Emerging from some of the most challenging times we have faced, collectively and individually, everyone could benefit from some mindfulness practice. Thankfully, the Way of Compassion Dharma Center — the only physical Buddhist center in this part of Colorado, according to director and founder John Bruna — will soon be welcoming back practitioners for in-person wisdom and compassion teachings.
The grand reopening, in a new location within the Third Street Center (Suite 12), coincides with a visit from the Gaden Shartse monks. Arriving directly from their stay in Aspen, these ambassadors of Tibetan culture will offer five days of activities in Carbondale, revolving around the creation of a sacred sand mandala in the Round Room at the Third Street Center.
Since 1992, the Gaden Shartse monks have toured the United States to keep Tibetan culture alive by sharing it with interested foreigners. The trips also fundraise for their monastery in India, country to which the 14th Dalai Lama fled during the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959. Many times, the monks have visited the Rocky Mountains, often participating in the annual Carbondale Mountain Fair.
Their post-pandemic return to Carbondale begins with an opening ceremony at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 15 in the Round Room. During the creation of the sand mandala — “mandala” meaning “that which extracts the essence” — the public is invited to spectate between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The particular mandala to be constructed represents the Buddha of Compassion, a fitting motif for the Dharma Center’s reopening. A sand mandala is created using finely crushed quartz, vibrantly dyed, and so is said to be “made of light.” Visitors will also have the opportunity to purchase Tibetan goods to help support the over 1,500 monks living at the monastery in India.
Special events occur at 7 p.m. on each of the following evenings through Monday, July 19. On Friday, a tea offering ceremony intends to bless the environment and persons in attendance. On Saturday, a healing ritual will be performed to purify negative karma — “karma” is defined roughly as the cumulative consequence of one’s actions. On Sunday, the Buddha of Compassion, known as Chenrezig, will be invoked as part of an “empowerment” practice. And the visit concludes with the mandala being consecrated and dissolved, in recognition of the inherent impermanence of being, on Monday evening.
A bonus activity on Saturday at 10 a.m. involves teaching children and adults how to create traditional sculptures made from butter and barley flour. All events are open to the public and are by donation. Additionally, appointments for personal healing rituals, house blessings and business blessings are available by calling 970-704-5512 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The Way of Compassion Dharma Center has set a goal of raising $15,000 to help pay for the monks’ travel expenses and to support the opening of a new meditation hall in the Third Street Center. “It’s neat to host them and time it with the opening,” says Bruna, who first arrived to the area touring with Gaden Shartse monks in 2009. “If you ever find yourself meeting the Dalai Lama,” Bruna jokingly warns, “Be careful. You might get a haircut.”
Once the Dharma Center reopens, Bruna looks forward to offering more services than ever with both a physical space for practice and an online community. Long before “Zoom” was a colloquial term, Way of Compassion was already making use of online technology for distance learning. In the early parts of the pandemic, however, they saw a major uptick in attendance with up to 100 people joining online retreats and many from far outside the Roaring Fork Valley. “We will continue our online programs,” Bruna told The Sopris Sun, “as we embrace new ways for all of us to cultivate these important methods to develop more compassion, loving-kindness, wisdom and inner peace.”
Bruna is also seeing “a real need to connect in person,” evidenced by registration for their first in-person retreat of 2021, at Waunita Hot Springs Ranch, filling up in days. The pandemic “pulled the cover from illusion” and presented “an opportunity for people to wake up from autopilot,” Bruna reflects. “People were forced to spend time with themselves and their family,” allowing them to “reassess their life and relationships.”
Other branches of the Way of Compassion Foundation are the bike project operated by Aaron Taylor, Compassion Fest (returning in August) and Recovery Resources. Bruna’s work as the spiritual director of the Way of Compassion is as a volunteer. He also trains counselors and therapists, as well as people in recovery, in the Mindfulness in Recovery program. As a person in long-term recovery himself, helping people find freedom from addiction is a passion for him. John says, “Everything I have in life could only have come from the help of all those in recovery that selflessly taught me how to live again with dignity. Having been given so much, able to live a life of recovery since 1984, the least I could do is to pay it forward.”
Bruna believes that the practice of mindfulness “provides meaning and stability in challenging times.” Who couldn’t use a little meaning and stability these days?