LIU, ELBAUM and DEEGAHAWATHURA: Losing Indigo Blue

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 .

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    I get a message “Loading the body of this story” and nothing happens (No story). Other stories of the YDN website pop right up. What’s up?

  • yale_senior

    I’ll just say for what it’s worth that it seems like there were specific reasons that Bruce Blair alluded to in his letter about the end of Indigo Blue that I think in any plain reading would suggest that the reasons behind its termination were not financial or administrative, but personal and perhaps scandalous. It’s just a guess, but it is likely that the fact that we still do no know the reason it was shut down is probably not because the chaplain thinks Buddhists are expendable, but that she was trying to protect the reputations of the people involved.

    • KaraOke444

      The reputations of who involved? If there were formal allegations, that is something in of itself that the students should have a right to know about.

      Furthermore, whatever the problems the Chaplain’s office had with Indigo Blue, it still doesn’t excuse the abrupt closure and the lack of replacement. It doesn’t excuse how much students were entirely left out of the loop. Where’s the campus wide e-mail alerting the students that and entire religious body has been removed? The lack of transparency with which every aspect of this was executed is not a sidenote to “there were personal problems involved” it is a problem in and of itself.

    • gliu

      Yes, true. Administrators may be trying to protect the confidentiality of whoever was involved and hence do not give reasons why the Buddhist chaplain was removed.

      However, what we were trying to convey in this piece was that regardless of the reasons for Bruce’s termination, the way in which this was handled was very poor: no student consultation, no warning, and without any official communication that this was happening (until yesterday, 8 days after closure of religious spaces). I sincerely wish that this conduct is not repeated with any other religious ministry here at Yale

  • pinkbaboon

    Indigo Blue was shut down because Bruce Blair was probably charged with something he did to a student. My suspicions would say it’s some form of sexual abuse. Numerous alumni and students have submitted compaints and reports about things he has done that are inappropriate and out of line. This was probably at such short notice the University couldn’t react in any other way — although a campus wide email was probably in order..

    • KaraOke444

      Could we speculate with evidence please? The facts right now are that everything was shut down with no notice and the University response has been poor. Given Yale’s history with responding complaints of sexual abuse, I highly doubt that they would drag out every other complaint and suddenly rush so much here they can’t notify the students.

    • jrrolling

      What a troll.

    • glia

      This is groundless

  • The Anti-Yale

    > Numerous alumni and students have submitted compaints and reports about things he has done that are inappropriate and out of line.

    Gossip, pushed under the cowardice of anonymity.

    Paul D. Keane

    M. Div. ’80

    M.A., M.Ed.

  • zendog

    Looks like Yale ditched Blair just like he was kicked out of the New Haven Zen Center years ago. Why didn’t Yale do their homework on this guy? I’m surprised he lasted this long.
    No surprise that only a bunch of easily manipulated students are coming to his defense. Let me guess: he told you that everyone else is dangerous, what he knows is precious and should be kept secret, you shouldn’t trust any other adults? Did he keep you up until dawn rambling about nonsense saying the same thing over and over again, maybe even took you on some weird drive in the middle of the night? Did you ever see him get REALLY angry? Did you ever see him off his meds? Most people probably haven’t met that version of Bruce Blair, but a lot of us have (especially those who know him better than some quiet guy who serves tea and candlelight). Sorry kids, you’re in a cult. Look up the definition. Is he telling you what to say? Has he ever referred you to another Buddhist group in town to expand your practice? Is he the ONLY person you should trust?

    There are LOTS of Buddhists in New Haven and Yale. Now that Blair is gone maybe students will be able to meet them without being attacked.
    Remember this year when he announced that he had two new staff members? Doesn’t look like they lasted too long. I wonder why they quit so fast? Maybe they met the real Bruce Blair? Ask your friends if they have, too.

    • walterwhiteman

      Trolling these waters much, Zendog? I notice the same post on an earlier story about this topic. If you’re going to drop a bombshell like “he’s been kicked out of every other place he’s gone!”, then please, tell us all the details so we can actually make something of your statement. I have to say, I don’t believe you. If Bruce was a cult leader, let me tell you, it was the sorriest looking cult I’ve ever seen. In all likelihood Bruce wasn’t a sinless saint, but, indeed, silly comment. No saints are sinless. Now, I know we all love scandal, but let’s all just calm down a smidgen.

      I’ve also seen claims that Bruce had a fiery temper? While I never saw it, I have to ask, so what? That’s not grounds for branding him an evil, conniving cultist. It’s not even grounds for declaring him unfit for interacting with students. The man has led his life doing a lot of good things for a lot of different people. If he burned a few bridges with some students, woe is him! Heck, if he burned bridges with the bureaucrats, odds are he was doing something right.

      The real question is, does it matters at all what Bruce did or did not do to incur the wrath of the Chaplain’s Office? They clearly feel he did something terrible, and it is understandable for people to want to know what he did wrong. And, why the disbandment of the shrine room, why the closure of the group altogether? But the real concern is for the effects that are being felt as a result of the present lack of the services that Bruce and the program rendered to its members.

      All in all, the situation has been handled poorly by Yale, surprise surprise. Pointing fingers and firing off acerbic anecdotes about Bruce and how terrible he is as a person are just childish responses.