By Lucas Wieser
Out on the coast lies a small town named Montara. Though the town is not far from the Peninsula, few have heard of it. Bordered on one edge by the fierce Pacific Ocean, and farmland on the other, a small lighthouse warns ships not to come too close. It is at this lighthouse that you’ll find the weekly Buddhist gathering that is “Coastside Vipassana.”
Every Wednesday night since 2008, the meetings have started at 7:00pm, and ended at 8:30. Though they’re free of charge, donations are accepted to give as a gift to the speaker. People file into the room as 7:00 o’clock approaches, and take their seats.
“The Hostel has been hosting this event every Wednesday coming up on ten years,” says Chris Bauman, who has been managing the lighthouse for as long. “We always look for ways to intersect the community. We feel that it’s great for the anyone who has that interest.” Bauman also says that it provides a nice option for guests at the lighthouse hostel.
Though most of the attendees are older couples, people of all demographics are present. One of these attendees is theater teacher Paul Godwin. “Going to this meeting has prompted me to study the Dharma* on my own. Since then, I’ve been able to meditate longer and the teachings make more sense.” Jim Waterwash, father of d.tech student, Julian Waterwash, also attends these meetings; he’s been going on and off for the last three years. “I go mainly because it’s close, and I like the fact that they have different teachers most weeks. It gives an opportunity to hear things from different perspectives.” It’s true – You won’t usually get the same teacher two weeks in a row.
The instructor rings a bell that fades into silence. For the first thirty minutes, the lights are off, and the twenty-five people attending are completely silent. All that can be heard is the churning of the ocean.
“It’s nice to be able to go to a place when you’re not feeling so chill to get away and meditate,” says Waterwash.
A woman who was attending the event for the first time, but wished to not have her name printed, said that she was “looking for a way to refresh herself after a stressful day at work.” The atmosphere of the room is unlike anything else.
After the first thirty minutes of meditation, guests are invited to stay for another hour to listen to a teacher, who on the night I attended, is Tony Bernhard. “I’ve been coming here for the last 8 or 9 years,” he says. “My hope is that I can share my understanding of the Dharma with others.” Bernhard leads meetings like ‘Coastside Vipassana’ all over the state, from UC Davis, to the Sierras, down to the coast. When asked what he would tell students at a high school, Bernhard replied that “Life without suffering is impossible, stress will be with you for your entire life, but you can learn to live life without pain despite this suffering.”
This outreach to the community is a way to share Buddhist teachings that have been around for a long time. Right next to the highway, cars pass the lighthouse by the thousands each day. Countless waves crash, and an endless number of ships sail by. Every Wednesday, the people still gather, and the speaker still teaches. The bell will ring for years to come.
*The Dharma can be defined as simply the Buddha’s teachings, (The Teaching of Buddha, Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai).