Mathews: Meditating on Prop 13 with the Tibetan buddhists in Howard Jarvis’ house – The Bakersfield Californian

Posted: September 7, 2020 at 3:51 am


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Want to stop worrying about Californias future? Go say a prayer at Howard Jarvis house.

No historic plaques mark the five-bedroom home at 515 N. Crescent Heights Blvd. in L.A. But this is where the famed anti-tax activist Jarvis lived and organized Proposition 13, the 1978 tax-limiting ballot initiative that still dominates California politics.

Another fall fight over changing Proposition 13 is underway. The November ballots Proposition 15 proposes to lift Proposition 13 caps on taxing commercial properties. So, recently, I visited the house and got an unexpected lesson about how California always changes, even if its ballot initiatives never do.

Jarvis gray house is now Nechung Dharmapala, L.A.s Tibetan Buddhist Center. The home, now painted orange, has a wheel representing the Dharma over the front windows, and a stupa outside the front door. Inside, bedrooms are occupied by two monks. The high-ceilinged living room where Jarvis conducted populist politics has become a 21st-century sanctuary for lessons on the renunciation of ego and the possibility of enlightenment.

The homes political past and religious present might seem discordant, but the more I contemplated the place, the more I saw the continuities. Indeed, 515 N. Crescent Heights is a double-monument to the perils of revolutions and the paradoxes of protection.

Proposition 13 was the product of a conservative political revolution promising protection against rising taxes and housing prices. The paradox is that Proposition 13 hasnt protected us from Californias high taxes or extortionate housing prices.

Nechung Dharmapalas is associated with Tibets centuries-old Nechung monastery, headquarters of the State Oracle of Tibet, who embodies the deity Pehar, The Protector of Religion. Pehar couldnt stop Chinese communists from destroying Nechung or Tibets other religious sites after the 1949 revolution. But therein lies the paradox. The communist attacks actually protected the faith. Tibetan Buddhists fled, spreading their teachings worldwide, all the way to Howard Jarvis door.

Jarvis bought the 1925 house in 1941 for $8,000 and stayed there through renovations and three marriages. During the Proposition 13 era, Jarvis held court in a big chair, smoking cigars, while distinguished visitors like Gov. Jerry Brown sat on sofas. There were some curses, but no prayers, recalls Jarvis aide Joel Fox.

When Proposition 13 passed, capping property tax increases, Jarvis 3,000-square-foot home was assessed at less than $60,000. Its annual tax bills, from that low base, would stay below $1,000. In 2005, its assessed value for tax purposes was $75,854; in 2006, after his wife died (Jarvis passed in 1986), it was reassessed at $1.25 million.

The house was sold in 2008, and put up for sale again in 2013 as Tibetan Buddhists were searching for L.A. headquarters. The Nechung Kuten, who is also Chief State Oracle of Tibet, had visited L.A. in 2007 and 2009 and called for a center for non-sectarian study and practice of Buddhism. But finding the right place was hard

Tibetan Buddhists bought the house in 2013 for $1.38 million. In Jarvis living room, resident teacher Geshe Wangchuk now presides. Hes learned in not just Buddhist philosophy but also in creating sand mandalas and butter sculptures.

During the pandemic, Geshe Wangchuk shifted weekly teachings to nechungla.org and Zoom. This summers lessons leaned on The Three Principal Aspects of the Path' by Je Tsongkhapa, a 14th century teacher. One passage intrigued me deeply:

Furthermore when appearance dispels the extreme of existence,

And when emptiness dispels the extreme of non-existence,

And if you understand how emptiness arises as cause and effect,

You will never be captivated by views grasping at extremes.

I wondered: Can minds really be that open? Does avoiding extremes require uncertainty about your own existence? And could such enlightenment apply to Californias contemporary extremes?

The Nechung L.A. team knew nothing of Jarvis. Talking with Nechungs board secretary, Tenzin Thokme, I tried explaining Proposition 13 and why Proposition 15 is in the news. But my explanations were just questions. Might Proposition 15 produce billions for schools, or will its exemptions be exploited by wealthy property owners? Might this measure make a symbolic strike against Proposition 13, or will the whole exercise just reinforce Proposition 13s power?

But if I understood Geshe Wangchuk, that I have more questions than answers is OK. Because uncertainty about what comes next for me, a proposition or a home might be the most powerful answer we ever get. As Je Tsongkhapa taught 600 years ago, If the entire object of grasping at certitude is dismantled, at that point your analysis of the view has culminated.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zcalo Public Square.

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Mathews: Meditating on Prop 13 with the Tibetan buddhists in Howard Jarvis' house - The Bakersfield Californian

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September 7th, 2020 at 3:51 am

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