Stillness and Light was a place of refuge on your worst possible day. A day filled with so much anger that by the time you arrived at Battell Chapel, your fingernails left marks in your clenched fist. A day filled with so much sadness that by the time you walked down the aisle and took off your shoes, you had no more tears. A day filled with so much anxiety that when you sat down on a cushion, you still clutched your stomach.
But then, not always, but sometimes, the feelings leave for a moment. You watch the reflections of the candles in other students’ faces, eyes and teeth. And then, you feel a presence behind you, a light tap on the shoulder and you are greeted with the warmest pair of eyes. It’s Bruce Blair, the Buddhist chaplain, pouring you tea, asking, “Are you all right? How can I help you?”
Stillness and Light was one of the most precious spaces at Yale. It has seen hundreds of students come and go over its nine-year tenure. And now, it is gone. Bruce Blair has been removed from his post as Buddhist chaplain, and Indigo Blue, the center for Buddhist life, along with the Buddha shrine in Harkness, has been shut down.
The end of Indigo Blue by itself would have been a great loss. The Harkness shrine has served as a place of worship for Buddhist students. It was a beautiful space; a sacred space. It was a space that had been blessed by monks, and rightly so. There would be days when Bruce would text us pictures of the space in the middle of the night and ask, “Is this right? Or do you prefer this?” and the difference would be a lamp, moved an inch to the right. But the result was something breathtaking. After you took off your shoes and felt the linoleum mats under your toes, you looked up at the ceiling, at the lamp that sways back and forth, then at the two strings of lanterns, and as your eyes followed them down you saw where the lanterns met: at a Buddha, smiling, reminding you of what is precious and unseen.
But what makes this loss all the more painful was the way in which Indigo Blue ended. For one, the decision to dissolve Indigo Blue was communicated poorly. There was no warning, no campus-wide email. Instead, we had to find out by way of a locked door and a notice taped to the entrance of Battell: “The Indigo Blue event has been cancelled.” No official university-wide communication has gone out explaining why Indigo Blue was terminated.
But there are other issues as well. For example, no students were consulted in the decision. Another: The closure of Buddhist spaces literally happened overnight, without any time for students to transition to the absence of a Buddhist chaplaincy.
All of this conduct conveys something to us that is very clear and very hurtful: Buddhist students are expendable. Apparently, at Yale, it is okay to close Buddhist places of worship overnight. It is okay to dissolve the Buddhist chaplaincy without warning or consultation.
Let us reiterate: This is not okay. It is not okay to treat Buddhist students, as well as non-Buddhists who found their place at Indigo Blue, as though they count for nothing.
Perhaps some of the fault lies with us; we did not convey how important Indigo Blue was to us. But now that the spaces are gone and the chaplaincy closed, we want our message to be heard clearly: Indigo Blue provided, for some of us, our only place of refuge. For others, Indigo Blue provided the only space in which we could practice our faith. These are not trivial matters. Absent a chaplain and a space to pray, we have no religion.
We hope in the future that decisions to terminate an entire religious ministry are made with greater care. Maybe the decision to end Indigo Blue was a difficult one. But we assure you that the distress that may have accompanied this decision is dwarfed by the grief that students feel from the loss of their chaplaincy.
Geoffrey Liu is a student at the Yale School of Medicine and Alan Elbaum and Heshika Deegahawathura are juniors in Pierson College .