Yesterday I went with my hiking group on a non-hike. We traveled up to L.A. to view and experience a series of spiritual sites. These included a Hindu temple in Corona, a Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, and after an Indian vegetarian lunch in Santa Monica, a final walk around the lake at the Self Realization center in Pacific Palisades.
The first site was in Chino Hills, which is a suburban area located on an enormous feedlot. Or that's what it smells like! There are lots of cows there, in fact, though I don't know if they are kept mostly in dairy farms or raised for slaughter. Probably a bit of each. The smell never lets up, which makes it sort of hard to feel spiritual, but all the same, this amazing site would inspire awe, if nothing else would.
From a distance, the Shri Swaminarajan Mandir and Cultural Center, a Hindu temple, one of several of this sect's sites scattered throughout the world, looked like a huge corporate office park grafted to an ancient Indian temple, and that indeed was what it was.
Incongruous though the combination was, the beautiful hand-carved hardwood, intricately carved with peacocks (India's national symbol), gods and goddesses, lotuses, and other religious symbols was a wonder to behold.
Inside the welcoming center, a service was going on, which made hard to absorb the guide's interesting and informative talk about the temple and the sect. But we all looked around at the carvings that filled the inside of this cavernous place, with its shining marble floors (we had to take off our shoes, of course!), and at the shrines, enormous and imposing figures in gold and bright colors.
We went into the store, and people bought various Indian snacks at the gift store, though the welcoming center gave us all some Indian snacks for free also and invited us to come back for a service and banquet another time.
I got into an interesting discussion with the guide about the notion of a "saint" in this culture. For this group, one can decide to become a saint, giving up material things and family connections. I tried to explain that this was totally unlike the western notion of a saint, but the guide (and our Indian hiking group leader, Harish, also) did not really grasp the difference I was trying to explain. Interesting. These points of difference are very revealing about cultures.
Then we got back into the car and went to Hacienda Heights, a Chinese section near LA, where we went to the enormous Hsi Lai, a Buddhist Temple set high on a hill. At the Temple, workers were busily setting up decorations for the New Year celebration, coming at the end of January. We entered the temple and listened to the chanting for a few minutes, watching the solemn monks and nuns file by in their robes, and stopped to study curious statuary of buddhas, goddesses, and other assorted divinities. There was a wonderful tea house I want to come back and visit another time, but I was trying not to eat everything I saw.
Most people (not me) were very hungry by that time. We headed way way across town to Santa Monica for an Indian vegetarian lunch. And then a little bit further north up the coast to Pacific Palisades, to the Lake Shrine, dedicated to Paramahansa Yogananda, my favorite of the day.
I have been to the Lake Shrine before, but this time I spent more time and more attention on it than ever before. It is a peaceful beautiful place, with its windmill house and lotus archway, swans, and beautiful gardens.
The rest was all the ride home. Most of the group went to Venice Beach where they gawked at tourists and others and watched the sunset, but we just wanted to go home and collapse! What a day!