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VENTURA COUNTY RELIGION

Ojai Mount Puts Nirvana Within Reach

November 14, 1998|REGINA HONG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OJAI — Past the "End County Road" sign, the asphalt continues and soon winds uphill, past orange trees and hillsides steeped in the smell of sage.

Finally, at the top of Reeves Road, you arrive at Meditation Mount, home of Tibetan-style meditation quarters. With so little noise on this serene hilltop, the flutter of a hummingbird's wings can sound like the drone of a distant plane.

"It's just one of those wonderful places, this island of peace and tranquillity in the middle of all this turmoil," said Thomas Rizzo, 59, an Oxnard teacher. Rizzo moved to Ojai from Los Angeles during the mid-1980s, in part to be closer to the mount.

"I always found I could really get centered, focused and on an even keel if I just spent a few hours there," he said.

Meditation Mount may not be visible from any of the main roads but it's not just a local retreat. It hosts visitors from throughout the world, and Meditation Groups Inc., a New Age organization that runs the center, sends home-study meditation course booklets to an estimated 5,000 people in 82 countries, including France, Germany, Portugal, China, Russia, Nigeria and Uganda.

The group also mails about 500 free booklets to prisoners across the United States.

"Some prisoners write and tell us how they wish they had known about it earlier in life," said coordinator Glenda Christian.

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The nonprofit center opened in 1971 with the goal of promoting world peace and harmony through meditation. The center bases its teachings on the works of British-born Alice Bailey, who wrote about matters such as goodwill, human relationships and divinity.

Bailey, who learned about the principles from a Tibetan teacher, died in 1949 after gaining a number of followers in California who wanted to continue her work.

"They're not new and not modern," Christian said of the teachings, "but they're universal principles since the beginning of time, principles that guide us as spiritual beings, and it's important to keep it in mind if we're going to have an enlightened culture."

Yet not all come to the mount to study the teachings. Many visit the place, which is open from 10 a.m. to sunset, to find a peaceful place to contemplate.

Guests may meditate in the two rooms that feature sloping wooden roofs, including one that is surrounded on 2 1/2 sides by glass. Or they may stroll along Vista Point, where wooden and stone benches and green plastic lawn chairs are arranged along the dirt path. Or they can simply watch the sun set over the Ojai Valley.

"They've just discovered how nice the energy is here," said the center's gardener, Barbara Allen, as she gathered fallen leaves recently. "It makes them feel so much better and peaceful and they come back whenever they feel they need it."

There are also the hard-core mount supporters, serious about learning how to meditate, and hoping to absorb more of the center's teachings.

One event the mount is known for locally is its full-moon meditation, held monthly starting at 8 p.m.

The mount tells visitors that the full moon opens the door wide between the spiritual and material worlds, so humans can better understand qualities such as light, love and power.

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One recent Sunday evening, 26 visitors in one of the meditation rooms closed their eyes and chanted, "Ommmmmmmm," to clear their minds as the moths outside bumped into the glass walls. The visitors, who were mainly middle-age, were dressed casually in jeans, khakis, T-shirts and sweaters.

While the center is not affiliated with a religious group, the one-hour session that began at 8 p.m. did follow a ritual: a brief meditation, a speech by the center representative about the power of meditating under the full moon, a longer speech by a guest lecturer and invocations, meditation and blessings to the world.

"From the point of love within the heart of God," participants chanted at one point. "Let love stream forth into the hearts of men. May Christ return to Earth."

That Sunday, the bulk of the time was spent listening to a guest lecturer, an attorney from Culver City who leads meditation courses.

At times the session resembled a church service. The speaker, Jeriel Smith, talked about all-encompassing topics such as world unification and a New World religion that will not seek to compete with any current faith.

"All human beings are created equal and endowed with soul qualities by their creator," Smith said. The goal, he said, is to break down all ethnic, economic and cultural barriers.

Once Smith was finished, the group meditated in silence before stepping onto the terrace. Under a canopy of stars, and with the moon behind them, the visitors faced the Ojai Valley and blessed the world amid the chirping of the crickets. They wished for wisdom, balance, freedom and equality.

"Wisdom," they chanted. "Wisdom to all beings. To the north, south, east, west, above and below. Wisdom to all beings."

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