WWOOF Day 6: “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”

Today was Sunday, which meant I got to go in to town with Kevin and Nipa and see what he has been preparing for this entire time. The morning started early, due to my impression that we would be leaving first thing in the morning to get to Santa Barbara.

Two hours later, I was finally helping Kevin squeeze the displays and tables in the back of their wagon and leaving just enough space for me to squeeze in. They were scrambling about, trying not to be late as I quietly observed and attempted to diffuse the chaos. Before we hit the road, the arrangement was made clear: I was to help them set up before going anywhere and to be available mid-day for the trip back. I readily accepted and soon after we were on our way. The short 20 mile ride consisted of front seat banter and the occasional Santa Barbara factoid, but what I was most concerned about was making it to Fairview Gardens and potentially working for the day. I was told that there was a special event happening and that Bob P. would also be in attendance. This appeared as the time to strike, but I eventually realized that I should probably ask how far away we’d be from the garden center a few exits after we passed Fairview Ave.

“Not in walking distance, but you could probably take the bus on State Street over to Goleta,” was the word according to Kevin.

The Sunday Beach Show was beautiful, located on the street side of the boardwalk and separated from the beach by a thin stretch of sidewalk. When we parked, Kevin got out to start adjusting the trailer hitched to the back of the wagon as another person pulled in to a narrow spot in front of us. We all looked up with a shared sense of impending doom and after a few repetitions of the word “whoa!” and waving, the woman successfully maneuvered in to the front of Kevin’s car. She pulled forward in to the spot and parked as Kevin and I went around the front to assess the damage. Luckily, it appeared as if no harm was done. Perhaps it was this, or the presence of her young daughter, that the situation didn’t escalate. She walked away to check a stall with some “princess” accessories with only a sarcastic remark and Nipa uttering something about stupidity under her breath. I helped move the wagon and cart the pieces of Kevin’s switch plate and Nipa’s jewelry displays before I was privileged with the info on which direction to head.

“State Street is kind of the main drag through downtown and apparently there’s a vegan restaurant around here that’s supposed to be pretty good. I think it is called Blue Chee or something like that. There is a bus that runs all along here and also a trolley…” Kevin went on in his exceedingly friendly, but slightly overstated manner while I had already decided to just save money and walk.

I had packed sunflower seeds, raisins and water in the detachable top lid of my Kelty pack that I was using as a fanny pack in an attempt to save money. Unfortunately, not five minutes later, I had already encountered a coffee shop. The line was long and the vegan option seemed unnecessarily expensive, which distracted me in to looking in to the restaurant options. I found the restaurant Kevin mentioned (Bouchon), but another one named Adama appeared to be more well received for the price. I saddled up and began my way up the incredibly populated State St.

It was Labor Day weekend, which had to have been the reason why there were so many people, but regardless, this was the place to be. I perused the many shops and eateries on the way to the restaurant and arrived two chocolate bars richer. The entrance was unassuming, but the inside was surprisingly cozy. My table was a couch, set in between two short walls with a round table in front of it. I decided on breakfast since it was only offered on the weekends and as I ate, the waiter made small talk with me about my adventure so far. It turned out that one of the waitresses was interested in Fairview also, so before I left I took a photo of the director’s business card and left it with them.

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Full of positive reinforcement from that interaction, I spent the next few hours walking up the hyper consumerist drag. I stopped by local coffee shops, checked out costume shops and strolled through the outdoor mall. Most importantly, I caught a glimpse of a small building with the words “SGI Buddhist Center” on it and decided to take a look. Inside was a man in his Sunday best sitting alone at a small reception desk. He introduced himself as Peter in a strong African accent and asked me what brought me in. When I told him I was just wandering, he had me sign the guestbook and proceeded to give me a tour.

SGI stood for Soka Gakkai International, a name I hadn’t heard before in the realm of Buddhist studies. He talked to me about the inter-connectivity of life, the sacredness of compassion and various ubiquitous Buddhist concepts, which I clicked with. While he was talking, he said my arrival was not by chance and he saw a Bodhisattva (or a saint for those unfamiliar) in me. The  aura emanating from him as he spoke was beautiful, I thought while listening to him speak, a man who looked like a turtle sinking in to a grey suit. The more he began to focus on SGI though, the more uncomfortable I became.

There were plenty of pictures of the founder present and before we left the meeting room, he had me chant with him in unison “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.” He told me that the universe had a structure, which I agreed with, and that it was “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,” which I did not. To them, this was the key to enlightenment and prayer in front of the altar with the sacred gohonzon scroll was mandatory.

It didn’t make sense to me how a phrase could be pivotal to awakening, especially having to be specifically pronounced in a single language.

The trip ended in the gift shop where he invited me to join their sangha (church/fellowship) and pointed me to the prerequisite reading. He gave me an introductory book on the house and after I left, he flipped the sign on the door to closed. I was skeptical and definitely decided to look in to it, but I did agree that our meeting was not coincidence.

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