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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
winter 2007| 88 |buddhadharma mAhAsAnghA neWs: profile Most of the students are serious practitio- ners looking to deepen their understanding of Buddhist texts or their practice, or both. “Everyone comes here because they have some personal interest, some desire for per- sonal transformation,” Olendzki says. “They are looking at the material from a perspective of how it resonates with their own experi- ence, how it contributes to their own growth. So there’s a kind of integrity and seriousness about the level of investigation.” Olendzki says the center has character- istics similar to—but still different from—a college, a retreat center, and a monastery. It is dedicated to study; yet unlike a college, it is quiet. There are statues of the Buddha, though unlike many meditation retreats it has no shrine room. While dedicated to deepen- ing students’ experience, the center also has a “secular feel.” A remarkable 38 teachers act as visiting fac- ulty, and almost all will teach in 2008. Some have practiced as monks or nuns, many are university professors or psychotherapists, and most are authors. They combine to create a program lineup that is both broad and deep. Upcoming offerings include Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, a Soto Zen priest and abbot of the Village Zendo in Manhattan, discussing the Heart Sutra. Margo McLouglin, a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School and a translator, Nestled deep in the New England woods, surrounded by dirt roads and forest paths, is an old farmhouse, and inside this farmhouse is a five-thousand-volume library of Buddhist books. Welcome to the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, a gentle place where prac- tice meets study. “A lot of time here is spent in great tran- quility and peace,” says executive director Andrew Olendzki. “We get inspired by words and concepts and perceptions and ideas, and then we allow plenty of time and space to let go of that mode of mind and just be more open and relaxed and slower.” The Barre Center (BCBS) is located on 90 acres of forest in central Massachusetts, just a stone’s throw from the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) retreat center. It was founded in 1989 as a complement to IMS and operates as a separate organization. The center is small, and plans to stay that way; only about a thousand people a year attend its programs. The center’s focus is on making sure that the students who come here have a deep experience that can improve their lives. Students carefully consider the teach- ings at the heart of Buddhist traditions, and through discussion and contemplation they work to bring the teachings into their lives. “It was recognized that for meditation practice to thrive over the long term in this profile: BArre Center for BuDDhist stuDies By David Swick country, it needs to be informed and supported by the deep, classical tradition,” Olendzki says. “We benefit from studying the tradition and bringing the teachings into dialogue with contemporary ideas. “Those things are discouraged at a retreat center. In order to promote investigation and integration, without impinging on the purity of the meditation center, we needed something different but parallel. So the study center was born as an offshoot of IMS.” There are two full-time staff members. Olendzki, a former executive director of IMS, was trained in Buddhist studies in England and Sri Lanka, as well as at Harvard. The resident scholar is Mu Soeng, an author and former monk trained in the Korean Zen tradition. “This is a crossroads of the Buddhist world,” Mu Soeng says. “In the middle of nowhere, in a town no one has heard of, there are all these Buddhist activities going on. I think of medi- eval Italian cities in the 11th or 12th centuries, which became centers of learning.” Mu Soeng spends much of his time researching and writing, and he teaches too. He also attends some of the programs led by visiting teachers; in the upcoming year these will include Essentials of Buddhist Psychology, Bringing Wisdom to the Brahmaviharas, and Personal and Social Transformation: Explor- ing Interdependence. sumiloundon