Bruce Blair ’81, Yale’s former Buddhist Chaplain and leader of the Buddhist nonprofit center Indigo Blue, emailed the center’s program participants Tuesday morning urging students to support one another after the University decided to cut ties with Indigo Blue and himself on Oct. 22 for reasons that were never publicly announced.
“Called to a meeting at the Chaplain’s Office, we were taken by surprise when told the relationship was ended, and I was — in effect — asked to immediately close our shrines, and move off-campus,” said Blair in the email.
According to Blair’s email, Yale’s reasons for ending its relationship with Indigo Blue were “allegations, mainly new, and neither detailed nor substantiated.” Blair also stated that he hopes the relationship can be renewed and is currently seeking advice from experts.
Since the program’s conclusion, students and alumni have formed the group Friends of Indigo Blue to support each other and get answers from administrators. Blair’s email also announced the creation of a new website to provide information about the former program.
Read Blair’s full email here:
Dear students, staff, faculty, family, and friends of Indigo blue:
How we come and go makes all the difference. How we do what we do communicates who we are, as individuals and as community. The opportunity to learn to do new things and to learn how to give our heart, mind, and body to doing them, while often challenging in unexpected ways, is a privilege; it is an opportunity both remarkable and real. The opportunity at hand is one for which I am deeply grateful, to each of the six directions, to Yale University, and to you.
It has been twenty-three years since I was first invited to join the Yale Religious Ministry [YRM] by the then University Chaplain, Reverend Harry B. Adams. Nine years ago, Indigo Blue became the first full-time non-sectarian Buddhist chaplaincy on a college campus in America, and I began to serve as its full-time Buddhist chaplain. As our first activity, we responded to the University’s request to the religious community to host alcohol-free activities for students between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM. Indigo Blue began Stillness & Light, offering open meditation and serving barley tea seven nights each week, every night of the academic year in Battell Chapel, on Yale’s Old Campus. Nine years later, having served well over 10, 000 cups of tea to hundreds of different students, we have “learned this cup of tea is always for you”. We have also learned how we serve tea and give welcome is something each of us can learn how to do.
During the spring of 2005, we began to address a need for more traditional forms of Buddhist worship and practice, for students and staff from throughout the Buddhist world, creating a Buddha shrine in Branford Chapel, accessible and secure inside Harkness Tower. Here, we learned to nurture and sustain Buddhist life with daily ritual, in a place where Buddhist devotional practices could be safely honored and Buddhist ceremonies performed with reverence, according to traditional practice forms from different parts of the Buddhist world, starting with daily Memorial Chanting provided by the Buddhist chaplain year round. As a space considered sacred, this Buddha shrine became a refuge where students could come and go without hindrance throughout the day, find Buddha-dharma honored, offer incense, bow, or quietly attend to aspects of their inner world, each in their own way, without making a spectacle of their faith, protected from public view.
Now, just as monks after creating a sand mandala learn to return the sands to the sea after completing a dissolution ceremony, having had opportunity to learn how to nurture and sustain sacred spaces on campus, we too, now in our turn, will learn how to let go.
Lest my silence be mistaken or misunderstood, it is with both an awkward sense of grief and an abiding sense of gratitude that I write to tell you the University unexpectedly ended its relationship with this Buddhist chaplaincy, a week ago, Monday. Called to a meeting at the Chaplain’s Office, we were taken by surprise when told the relationship was ended, and I was—in effect—asked to immediately close our shrines, and move off-campus.
The reasons Yale gave for annulling its relationship with Indigo Blue were allegations, mainly new, and neither detailed nor substantiated. With the initial shock having given way to sadness, I still feel I have done nothing wrong and hope misunderstanding can be addressed and the relationship renewed. I am not alone in saying we remain deeply grateful to the University, and to each of you, for affording us the opportunity to serve these last nine years and more, having given us space to birth a still nascent non-sectarian Buddhist chaplaincy.
I am now seeking expert advice, and for the moment it is not appropriate to discuss in detail the issues Yale raised last Monday. I do hope that the administration will honor the concern voiced then, that Buddhist students continue to be treated with respect and cared for in ways that honor the Buddhist faith, and that Yale continues to provide meaningful options for students and staff addressing the full range and diversity of needs presented at Yale by students and staff from throughout the Buddhist world.
