CENTRAL COAST DOG WALKS
Land of Medicine Buddha
by Whitney Wilde
Chinese Buddhists from the seventh century argued whether dogs have Buddha-nature or will suffer endless rounds of karmic rebirth. It was finally decided that ALL sentient beings have Buddha-nature… and all sentient beings will enjoy the “8 Verses Pilgrimage Trail” at the Land of Medicine Buddha. It is a trail of changes: in landscape, in temperature and, possibly in insight.
My group, Woofers & Walkers, is excited to walk someplace they didn’t previously know… like New World explorers. We start at the large Wish Fulfilling Temple in the upper parking lot. Take a moment to go inside to view the large gold Buddha and the amazing brightly-hued paintings covering the walls with tales of Buddha lives: Buddhas swimming in pools, dancing, playing sports, marrying, giving birth, as well as the eight Medicine Buddhas. Around the perimeter are small stupas containing the ashes of loved ones. Dogs and shoes are not allowed in the shrine.
To get to the 8 Verses Trail, GiGi (my Belgian Malinois) and I lead the group back down the road to the dirt cutoff that is the beginning of the 8 Verses Loop Trail. On our left is a large stupa – a knobby-looking monument containing Buddhist remains or relics. This is the first of 100,000 stupas to be built here to bring peace and happiness to the world. The landscape is oak trees, berry bushes, columbine flowers and wild grass. On a sunny day it can get pretty hot here – be sure to bring your own water.
Just past the stupa, off to the right, is a large yurt next to a statue of the only female Buddha: Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion. We always leave her some new beads, an offering to her peaceful beauty.
Back on the trail, keep your eyes open for the koi pond (known as the raccoon sushi bar in my yard). We come to the first of the verses; each is equipped with a bench for sitting and meditating on the meaning. Each sign has the original Tibetan Dharma quote followed by a commentary by the Dalai Lama.
We come to a fork in the path and a sign: to the left is the Enchanted Forest, and to the right is LMB (Land of Medicine Buddha). We go left and suddenly find ourselves deep in the lush, green redwood forest – a sneaky way into Nisene Marks State Park. It is about 20 degrees cooler in here. While this main trail is part of a six-mile loop to the top of a mountain, there is a cutoff to the right that takes us to a forest memorial in a fallen redwood. There are all sorts of offerings people have left here: a photo of a much loved dog, buttons that say “dream” and “inspire,” candles, beads, Buddhas, etc.
This path continues… you are deep in cool, green ferns with the sound of the creek surrounding you. Climb over and duck under fallen trees until finally, you just can’t go any further because the trail becomes too difficult. We turn around and enjoy the walk back to LMB.
We emerge from the forest back on the 8 Verses Loop to periodically stop to read the verses. After the eighth verse, there is a small shrine to St. Francis, patron saint of animals. The trail opens out to a road and we follow it down to an area that has a large Buddha, a medicine wheel, and gongs. Don’t resist the urge to “bong the gongs.” The sound is rich with a low vibration… a peaceful humming through your body. Around the Buddha are small bowls of water – these are OFFERINGS, not dog bowls! These offerings of water will bring the giver a calm mind, beautiful speech, good digestion, purification of negative karma and more.
From here, we hike back up the paved road to where we parked.
The first time GiGi and I hiked the 8 Verses Loop, I was having some turmoil in the dog-eat-dog world of dog people. Reading the verses, I came to the understanding that I should love everyone (an understanding that dogs are born with), even those who have caused me pain, because all of them have brought me here to this place and taught me something valuable. Each time I walk it, I have a new insight as to its meaning. What is your interpretation?
The Land of the Medicine Buddha is a little gem hidden away in the hills outside of the small town of Soquel in Santa Cruz County. Be sure to bring beads, candles, photos, flowers, incense, personal mementos as offerings to leave at the many shrines here. Bringing incense will bring pleasant smells, flowers allow you to see the beauty in others, candles will make your mind clear during meditation, etc.
The 8 Verses Loop Trail is open to the public (and their well-behaved, leashed dogs) during daylight hours. As this is a meditation retreat, please keep your dogs quiet and under control at all times. Namaste!
Directions: To get to Medicine Buddha: Take Main Street in Soquel towards the hills. At the Y in the road, keep to the right on Glen Haven Road. Within a mile, go right on Prescott Road.
At the end of the road, go left towards Medicine Buddha to what appears to be a dead end with Tara Redwood School on your right. Look for the ONE WAY” sign on a small road going upwards.
To get to the Trail of 8 Verses: At the top of this small, one-way road, you will see a giant prayer wheel. Make a hard left and keep going upwards, past a dirt road on your right. At the end of this road is a parking lot with a colorful temple. From here, you will have to walk back down to the dirt road to start the 8 Verses Loop Trail.