giants again, and this time we stopped and bimbled (see website here).

Fires cause this hollowing out effect in the tree trunks.  The tree remains in perfectly good health otherwise, this one being a monster.
The redwoods were just as large and lovely as elsewhere on the road trip and of course we had our daily hug again – this will be something we’ll miss when we leave California.  Simply walking through the trees and finding absolute silence is priceless.

Roosevelt Elk in the forest

We’d targeted Ukiah as I’d spotted in some brochure a comment about the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas being located there -- see website here.  It intrigued us for sure and having visited I still wonder why they located it there.  Perhaps when they started out in the 1970’s, the closure of the old county hospital gave them a start in infrastructure that they could readily use.

The man who started it all, Hsuan Hua, came originally from Manchuria via various parts of China.  There he met a 109 year old Buddhist patriarch who prophesied that the young man would be one of the most important leaders of the faith. In 1948 possibly co-terminous with the ending of the civil war in China, he left for Hong Kong which he left in the late 1960’s again possibly co-terminous with the Cultural Revolution on the mainland which threatened Hong Kong’s existence at the time.  Arriving in the US to spread the word he established the city as a place of teaching, reflection and worship.

The city is a regular school as well as everything else with children from all backgrounds studying there all with an overlay of the religious principles of Buddhism which appear to my superficial gaze to be the third way; namely neither materialistic/anarchist nor religious ascetic.  Just do the right thing and achieve an internal state of peace.  Very similar to the early precepts of Christianity really.

One thing I couldn’t answer was why or how the religion has been taken over by the Chinese for the original Buddha was an Indian prince born in 563 BC who gave up the material world at age 28 to teach inner peace and the third way as he traveled through that part of Asia.  He clearly did a great job as there are lots of Bhuddists globally today.  But when did the Chinese take over? 

Siddartha Guatama, the original 'awakened one' with his 5 companions that comprised the first 'Sangha' (from a painting in a Laotian temple) 
Not sure.  A question to answer to be sure.

We’d come to join in the ceremony of Repentance and Compassion, a daily ritual much like a mass in the Catholic church, held daily at 12.30 pm.  There weren’t many attendees, mainly monks and students by the look of them – the former wore sandals, the latter sneakers under their robes – who were on the right hand side of the hall.  We lay people were on the left hand side, women at the back, men at the front. 

Fortunately Viv and I were helped in our respective places by kind, patient and generous folk who pointed out in the book that accompanied the service where we are.  Viv thinks it was Mandarin, but the book was interesting in that it laid out the service first in English, next in characters and then finally in phonetic Chinese.  This was what they chanted in, very fast too so it was tough to read the English and follow the ritual despite my friend’s help.

The overall tone of the ritual was inner peace, seeking forgiveness for past transgressions and looking forward to a life of learning, compassion and repentance.  Again not much different from much of the Catholic and other Christian rituals.

This was a good experience.

The rest of the day was a madcap rush down the highway to San Francisco airport but as we’d chosen the no freeway option on our GPS much was over mountains again with more chicanes and windy bends than I could count and along the very high cliff top highway 1 – I had a death grip on the wheel of the car for much of it! 

But we got there in the end, staying at Pacifica just down the road from the airport and an early start tomorrow.

Thanks California and using the words of ex-Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar, “We’ll be back!”

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