I'm not sure what it is that makes me love Kauai's Hindu Monastery so much. It's a million tiny little things combined with the obvious fact that it sits on one of the most glorious spots in Kauai. But, well, all of Kauai is gorgeous. So let's call that part moot.
Truthfully, it's one of my very favorites places to be in all of Hawaii.
I love the cleansing act of writing out my wishes, my concerns, my prayers on a piece of paper and then burning it in the fire pit right as you enter. I love the incense burning throughout. I love wandering around the grounds, looking at the amazing trees and flowers. I love the expressions on the monks' faces, something of pure peace and joy that I don't see in other people. I love when a monk stops to check his iPhone, one of the few worldly possessions they are given upon joining the monastery, in order to help them stay connected to the world outside in a way that benefits their community. I love the heartfelt way each monk greets you with a bow and a Namaste, and I love the feeling I have when returning it.
When I was about 11, I lived with a (converted) Hindu family for a time, and when I wasn't living there, I spent all my time there. Their home was a lovely oasis. The grounds were set in the middle of the baking, awful Sky Valley desert, somewhere between Desert Hot Springs and Joshua Tree, about a mile into the nothingness behind the commune-sort-of-place I lived on at the time. (We'll save that particular story for later.) I hate the desert with a passionate fury. But, this house, this family.... I felt nothing but joy and peace to be there. From the moment you walked in the front gate, it was shaded with gigantic, beautiful trees, blocking the sun out entirely. If you survived the boisterous welcome of their Akita dog, who stood on two legs to say hello, the front door/sunroom greeted you with the somewhat humid air from their indoor swamp cooler, heavily scented with a glorious incense that I still burn to this day. It was a big house, draped in fabric and beads and crystals, with glass bottles of water purifying on the windowsills and ferns hanging in all the corners. There was an aviary connected to one of the rooms, providing shade, food, and water to hundreds of doves that were passing through the area. The cooing of the doves was a serene background noise. There was a giant trampoline in the yard, which we slept on during certain nights and watched the stars and counted satellites that passed overhead. There was a large greenhouse in back, which I loved because of all the plants growing, and was educated on different ways to transplant basil and other fragrant herbs, which were then brought inside for cooking and medicinal purposes. One of my biggest dreams in life is having my own greenhouse.
They often spoke of their time in India, and of their guru, whose name and story I will never remember, but whose young face sticks with me. It was difficult for me to comprehend why her picture was throughout the house, and why they showed such appreciation for someone so young. They were vegetarian, and I became vegetarian (for the following decade) because of them. Occasionally the daughter, who was my age, would take time out of our day to meditate. I was never encouraged to participate, because meditation is a private, personal thing, and I never felt the slightest bit of pressure to involve myself in any of their daily practices, a significant difference from certain other belief systems I had also been influenced by. I found this difference refreshing, and it was impossible not to respect their methods.
I miss them and this place greatly, and I wish for an opportunity someday to inform them of the wonderful influence they had on me, and how much I treasure all the experiences I had there.
Because of this, in a way, I feel quite at home on the Kauai temple grounds. I fit in quite naturally. It revives a lot of happy memories for me, and allows me to explore my own continued path as it evolves over time. I always take away something profound from my visits, and just like my time with my Hindu friends as a child, there is no pressure to be anything I'm not. It's a place to just be.
That freedom allows for a much deeper spiritual connection within myself and my own beliefs than almost every other house of worship I have ever been in.
On our last trip to Kauai, we spent multiple mornings there, participating in the daily puja as observers, and meditating with everyone inside the inner temple as the monks chanted, collected the offerings of flowers left by visitors, and filled the room with an even more intense incense. It always feels like such an honor to be there, and I have nothing but reverence for everyone involved, monks and pilgrims alike. My own meditation in the temple is always blissful, and I spend a lot of time just sitting and looking at everything, absorbing the wonderful scents and feelings of peace as much as I can before the mosquito bites win out over my concentration. Sometimes I think the mosquitos are trained to kick you out if you've stayed too long, to give others a chance to have the same experience. That's fair. I am always free to return the next day.
At some point, I'd love to spend enough time in Kauai near the Hindu temple to make this experience regular and consistent. I'd also love to make friends with the monks in such a way that I'll be invited to share in whatever gloriously delicious food they're obviously cooking in the back. It's mouthwatering.
It just feels right to be there, at least occasionally. I feel centered within myself, and my own spiritual enlightenment is furthered by nothing more than my interest in learning and experiencing life outside of my daily world.