in Redding, we decided to take a ride out through the California
countryside. The "Day Fire" was burning up the mountains and the
smoke was so thick that it was interfering with driving. We stopped at the
crossroads of Junction City to talk to some of the firefighters about road
conditions and were told that it was safe to continue. We also were told
about a Buddhist retreat hidden away in the mountains nearby. After acquiring
somewhat sketchy directions, we set off. We passed through the staging area
for the fire fighters which, in itself, was quite interesting. We
finally found what we had been looking for, hidden in the dense smoke of the
surrounding forest fire. We stopped at the main building to get permission
to wander around and look at the various structures which
we could see from the
car. To our surprise, not only did we get permission but we were joined by
one of the students who was studying there. He declined to give his name
but otherwise was quite informative as we walked about.
Avoiding any attempt to write a concise history of one of the major religions of the world, we learned that one tradition holds that Buddhism first appeared in India in the 5th century B.C., when an Indian nobleman by the name of Siddhartha became disillusioned by the human suffering he saw around him. At the age of 29 he gave up his worldly possessions and set forth for 6 years of wandering, looking for enlightenment. His efforts were rewarded one day when he was sitting under a Budhi tree and he became enlightened. He spent the next 45 years teaching the path of Dharma and developing a following of monks who continue his work to the present day. In 486 B.C., at the age of 80, he died, leaving behind principals that are believed by half the world. His basic teachings are built around 4 noble truths. Although the description of these Truths can be quite extended, in their simplest form they are 1: Life is suffering, 2: Suffering is due to attachments. 3: Attachments can be overcome, and 4: There is a path to accomplishing this. As his teaching spread, different countries, and cultures modified the belief slightly, with new thoughts branching off the original. Sometime around the 8th century A.D. a Prominent Indian teacher by the name of Guru Rinpoche preached an alternative teaching. Where the traditional Buddhist teaching worked on the principle of denial of human desires, Guru Rinpoche taught that it was more effective to channel human passions than to simply deny their existence. His new approach combined the teaching of the traditional Buddhism with Yoga, a northern Indian discipline. These teachings gained popularity in Northern India and spread to Tibet where they made up the basics of Tibetan Buddhism as it is taught today. The retreat we were visiting was of these teachings. As the centuries passed, many intricate aspects developed. Some of these were designed to relieve mental anguish through so simple an act that anybody could do it. A few of the more common things have to do with wishes or prayers and how to get them to come true.
We followed our guide to the rear of the compound where he showed us a series of strings suspended vertically. Attached to strings were Tibetan paper prayer flags on which were written special blessings or prayers for those in the immediate area. As wind and weather breaks down the paper, it blows away, a little at a time, spreading the blessing throughout the area. When they are gone, they are replaced by others.
The Tibetan Prayer Wheel is the most recognized symbol of Tibetan Buddhism. Called "Mani wheels" in Tibet, they work similar to prayer flags without requiring anything to be added. The Mani prayer called "Om Mani Padme Hum" is printed in an ancient script on rolls of thin paper and sealed around the wheel. In larger versions, the prayer is actually carved into the wheel. Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying the prayer while spinning the wheel spreads the blessing throughout the area. The wheels are always spun clockwise. This rotates the symbols of the Mani script in the manner that they are read. It is also said to rotate in the direction the sun turns. The Mani may appear on anything. It sometimes is carved or painted on stones which are left on pathways to assist passing travelers. Our last stop along our walk was at a series of monuments called "Stupa". Many centuries ago, the body of Buddha was cremated. The ashes were divided into 8 parts with each part buried under a different mound which became known as Stupa. The actual location of the original Stupas has never been determined but it is believed that a 3rd century Emperor opened the Stupas and spread the ashes of Buddha to thousands of other Stupas throughout the world. Over time, the simple designs has developed into an intricate structure filled with symbolism. In Tibet the Stupa is called a "Chorten". It is built in a square to symbolize Earth, a dome to symbolize water. There are 13 steps tapering back for enlightenment. On top of these steps is constructed a parasol, as a symbol of wind and topped with a sphere and a flame. Our guide was vague on what was inside those built at this retreat, offering only that they were here long before he arrived. This had been a very interesting visit in a quiet and relaxing place.
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