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COVER STORY

Inner-peace movement

Many in L.A. turn to Eastern spiritualism to be 'interior designers' of their minds. It's a tonic for frenzied lives.

March 25, 2004|Anne-Marie O'Connor | Times Staff Writer

"People tell me I'm their therapist. Their inspiration," Kali says, drinking chai tea in front of bromeliads and an image of a blue Krishna embracing doe-eyed white cows. If Eastern teachings are about diminishing the self, in Los Angeles practitioners seem called upon more to cheerlead and bolster fragile modern egos.

"You really do have this caste and class system in Hollywood. It's a little India," she says. "Here" -- at her ashram -- "it's all about inner beauty."

Corin Norton, a young actress whose credits include a guest appearance on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," says Kali's yoga helps her fight off internalizing Hollywood's focus on physical appearance.

"It's so unbelievably focused on the outside and on image. In the audition process everything's so focused on the external stuff. It helps me to stay connected," she says. "And it probably helps me get parts."

Norton is among the people winding up a yoga class today, along with Rakowitz, the publicist hired to promote Kali's new yoga DVDs.

"Wow. That was the most natural psychedelic trip I've taken without drugs," says Rakowitz, from her mat. "Kali just took us on the most wild journey. I'm like, I feel really stoned."

Publicists are far from unknown in this realm. At the Self-Realization Fellowship, one publicist arranged an appointment with a swami and two more sat in on the interview.

Kali is more unscripted. She leads you through the ashram (actually a $6,500-a-month mansion, and the rent, if you must ask, is split five ways with some of her followers), sweeping by a dazzling altar of carved gods and goddesses festooned with necklaces and interspersed with white and pink moth orchids. Music hums hypnotically, and something smells pleasantly musky and floral. After 10 minutes here, you find yourself relaxing.

"No matter what we've gone through in life," Kali is saying, "we can tap into our natural state and be happy, just like the lotus was in the muck but reaches for the sun."

At night, the Malibu swami's floodlit ashram beckons mysteriously from the hill like the Hotel California. Inside, Kali has guided her more committed spiritual pilgrims through hours of vigorous yoga. Now she's talking about healing the scars in your heart.

"There are some good scars and some bad scars," says an earnest young woman, Kashi. "Is the good real and the bad unreal?"

Kali sighs. "No, it's all really happening," she says. "People parrot Eastern philosophy and say it's all an illusion, but it's real. We can learn to let go of the bad and move forward, to a deep, profound peace inside."

Everyone strains for her next nugget. A recipe for profound peace?

Kali lets the promise of hope hang in the air, then continues.

"It's all about the journey."

Anne-Marie O'Connor can be reached at weekend@latimes.com.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Serenity sources

CENTERS

Self-Realization Fellowship: Center for yoga and philosophic teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. Lake Shrine Temple, with a chapel, museum and shop, is open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 4:30 p.m. 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood center has a meditation garden, yoga classes, lectures and services. 4860 Sunset Blvd., L.A. Open daily 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

(323) 661-8006 or www.yogananda-srf.org.

Vedanta Society of Southern California: Temple and residence center with daily events. Temple is open 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Bookstore, with statues and religious items for sale, is open Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5:30 p.m. Sundays 10 to 11 a.m. and noon to 5:30 p.m. 1946 Vedanta Place, Hollywood, (323) 465-7114 or www.vedanta.org.

Zen Center of Los Angeles / Buddha Essence Temple: A residential Zen center with daily services. Introduction to Zen practice -- sitting and walking -- is offered nearly every Sunday morning, 8:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., sometimes followed by a one-hour Dharma talk. $20 suggested donation. 923 S. Normandie Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 387-2351 or www.zcla.org.

Zen Center of Orange County: Meditation center offers classes and a monthly three-hour beginners' workshop. Upcoming dates: April 4, May 2, June 6. $60. Registration required. 120 E. 18th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 722-7818 or www.zcoc.org.

TriYoga Malibu Center: Multiple yoga classes daily taught by Swami Kali Ray and others. Offers workshops, teacher trainings and satsang. Instructional DVDs and information available at www.triyoga.com or (310) 589-0600.

Shambhala Meditation Center: Buddhist center based primarily on the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism but also includes elements from the Zen and Theravadin traditions. Events, classes and regular group meditation practice. Wednesdays, 12:30-1:30 p.m. and 7:30-9:30 p.m.; Thursdays, 7:30-p.m.; Sundays, 9 a.m. to noon. 8218 W. 3rd St., L.A., (323) 653-9342 or la.shambhala.org

Khandakapala Buddhist Center:

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