The practice of letting go, while never easy, is our practice. When letting go, we endeavor to be mindful of what we are holding—with body, heart, and mind—how we regard what we have, and how we put it down without doing harm. Remembering also, often it is only in putting things down that we can perceive and address new opportunities as they appear in real time.
When told it was time to leave campus, please be assured we set out to do so with reverence and respect, comporting ourselves accordingly, formally closing and clearing the shrines of sacred objects, and working alongside University personnel to transport these and the contents of our offices quietly and peacefully to their new home, creating a temporary shine in our parsonage on the edge of campus. After completing the move of sacred objects, Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka came and performed a pirith and merit offering ceremony. Doing so, and with daily chanting, we endeavor to honor those whose names have been entrusted to our care. Having completed the move, we now turn to consider how best to address the needs of students, staff, and alumni.
“Sometimes ‘why’ is not so interesting” I recall a student saying after the Great Tsunami struck her homeland. Not ‘why’ but ‘how’ is the more important question we agreed. “How can we help?” This is what we had both been taught, she at an all-girls Buddhist parochial school in Colombo, Sri Lanka, I by a Korean monk in America. We laughed aloud. “Always for you, not me” described our common ground. What matters is how we treat each other, how we regard the world and ourselves, in the present, here and now. Asking “for whom?” can provide an opening, allowing each of us room to reach beyond ourselves, to ask those here with us, “how?”
As human beings, we are afforded an opportunity to regard each moment as a gift. Each is unique, and each ours to open. We can ask, “What is this?” allowing ourselves to let go of what we already understand, and not knowing, perceive opportunities at hand anew. Or not asking, we can choose to ignore what is ours to share. Out of habit or felt need for expedience we can choose to push the present away, or grasp what we think we have as ours alone and not let go. What is this? Don’t know, opens. So, too, when addressing our neighbors, and our own hearts. Who is this? Don’t know. The unknown appears, and this can be quite frightening. Or, it can be seen as an opportunity hidden inside colorful wrapping, and secured with a decorative bow. But even so regarded, Buddha- dharma would remind us to be ever mindful, who is this present for, “For you, or for me?”
Of this, there is no doubt. Nothing will be the same. Nothing ever is. Nonetheless, the present always remains ours to give. What I have learned from you, the opportunity you have afforded me as a Buddhist chaplain at Yale, has allowed me to learn how to practice giving. “This cup of tea, for you, not me” is now an unspoken practice that we have come to share even while taking our turns noticing each other’s empty cup, filling it without a word. Thankful.
In order to be grateful, we must first feel welcome. But welcome is something we must give each other. It is not something we can give ourselves, not really. This too we have learned these last nine years serving you on campus. In days and weeks to come we will continue to work together, each in our own way, to create bonds of mutual trust that allow this quality of gratitude to nurture and sustain our life together, whether we be near or far. Our first chapter is now complete. We now turn to you as we begin the second chapter, listening. Asking, “How can we now be of help?”
During this time of transition, each and every one of us can join in extending welcome to another, noticing the empty cups of those around us, giving others space to be who they are, for real. As a practice gentle and clear, a practice without words, this is something each of us can learn to do with fidelity and care.
This said, I would invite you to join us in thanking all those who have made this moment possible—even now, even in the midst of the hurricane now howling outside the window—Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, teachers, parents, friends, all those who will come after us, and to the University. Yale is a most precious ground. As a place of learning where the liberal arts and scientific inquiry are practiced in ways that seek to honor pluralism and celebrate diversity of creed and conduct, it is a place where we have the opportunity to learn what we don’t know. The Lord Buddha described this world as one wherein we have the unusual and blessed opportunity to perceive the origin of suffering, and to each in turn, ask what we can do and how we can help, each of us in our own unique way.
While Indigo Blue and this Buddhist chaplain have moved off campus, we remain committed to fulfilling our religious and secular responsibilities, most especially here in New Haven during this critical time of transition and unexpected change. Please feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your kind and generous words are heartening, so too are your questions and your concerns, even when we may not always be able to answer them as swiftly as we would like. Very soon, we will also have a new website: www.indigoblue.org.
Be patient, and persistent, but please, while there is much work to be done, there is no need for worry or concern. Be sure to keep us posted about where you are and what matters to you, too; and be sure to let us know if you’d like us to keep you updated as we move through the current situation and begin our next chapter.