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[Open Centre] Newsletter

Dear Friends,

We hope that this letter finds you well and thriving on this wild and blessed journey.  This month’s newsletter is brimming with updates on the current growth and blossoming of the Open Centre vision, as well as inspirational poems and articles for the journey.   First, Jaya offers news of the Dharmaloca summer/fall retreat season followed by her beautiful “Dharma Musings”.  After the Dharma Musings, you’ll find a lovely poem from Christine Thompson and a picture from one of the summer retreats in Spain.  Following the picture is an insightful article called Neural Buddhists from the New York Times.  Finally, we’ve included an inspiring commencement address given by Paul Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce, last spring.  Enjoy it all!

Dharmaloca News

Check out the little Dharmaloca Slide Show on the Open Dharma website.   You will also find a lot of useful information about visiting Dharmaloca on this page.

Autumn skies: sometimes low fog and sometimes so thoroughly blue that the yellow-orange of the clay and the blue of the cliffs pop like electricity. 


By July, Dharmaloca was “ready enough” to offer itself to retreatants.  Between July and October, 4 people did longer retreats of 1 to 2 ½ months, and 20 people came for shorter retreats.  Jonathan made the whole season smooth and joyful as Dharmaloca manager.

Retreatants found that having “wild and cultivated nature” as a 24-hour companion deepened their contact with spirit.  While Gemma and I were impressed by collective patience with the heat, wind, and flies, retreatants said that to feed and stake the tomato plants nourished them and uplifted their yoga postures.

More than anything else, I remember the breathtaking individual interviews--depth, sensitivity, sharp perception, heart, transformation--between the bamboo and the cypress trees. 


Friends on the work retreat helped line all 7 circular garden beds with stones from the land in May, and Jess completed the main, weed-proofed pebble path in September.  I came across what must be the grandmothers of all our earthworms as I planted “Chesnok Red” garlic for next summer in the center circle.  Tomatoes of four kinds still lean against their canes despite slug attacks; red Mexican sunflowers and yellow silver-leaf sunflowers keep hatching blooms, despite chilling November winds.


Denis and his team joined Jonathan and Gemma for several intensive work-weeks on the stone retreat cottage, where local carpenters recently hung the door.  Jonathan moved into the cozy cottage the day before his birthday last week.  This “hermitage” is a lovely, tiny space for one or two retreatants, even though it still awaits its tile floor and kitchenette.  Thank you again to the donor who made this project possible, and to the building team whose creative energy matched the donation.  To be honest, this space is a dream come true--finely crafted, ecologically sound, snug for year-round retreat.

In fact, Gemma and I have been amazed and delighted to see and feel how much of the Open Centre vision is already blossoming at Dharmaloca—on a much more intimate scale than in the Open Centre proposal.  Long-term individual retreat.  Nature in the garden and in the oak tree and the canyon.  Healing arts and creative arts from song, to dance, painting, drawing, and writing.  “Multigenerational contact” and especially the leading edge that serves the whole—“leadership as service.”

Dharma Musings
By Jaya

One of the Open Centre themes that most fascinates me is Leadership as service: or courage as humility and expression, embodiment of Dharma, the Sanskrit kalyaan...

A curious kink with the new version of the website in June brought out a small example of this leading edge, leadership that serves the good of all.

After we launched the new website a retreatant emailed to alert us that she could not access any of the new features.  Since I have 884 unread emails in my inbox, I simply (and promptly, for once) thanked the person for the “heads up” and forwarded the email to Ernest, our web wizard.  

Ernest assured us both that there was no problem “from his side,” but within a week I forwarded emails from the same frustrated person to Ernest.

Ernest says he sighed to himself, “This is not my responsibility; but okay, let’s see what we can do.”

This is the moment (not so glorious after all) where we turn our life over to a calling greater than the call of payment, position, or approval.  (What if we could feel as “responsible” for spiritual callings—without the heaviness or “should”—as we do for our career “vocation” and other roles we have accepted from society?)

 When we let ourselves respond—be responsible—to something other than our “job description,” we allow joy a deep hold on our cells.  This joy consecrates all it touches.  This joy allows the necessary, the longed-for--the fully satisfying dedication of all we have and are--back to life itself.  This is where time and the timeless meet.

By the way, Ernest’s free response—in addition to helping a new friend see the fresh website—taught us a small trick that may be of use.  Someone else had viewed the old version of www.opendharma.org on the same public computer that our retreatant/friend used in an internet shop in Dharamsala.  The computer remembered the old link and, to save time, directed our friend to the stored version of the website. 

To access the new site, one has to delete the prompt that appears as one types in a web address.  And start fresh.

We often use our power of remembering in the same way as the computer—to “save time” or to protect ourselves.  We filter our lives through our heads.

To uncover our ability to respond freshly, we use different kinds of remembering wisely. 

Four kinds of remembering.

