Northeast of Oceanside, right above Valley Center lies the Metta Forest Monastery; a place where monks live their day to day lives. As I traveled up the mountain with my fellow pledges and a few actives, I was immediately surrounded by lush, beautiful, and breathtaking scenery. It was completely filled with marvelous landscapes that housed vegetation on almost every hill. Not to mention, enough fruit filled trees to make you want to stop and pick some!
At the top of the mountain, we parked and were greeted by humble visitors of the monastery. (You can plan ahead and make a brief day visit and if interested, you may even stay overnight). Afterwards we grabbed the food we brought, which served as an offering, and loaded it on a cart to serve the monks.
While we waited for their arrival, we were given bowls containing a moderate amount of rice. We were told by one of the lay people to portion our rice into eight portions (one scoop of rice per monk). I personally was thrilled to meet the Monks because I’ve never be given the opportunity before; especially not in this traditional setting. The monks slowly and patiently walked down the line wearing orange robes whilst carrying alms bowls, which are primarily used for collecting food. Alms bowls are either made of clay, iron, and stainless steel and are carried with a cloth strip bag.
After the rice was dispersed, it was a short trip up the hill with the rest of the food. At the top, the monks gathered inside a small temple that was adorned by marvelously breathtaking statues. We then delivered the food into the room in an assembly line type fashion. As they enjoyed their single meal of the day, we were invited in for the morning chant. The chant itself was magnificent; to be surrounded by people who dedicate their lives to the teachings of Buddhism and its practices was truly a moment of bliss.
Once the morning ritual was over we ate, cleaned our dishes, and waited for our chance to speak to the monks. Their days are very reserved days so everything was very timely. After all, they are living a life of constant practice. Once we finished our duties, it was time for questions. I was ahead of the group (as I naturally like to wander on my own) but because of this I got the opportunity to speak to the first Monk I saw, Isaac.
I got the chance to speak to Isaac for a good amount of time (no exaggeration; my group was the last to leave because of the amount of time I spent talking). It was incredible to speak to someone like this because I was able to actually hear and see the humble demeanor in his voice and mannerisms. He is currently at year 14 of the monastery, and shows no signs of stopping. We spoke about a large range of topics ranging from his inspiration for this way of life to the origin of his robes! His were handmade, although the dye was synthetic. However, an interesting fact is that there are many monks across the world that dye their robes using tree bark from specific types of trees. We also talked about the most inspirational monks that he looks up to. One being a teacher (hang with me here) of his teacher, of his teacher (a lot of teachers, I know) who actually had a statue of himself right in front of the temple. In addition, I heard some very interesting stories. One in particular struck me hard. In the 70’s, communists wanted to test the Buddhist monks. They killed off about seven for no real reason but to see the reaction of the rest of the monks in their area. Isaac explained how this story never hit the media and was completely overlooked. Then we dove into his past life. We explored his life through college, and his girlfriends (which drove drove him nuts), and his interest in music. His plan was to be a violinist in a string quartet. However, he was stumped because he felt a strong pull to become a monk. These were the questions that haunted him when considering a life as a violinist. Can it bring happiness? Can I support myself? Will I be apart of something big or will I struggle? He realized that being a Monk, even though it isn’t glamorous or flashy, was the path that was most worth it in the end. No longer did I see Isaac as just monk a anymore, but as someone just like myself swinging through the branches of life trying to find what’s best. For Isaac, it was to be a monk. Full respect to you Isaac, full respect to you. After the conversation wrapped up, we took a few pictures inside and Isaac generously gave me a pile of books with Dharma to last a lifetime and we were on our way.
This trip was nothing but amazing. Being able to do it all with the lovely people of DBT was even more incredible. Currently planning my next trip already!
Till next time,
David A. Dorame.