Students hoping to attend nightly Buddhist meditation sessions in Battell Chapel found an empty room last Monday.
Last week, the University ended its nine-year relationship with Indigo Blue, a nonprofit center for Buddhist life at Yale, and its director Bruce Blair ’81, said University Chaplain Sharon Kugler in a Friday email to the News. All programs hosted by Indigo Blue — such as its daily candle-lit space for quiet conversation and prayer called Stillness & Light and Buddhist chanting and meditation sessions — have been discontinued. The Buddhist Chapel, which was formerly housed in the Branford Memorial Room in Harkness Tower and renovated at the end of last semester, was closed and dismantled this weekend. Kugler said the Chaplain’s Office plans to meet with Buddhist students throughout November to determine future programming, but weekly Zen Buddhist meditation sessions will still be held in the interim beginning on Wednesday in Welch Hall’s Breathing Space, led by a representative from the Yale Stress Center.
“We have decided it would be best to go in a different direction to serve our Buddhist community,” she said.
Kugler did not specify why Indigo Blue was discontinued. Blair did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but students in communication with the former chaplain said that currently, Blair is primarily concerned with the well-being of the community.
All students interviewed who are involved with Indigo Blue said they do not know the circumstances surrounding the program’s termination or Bruce Blair’s departure. A notice was posted on the door of the Buddhist Chapel in Branford informing students of the end of Indigo Blue programs last Tuesday morning, said Geoffrey Liu MED ’15, a Buddhist student who has opened the shrine every morning for the last year. Heshika Deegahawathura ’14, president of the Buddhist Advisory Board: Undergraduate at Yale, said those involved with the Buddhist community are “shocked” because they had no prior warning and no students were consulted before the program’s closure.
Bruce Blair founded the program in 2003 to provide services to Yale’s Buddhist community because no official Buddhist program existed at the time, said his son, Nate Blair ’11. Though Indigo Blue was an organization independent from Yale and was funded primarily through donations, the University gave Indigo Blue office space in Welch Hall, the Chapel space and a stipend of roughly $8,000 per year, he said.
“[Indigo Blue] has been struggling financially the whole time, with very little help from Yale or interest in helping from Yale,” Nate Blair said.
Since Indigo Blue’s closure and Bruce Blair’s departure, students and alumni involved with the Buddhist community have discussed the change over email and through word of mouth, said Hung Pham ’15, a representative of the Buddhist Chaplaincy on the Inter-Religious Leadership Council. He said that last Wednesday, roughly 10 students met in the Buddhist Chapel during regular meditation hours to share stories about personal experiences with Bruce Blair. A concerned group of undergraduates, graduate students and alumni also plan to write letters to University officials and to meet with Kugler next week, Pham said.
Brendan Ross ’13, a student involved with Indigo Blue, said students are upset that the organization was shut down without any explanation.
“No one’s trying to create a protest. We all just feel hurt by the fact that this happened so abruptly and we don’t know why, so people are reaching out,” Ross said, adding that over 80 students are involved in the conversation.
Deegahawathura said the daily programming offered by Indigo Blue served the needs of students from many different Buddhist sects, several of which require daily prayer at an altar. The “abrupt” end of prayer hours and the dismantling of the Buddhist shrine has left students without a space to practice their faith, he added.
Pham said Indigo Blue’s sacred spaces and meditation programs have also attracted students of non-Buddhist faith, adding that he estimates roughly 50 students regularly attend Stillness & Light.
“We don’t advertise the Buddhism element of it though we follow a Buddhist philosophy,” said Simon Song ’14, who frequented Stillness & Light. “It provides something different from the general Yale culture which can be kind of overwhelming or too stressful.”
Over the past four years, 1.4 percent of Yale College students have identified as Buddhist.