1) Memory based on past experience can save time, but can obviously block us from seeing what has changed, and what we could not perceive previously.  If we have a tendency to ignore certain things—someone else’s trickiness or our own—we can let past burns remind us to slow down and get off of automatic pilot.

2) Slowing down can help us learn to find a big enough perspective to take our own experience into account, so that we can really learn from our past.  Then we are not just trying to remember, but also starting to gather and embody wisdom.

Wendell Berry writes about the importance of continuity in farming, and we can apply his wisdom to life.  We can understand the “farm” as the responsibilities of our life—the opportunities for response in our life, a life so fully spiritual that there is no need to call it spiritual. 

Berry values “a remembered history of [our] own mistakes and the remedies of those mistakes.”  We will know from experience, “not just...what is... technologically possible” on the farm, but also what actually works, what we can do and what we can not do on the farm.* 

I love Berry’s call to join in on the love affair between the limited and the limitless: he says that with time we will understand the ways in which we and the farm, “empower and limit one another.”

We can give up the habit of assuming that limitations limit us in any ultimate way.  We can have enough confidence to look into, feel intimately, and work creatively with limitations like our insecurity, loneliness, anger, grief, and fear; our broken nose and heart; our noisy apartment and mind; our fat belly and thin patience; our lacks and our surpluses.  We can sometimes accept the limitations of our lives with less resentment, envy, shame, and self-pity.

We notice that the beauty of uniqueness lies in limitation, and we start to look less for the shelter of imitation or approval. 

We start to respond to our own unique way. 

As we gradually get our toes into the earth of our actual lives, with its seeming limitations, we uncover other kinds of remembering. 

3) More and more often we hear life calling and we spontaneously respond.  We re-member; we give ourselves back to our spiritual core. The specifics (the limitations) of this here and this now offer just the right opening for us to fall through, just the right encouragement for our spiritual eyes to open.

And then we can actually experience that those seemingly solid obstacles—the chair, the anger—are not fixed, stuck, or dead.  They need not be limited to our ideas based on past experience of them.  In this dimension, they are fully alive.  They are not limiting in the way we assumed.  There is room for creative response.

By Christine Thompson
(Melbourne, Australia)

Where am I now?


Caught, in loneliness?

Forever separated from my true love by a thought, a mood.

How far do I have to travel to witness truthfully, fully, that which I attempt to hide?

Collapsing dimensions, shuddering, in the knowing of the uselessness of time and space, as a hiding place.

What distance to go to leave the pain behind? To leave me behind.

I look for someone to witness, to acknowledge who I am, truly, the beauty, the pain.

But truly, the butter is melting, at home, here, now Witnessing 'Being’, no ‘where’ – no ‘how’.

Click here to see Christine's picture from the June retreat in Spain.

Neural Buddhists
by David Brooks (New York Times; May 13, 2008)

And yet my guess is that the atheism debate is going to be a sideshow. The cognitive revolution is not going to end up undermining faith in God, it’s going to end up challenging faith in the Bible.

Over the past several years, the momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine. It does not operate like a computer. Instead, meaning, belief and consciousness seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings. Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development.

Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.

Scientists have more respect for elevated spiritual states. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania has shown that transcendent experiences can actually be identified and measured in the brain (people experience a decrease in activity in the parietal lobe, which orients us in space). The mind seems to have the ability to transcend itself and merge with a larger presence that feels more real.

This new wave of research will not seep into the public realm in the form of militant atheism. Instead it will lead to what you might call neural Buddhism.

If you survey the literature (and I’d recommend books by Newberg, Daniel J. Siegel, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Jonathan Haidt, Antonio Damasio and Marc D. Hauser if you want to get up to speed), you can see that certain beliefs will spread into the wider discussion.

First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day. I’m not qualified to take sides, believe me. I’m just trying to anticipate which way the debate is headed. We’re in the middle of a scientific revolution. It’s going to have big cultural effects.

Healing or Stealing?
You are brilliant, and the earth is hiring.
By Paul Hawken

Excerpts from the unforgettable Commencement Address to the
Class of 2009, University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world."

This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights
of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown ­ Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood ­ and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit.. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.  In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe ­ exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a "little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven."So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We
would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.  Paul Hawken is a renowned entrepreneur, visionary environmental activist, and author of many books, most recently Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. He was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by University president Father Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C., in May, when he delivered this superb speech.

John Seed, who assisted with the teachings on our Tiru retreat in Jan 2009, sent us this transcript from a speech at the graduation ceremony of a U.S. college. By the way, the Australia-India Council has chosen John as Australian of the Year for 2010.  Though he will not be with us in Tiru this time, he intends to assist with the teachings in Sarnath in February. 

His beautiful sculptures are posted online here: http://www.evabreuerartdealer.com.au/seed.html

And his whole heart is behind this project for the elephants of South India: http://www.rainforestinfo.org.au/e/appeal.htm

New dharma talks and guided meditations from 2008 and 2009 have been added to the website.  Please click here to be directed to the page of the website where you can both download and donate.

With love,
Erika and The Newsletter Team

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