30 years of promoting peace at the Dharma Center
- Published: June 14, 2023
On Saturday June 3, members of the YS Dharma Center, along with a bevy of YS community supporters, gathered among the bounty of flowers and plants, carefully tended to by members, to celebrate an important milestone — 30 years of promoting peace through the core tenants of the organizational mission, “meditation instruction, regular group practice, book discussions, retreats and work, practice and gardening.”
According to Dharma Center co-founder and board of trustee member Robert Pryor, “In Buddhism you say that a thought leads to speech and speech leads to action. And it all begins with the mind and the thought. And what’s really most important is our intention.”
The Dharma Center’s intention, as stated in its mission, is to support “the development of wisdom and compassion grounded in the teachings and practices of the Buddha Dharma.”
Pryor told the News during a recent interview, “Dharma is the Buddha’s path that leads to our growth in wisdom and compassion.”
“This consists of theory and methods that we apply in our lives,” he said. “It is not a fixed dogma but a flexible approach for improving ourselves and the world we live in.”
According to Pryor, interest in Buddhism was alive in the village prior to the establishment of the Dharma Center in 1993.
“Actually, the first Buddhism that we know of here was in the late sixties — the people in the Vale invited a Zen master to visit. They liked the Zen practice, so he sent one of his assistants to live here for a year. When he went away they kept practicing,” Pryor said.
According to Pryor, a small group of people continued Buddhist practices on their own up until the 1980s when people met collectively, moving from house to house, eventually meeting in an apartment in a home owned by villager Jane Baker.
“In 1993, that apartment became available, and so we asked the landlord if we could start a Dharma Center and she said, ‘that would be great.’ Jane Baker is really very civic minded,” Pryor said.
The Dharma Center eventually expanded from meeting in an apartment to taking up residence, keeping the remaining apartments in the home open to Antioch College students.
“We wanted to let the students live upstairs. And she [Jane Baker] said, ‘well, that’s okay, as long as you guys pay their rent,’” Pryor said laughing.
Pryor said Antioch College students continued to live in the apartments up until the college closed for three years beginning in 2008.
“We had students living up there. The very close bond between the college and the town manifested here at the Dharma Center. Now there’s not so much interaction because the college is smaller, but students still come and meditate,” Pryor said.
According to Pryor, popular mental health movements have been inspired by Buddhism.
“What some people don’t realize is that the contemporary mindfulness movement, which is quite important now, grew out of Buddhist practices,” Pryor said.
Mindfulness is a stress reduction program that focuses on mind-body interactions to support personal healing. Created by MIT-trained biomedical scientist, philosopher and mental health advocate Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1980s, the movement gained heightened popularity in the early 2000s and utilizes meditation as a core component.
“When I started, I thought, ‘I’ll give myself about a year,’” Dharma Center member Linda Potter said of attending the center.
Potter, who currently assists with Vipassana yoga meditation and retreats, started coming to the Center regularly in 2009 spurred by the loss of a friend to Alzheimer’s.
“She wasn’t dead, but she was lost. I was retired and I needed friends, and I thought, ‘I’ve always seen this place.’ I thought, ‘I’m going to try that.’ I came and I was hooked from the beginning. I did an introduction to a meditation course … it was a weekly thing … and I thought, okay, I’ve got to do more,” Potter said.
Both Pryor and Potter recommend people new to Buddhist practices take the introductory mediation classes, which are offered by the center at no cost.
“Meditation practice gives you skills for how to just observe the thoughts and the sensations in your body. So, for example, many thoughts, especially emotions, have bodily parallels. If you have a strong emotion and you go to your body and find out what’s happening in your body, it takes your attention off the emotion,”Pryor said.
For more information on meditation classes and other Dharma Center programs, go to https://www.ysdharma.org/about-the-yellow-springs-dharma-center/.
A more in-depth article about the Dharma Center’s 30 years of Buddhist practice will be featured in a future News issue.