An oasis of spirituality in Los Angeles
Once again our friend Laura Sanderson Healy is contributing a review and we’re so grateful to her. If you haven’t yet read her earlier review, click here. The rest is her writing.
Calling all Bodhisattvas: enlightenment by the multiple armload awaitsyou at The Bodhi Tree in Los Angeles, a spiritual bookstore beyond compare (though Zen practitioners might tut-tut that comparisons are odious). Since 1970 the Bodhi Tree has been the MRI-strength magnet on Melrose Avenue for seekers of all sorts, whether one is hunting down books on Eastern gurus like H.P. Blavatsky or G.I. Gurdjieff or Western psychics like Edgar Cayce. Books about God or gods/goddesses (and their nemeses), manuals on physical health and wellness, cures and treatments, and self-help titles for those who find themselves on mental or chemical obstacle courses, all find space, as do all the religions, good and — verdict’s out. The store presents all the
theories without passing judgment, according to its literature.
Though it caters to the mind/body/spirit crowd, carefree shoppers also
drift in to browse the esoteric goodies: bumper stickers, puppets,
children’s books and magazines (I always buy Highlights for Kids here
for my young nephew), cards, calendars, windchimes and gongs, candles,
music CDs and and buckets of malas (meditation’s answer to rosary
beads). Siddhartha Gautuma became the Buddha while sitting beneath a
bodhi tree on a Ganges tributary, and the store has its very own “Tree
of Enlightenment” (ficus religiosa) growing right behind the store in a
courtyard, having been nursed from a young potted plant in the store’s
stained -glass decorated front window decades ago.
“The Bodhi Tree is a metaphysical smorgasbord,” its cashier laughed to
a customer when I visited recently, “but be careful or you might get
indigestion.” You needn’t be a bearded mystic to love the place; even
before I made Los Angeles my home I made regular pilgrimages to the
Bodhi Tree over the years to soak up the atmosphere (though its incense
is as pervasive as that of Christian “High Churches”). Posers might
announce they go to the Bodhi Tree for karma roadchecks, but I’m simply
there for book and gift browsing and to enjoy some Harriet-the-Spyesque
eavesdropping, consuming endless free cups of Celestial Seasonings’
“Tension Tamer” herbal tea. On a street better known for label-reading
fashion hunters, the funky old Bodhi Tree sits as a complex comprised
of three buildings: the New Book branch, a Used Bookstore (behind the
main building, it is entered off Westbourne and boasts a resident cat),
and The Annex where events are held. While there are book signings by
notable authors, the most popular “readings” are those of the intuitive
variety: the Bodhi Tree Annex offers Psychic Readers every afternoon
and evening of the week, whether you prefer Tarot, Animal Divination,
Palmistry, Reiki or Astrology.
Though my own spirit is happiest out in nature, I reach a
particular Nirvana when I find a legal parking space near the Bodhi Tree because WeHo can be tricky for non-resident drivers. There are coin or key
meters on Melrose, there are a couple of spots behind the main store on
the property, but you may also valet park your car at the station
between the Annex and the Urth Café: the Bodhi Tree will credit the $5
valet charge towards any purchase over $15.
I enjoy my visit most when I have no demands on my time as I make my
way up the five steps up the stairs of the Melrose entrance. Once
inside, there are dozens of tuned Woodstock Chimes hanging in front of
the big round front window (with enormous fitted stained-glass art); as
one moves through the different rooms, skylights shed light and
colorful prayer flags and flying diva models decorate the ceiling.
Negotiating the hundreds of subjects from books on Christianity to the
Occult Sciences, one roams through a library-like maze of polished
wooden bookcases (some glass-fronted and locked). One author’s works
have to be housed in the office at the back up on a high rack due to
high theft occurrences (Hemingway’s MOVEABLE FEAST references this
The Eastern side of the New Book Branch is dedicated to the teachers
and philosophers of the East, while the Western half of the store has
space for the writings of the Western Hemisphere’s wise men and women.
Paraphernalia such as bells and singing bowls hints at wicca and Native
American traditions, tools for yoginis are plentiful, and there are
glass cases of stones and and crystals for those who want to work on
their mojo (herbs are for sale in the Used Book wing).
One book I purchased at the Bodhi Tree is a perennial favorite: A Book
of Days for the Literary Year; there is a literature section for
non-fiction and fiction (Tom Wolfe but no Thomas Wolfe) and visionary
fiction (William Blake). The Spiritual Tourist by Mick Brown gave me
endless mirth as I read about various disciplines friends had described
to me; the accompanying CD of the same name features ethereal music
from spiritual traditions around the world and the Used Bookstore had a
copy of it my last visit. There are all sorts of books about weird
phenomena, though it all fits here and doesn’t seem like a Ripley’s
rip-off. And I’m a sucker for the Unexplained.
Bodhi Tree Bookstore
8585 Melrose Avenue,
West Hollywood CA 90069-5199
(800) 825-9798; within Los Angeles County call (310) 659-1733
Laura Sanderson Healy is an L.A.-based writer; during her days as a
correspondent in PEOPLE WEEKLY’s London Bureau, she reported on strange phenomena such as the moving statue near Ballinspittle, Ireland, and the mysterious crop circles in Wiltshire, England. She believes in
ghosts and once took her father dowsing at the Rollright Stones near