CAGE: Indigo Blue, a test of trust

A story I read recently in the Yale Daily News reminded me of my first experience with Indigo Blue. My own narrative began very similarly to that of a person quoted.

A few weeks into freshman year, three Pierson friends and I went to check out the meditation in Battell Chapel. Buddhist Chaplain Bruce Blair ’81 was setting up, as did he did every night for nine years. He asked if we’d be willing to pick up mats for him from the Buddha shrine in Harkness Tower. Saying he thought we might enjoy seeing it for ourselves, he entrusted us with his ID to get us in the door, and he stayed behind to finish setting up for Stillness & Light, the evening meditation space offered by Indigo Blue.

We were happy to oblige and excited to see the shrine. But being eager freshmen new to the grandiose Gothic beauty of Yale, we were even more excited by the prospect of getting to the top of Harkness Tower. We scurried up the spiral staircase, but were soon stopped by the Carillonneurs’ locked door. When we finally left Harkness Tower, Bruce was there, standing on the other side of Memorial Gate, looking disappointed and a bit defeated.

“Well, it would have been nice,” he said to us. We apologized nervously, embarrassed that we had been caught. He asked for his ID back and who our FroCos were, then walked away.

I was devastated. I had been interested in Buddhism for years prior, and I had now violated the only space available. I was furious with myself. I was too ashamed to go to Stillness & Light again for nearly two months after.

Eventually, I could no longer resist the urge to go. I went, nervous, hoping to heaven that Bruce wouldn’t recognize me, afraid that he would reference what I had done and make me relive the betrayal of his trust. I half-expected him to ask me to leave and felt worse for knowing that I would have deserved it.

But he did not. I sat down timidly on one of the mats that surrounded the glimmering tea candles and closed my eyes to meditate. I heard a clink as a cup of barley tea was set before me. I opened my eyes to see his gray coat drifting by, refilling the cups. From that first sip of steaming tea, I began to feel that the wrong I had done could be bridged, that I was welcome.

I began to go to Stillness & Light regularly. I started to talk with Bruce, and it was during an early conversation that he calmly referenced our first interaction. At first, I felt my face go red, the shame coming back to me. He started to laugh, and it was in his laughter that I realized I had his complete forgiveness. Chuckling, he told me that he had recently received permission to give students swipe card access to Harkness, and said that he would be happy to give me access, too, if I wanted. Besides attending Stillness & Light, I had done nothing other than apologize to regain his trust. Yet he forgave me.

Since then, I have joined in setting up and clearing Stillness & Light, in chanting, in installing a life-sized Buddha in the shrine in Harkness Tower. The holy spaces offered by Indigo Blue became central to the identity of one of my accomplices from that night, a home for her.

I do not come from a Buddhist background, but since the closure of Indigo Blue I have realized that these spaces have a cultural and personal meaning for deeply religious Buddhist students. It is something that I appreciate but cannot fathom fully.

Having seen the profound suffering of my Buddhist fellow-humans stripped of their identity, I have gained a truly “multifaith” admiration and learned to trust in the central importance of these spaces for many.

Taking the identities of Bruce and the Buddhist student body away from them now is just an administrative and corporate version of what four ignorant freshmen did when we made off with his ID card. It was equally fueled by ignorance.

Bruce put his trust in us and had it exploited, the opposite of what a cult leader would do. I know that Bruce was not testing us in giving us his ID card, but trusting us. I would have failed the test, and no doubt he would have treated me differently. But it was not, and he did not. He treated me the same way he treats every other student, with an open mind and an open heart.

And yet, now Bruce and Buddhist life at Yale suffer again from a crisis of identity. Bruce was counting on us that night and trusting us. He is counting on us, trusting us, again. Now, let us demonstrate that we are trustworthy by working to reunite Indigo Blue with Yale.

Patrick Cage is a junior in Pierson College. Contact him at patrick.cage@yale.edu .

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