On staying at a Buddhist Temple

I am almost surprised that I still went considering I thought I would die from being a sissy at showing up.  I have some of the most awful social anxiety sometimes!  So I showed up and a monk directed me on where to park but I am assuming she doesn’t drive all that often because she wanted me to park EXTREMELY close to the other cars.  I really could NOT get out of the car after she had me backing in and out so many times.  So this was pretty funny in retrospect but at the time it was a bit unnerving.  I never did seem to achieve whatever it was she wanted.  I was thinking later that maybe someone should make markers for parking spots to make that situation easier for them (and us).
After I was finally our of the car I then was directed into the office to check in a receive my room.  I admit I was a little nervous about sharing the space with a stranger, and I did have the remnants of my cold.  I was given a nice tour by one of the monks and shown my room to unpack.

  Our first night is pretty easy on us.  The new thing is that you don’t talk to the others.  Its amazing how much you can get to know people without speaking to them.  I am not a very social person and am not really there to get to know others in a any sense anyway so this works great for me.  We learn a lot of your basic does and don’ts while staying.  Do: Bow to everyone you come in contact with, it is a sign of respect for the Buddha nature in us all.  Don’t: Talk.  Do: Bow entering and leaving spaces to show respect for them. Don’t: wear your shoes in any building unless it states that this is acceptable.  Do: Bow to all statues and shrines Don’t: Cross paths without bowing.  Basically you better be prepares to bow.   We listen to a Dharma talk the first night, it is a very peaceful first night.
I ended up by myself in my room because my roomie is a light sleeper and was concerned I may cough.    Yay small bonus.  Well I sound so anti-social.  I am not, but I really value being alone!  

Throughout the weekend we attend Dharma talks, receive oodles of free books and information about the Soto Zen tradition of Buddhism.  Most of our days involve getting up before dawn, meditation, and working meditation, eating, listening, reading, and more meditating.  We attend a ceremony. It was one for Kanzeon.  
I loved returning to my peaceful room to reflect on the things I felt and learned at the end of each night.  By the way, the setting for the Abbey is amazing! It is really an easy place to absorb the surroundings.  Mount Shasta, of course, is a beautiful mountain and the area the Abbey sits on is so close.  It is right on the interstate, I like that you have a river of humans, the sound isn’t a distraction surprisingly enough.  

In all of the rooms and halls of the guest house there is very beautiful art!  It is very nice to enjoy and in your room a small shelf beneath it also provides a place for a traveling alter if you wish.

The view from outside the guest house of Mount Shasta.  With the naked eye it is really much closer than the camera seems to be able to capture.  >

Over all it was a very GOOD experience.  I was surprised at how tired I was at he end of each night.  Now I must confess you are not supposed to have you cell phone on, much less be using it.  So I did not take a ton of pictures just snapped a few quickly and shut it off and put it away.  I didn’t want to get busted :).

The statues and shrines and grounds are all very cool and I wish I could have walked around and got a  ton of super cool shots.  There are some very zen spots throughout the place to chill and meditate as well.  The monks are all very accommodating and really are a great group of people.  They all have different personalities.  I tend to like the more serious ones a lot!  During the stay you have an option for spiritual counsel.  I nervously signed up and ended up having a very illuminating discussion with a monk.  I really felt humbled by the simple wisdom that was imparted to me.  It was a very deep experience of realizing just how hard we make life!

While staying there I also learned that because they offer all the stays for free (amazingly as well as most of their books).  The operate on the concept of Dana.  If you visit please leave the best you can according to your means.  I calculated the cost of two nights at a motel, the food, and the cost of books.

<< This was in all of the toilets at the Shasta Abbey.  I had a chuckle at it the entire time.  There were little such things all throughout the place that were helpful for keeping mindful and asking for a blessing.  Hey,  nobody wants a disaster in the water closet!!

And did I mention all of the free literature about Buddhism, Zen Soto Buddhism, stories, and Dharma talks on CD they offer?  Yes I did, just wanted to mention it again.

Okay so, I decided to go a second time for a very powerful ceremony.  This is an amazing this to witness and if I can recommend attending this you will NOT be disappointed.  I stayed for 4 nights this time and it was for “The Feeding of The Hungry Ghosts Retreat” in which we learn a lot about the teachings on the different levels of heavens and hells and where the “Hungry Ghosts” reside.  We learn about the reason behind the festival and how to participate in it.  I LOVED THIS CEREMONY!  Let me explain why, there are actually two ceremonies. The second smaller once focuses on writing down the names of those who passed away that you believe to have died with bad circumstances and would need a transfer of merit from the monks.  Also you can fill out a tombstone with the names to help clear a portion of the burden of their karma.  This gets even cooler because you can also write down situations in your or others life that you believe need some of the Monks merit.  These are taken and burned in a fire at the segaki ceremony.   The feeding of the Hungry ghosts is the main and another powerful ceremony.  In this ceremony the names of the deceased that you fear to be a hungry ghost are offered forward.  They set up a great alters piled with foods and cover the Buddha shrine.  The play really cool “noise” music on authentic Asian instruments and drums to attract the ghosts.  Then they offer large sums of hell money to pay the ghosts way out hell so that they may learn the Dharma and be released from the hell realms.  Of course the ceremony is chanted in Japanese.  I got to chant it, and make the offerings with the monks, it was extremely powerful, I felt dizzy most of the ceremony.  Now, because you have let the gaki out and those naughty little spirits like to cause some mischief and every year several mishaps take place.  I was helping dismantle the alter and was carrying a lovely tray of sweets away from the alter and back to the kitchen when suddenly i was falling down a flight of stairs.  I saw the stairs, and then it was as if I stepped off into a void.  So, I actually missed the 2nd ceremony much to my dismay as I had a horrible sprain that rendered my slightly crippled the next day and into the week.  Oops!  
I have really enjoyed the wisdom, teachings, and time that I spent at the Shasta Abbey.  I am moving but funny enough I will be the same distance from my new location from the Abbey so I will continue to visit occasionally as I can.  I really respect the fact that unlike MANY of the other Buddhist Temple‘s in the US this one is FREE!  Many of the other charge hundreds of dollars for their retreats.  I understand it is to fund their temple but I believe doing it by donation will reap bigger rewards personally and I really do love that they are so hospitable and genuine in teaching the Dharma.