The streets of Hollywood are deserted this early in the morning. I have Vine Street all to myself as I cruise up to the top where it dead-ends into the 101. Unseen, I slip around the corner under the freeway. Wait for the light and shoot straight up a steep hill. Right into another world.
Suddenly I am alone in the parking lot of the Vedanta Temple of Hollywood. A simple concrete wall hides this place from the thousands of drivers zipping by only a few feet from here, day in and day out, on one of the busiest freeways in the world.
I turn around to see the iconic stacked white domes of the “miniature Taj Mahal” that stand unassuming in the middle of the complex directly in front of me.
It becomes apparent quickly that The Vedanta Temple is far more than the temple. It’s a complex that houses not only the temple, but the monastery, convent, bookstore, library, classrooms, smattering of rental homes and administrative offices that have served the Vedanta Society of Southern California since the days, years before the freeway, when these were a collection of cottages that housed movie stars in the budding film industry.
Many people work and worship here today. All moving as naturally as the plentiful birds, squirrels, and other wildlife that inhabit the grounds.
A palpable quiet surrounds me, intentional and deep, in this valley of time slowed down. Lights glow from the windows of the library. I see people reading quietly as I walk by. Others are talking in low voices nearby. Tho’ the morning prayers ended nearly an hour ago, serenity still clings to the place like dew.
Across the complex, Joe and Aaron, our master photographers, have arrived. They’re quietly unloading gear for today’s filming. I join them.
We move quickly. In near silence. We empty the cars and get things as close to the entrance as possible. No shoes are allowed inside. The ground is cold.
The men exchange a look. Reach quickly for their cameras. Head outside before the morning light gets too bright. The lenses are set. Aaron is on the ground aiming up, a sight that will re-occur frequently over these twelve days. He and Joe compare readings.
We don’t have much time. Swami Sarvadevananda, the leader of the Vedanta Society here, has said he wants to be part of this project. Although he and his entourage are leaving for India in just hours, he’s made the time for this.
The clock is ticking, and yet,.. everything is calm. His associate enters wondering why we have so much equipment and is quickly swept into the craft of film-making. Swami Mahayogananda becomes the stand-in for framing. Dr. Rini Ghosh arrives. She’s one of those powerful women in every faith tradition who steps behind the scenes and makes things happen. We will interview her later in the day in order to capture the voice of the women faith leaders who are equal partners in this work.
We step outside as the altar is set. Jennifer, our producer/director, takes me aside. In an instant I resume being executive producer.
The winds are picking up, she says. The same winds that turned California into an inferno. The CHP has shut down access to the forest. Our location for Day Seven with it. We have less than twenty four hours to find a new one. Panic starts to rise. It’s taken weeks to arrange these schedules. Thousands of dollars in rentals. Suddenly the clock looms large!
My gaze goes back to the wall by the freeway. I feel pulled under. No. In this place. In this time. No. We face a challenge, not a catastrophe. We’ll film Swami, and get him to the airport on time. Then we’ll film Rini and complete our work here. Then we’ll handle the next challenge. Quietly. Systematically. Just like our friends at Vedanta would.