Below a cloudless, blue sky, a slight wind whistling through open microphones and billowing the umbrella a monk tried holding over the head of KTD Abbot Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, flags rippled around a small but growing audience. The solemnity of this closure ceremony was raised, and mention made of the interconnectedness “between people and people, between people and animal life, between people and all sentient beings.”
A fire was fed with a burnt offering of juniper and other fragrant woods and leaves to acknowledge and express gratitude for the use of the same old hotel from which Ralph Whitehead, Bolton Brown and Hervey White once surveyed the local mountains and valleys and conjured their dream for what would become the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony.
The address numeration 335 sat above the shuttered front door of the old boarding house, in front of which a small stage had been set…and the abbot sat. There were ‘Danger’ signs noting the care that needs to be taken at all construction sites.
KTD Executive Director Mark Rothe spoke about the new forms that “engaged Buddhism” has been taking since the 17th Karmapa, who will be visiting Woodstock in the coming week in his first visit out of India in three years, decreed a new openness to his order.
A new blog on his visit to the U.S., “Karmapa in America 2011: The Time Has Come” — which went up July 7 with an image of a double rainbow over KTD — noted how the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa “will turn the Wheel of Dharma at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra on July 18 and 19…Web streaming will be available during the event for those who cannot attend, so watch this site for details!”
(For more information on the upcoming Karmapa visit, which is closed to the general public, as well information about Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, call 679-5906 or visit www.kagyu.org.)
At the ceremony, Roth told of utilizing the Mountain House building.
“We are sincere but not proud,” Rothe says. “I lived here, in this drafty building, from 1984 to 1987. I met my wife here. We remember here how raw things were.”
Rothe mentions past winters when it seemed to dip below minus 20 with great regularity. How north winds blew threw layers of plastic over each window…and he took to sleeping in the bookstore to stay warm.
“We would fill trashcans with snow and melt it so we could flush our toilets,” he noted. “It had its charm…and there was a great deal of practice done here. A lot of dharma occurred here.”
“We are forever thankful for having been able to use this building for as long as we could,” said KTD Board member Kathy Wesley a few days before the ceremony, from her Ohio home. “The beauty of this line of Buddhism is the belief that there are local spirits who watch over this mountain, these buildings…It is important to acknowledge them.”
We had called to see where plans were regarding the planned dismantling of the historic structure, which now sits overshadowed like an old car on blocks besides KTD’s monastery, built in 1992, and its more recently-completed residence building, which can’t get its official Certificate of Occupancy until the historic old structure that preceded it as a dormitory and refectory is gone. Back this past winter, Rothe had talked about how demolition was reliant on detailed archive documentation and preservation of Meads Mountain House as an historic artifact.
“We’ll be charting the dimensions of every room and preserving certain boards from the building,” he added at the time, while remembering how cold the place had been when his wife and he first moved to the heights just west of town from California in the early 1980s. “A plaque will be put up on the site.”
Wesley, then, recalled meeting the poet Allen Ginsberg on the patio at Meads Mountain House.
Now, she said from Ohio, there were ongoing discussions with wildlife experts on how best to take apart that same bluestone patio so as not to distress its long-resident chipmunks too much.
“We’ve been talking about their life cycle,” Wesley said in an initial discussion about the documentation process, and what might come next in the long process of making KTD what it’s long dreamed of being: a North American monastery on a par with those left behind in Tibet, or built as exile homes elsewhere in the Himalayas. “It’s been a learning process…Talk about living with the earth.”
Photographs had been taken, inside and outside the structure brought to life by George Mead when he built a large addition to his home for boarders in 1880, with a ruler present in each image to ensure every inch of the place was captured for eternity. Specific items within, from mantels to the main stairwell and other materials, had been offered to the Woodstock Historic Society and other local organizations.
“KTD staff is still in discussion with Historical Society staff about items,” Wesley added. “Talking to Mark this morning, I’ve learned that while we did receive $25,000 towards the cost of the demolition this past spring, there’s still more to raise to ensure everything is done properly. The archiving has to be fully completed before we can schedule the next step…”
According to the town’s late historian, Alf Evers, Mead’s Mountain House held about 50 guests at a time, year-round, during its peak years. Among those who stayed were the legendary architect Stanford White, artists Jervis McEntree, Frederick Church and Sanford Gifford, and other “artists and intellectuals.” The place had a 975 pound cook stove. And, of course, that patio…and those accompanying views.
“The actual demolition has been delayed until the end of summer, at least,” Kathy Wesley said. “No specific date has been set, yet.”
Wesley noted news, from the July 5 Hindustan Times out of New Delhi, that Ogyen Trinley Dorj, the 17th Karmapa (not acknowledging an ongoing controversy on lineage), had just been okayed by Indian authorities for his first trip in three years to the United States, including Woodstock.
Asked about the controversy involving Chinese cash found amongst the Karmapa’s belongings last year, Wesley pointed us to a host of quiet stories from the spring about how all charges had been dismissed.
“He’s not been here since 2008,” the KTD board member said. “The whole thing was like something out of a novel.”
“So wonderful to have His Holiness in America with us again!,” read a statement from this week, in anticipation of a joint event with the Dalai Lama in Washington that will also be livestreamed this Saturday, July 16.
A peaceful move for spirits
The ceremony last weekend, and the Green Living Day event, the KTD Development office noted, included a Textile Fair featuring Himalayan fabrics, a Pondside Interfaith Life Release Ceremony, landscaping activities and various talks, lunch for all, and afternoon eco-advocacy forums, seminars on organic gardening, Native American dance, cooking demonstrations, and a final Earth Preservation Call to Action.
Speaking again about the old building, Rothe mentioned the auspicious signs that led to the 16th Karmapa’s choice of Meads Mountain House for KTD, over an earlier suggestion that Putnam County could work as well.
“As for this old building behind me now, it really is old,” he said as smoke billowed, fragrant, over the façade of the old boarding house.
The abbot spoke, in translated Tibetan, about the spirits who looked after and resided at this spot. The idea of the ceremony was to allow them a graceful exit and move into the new dormitory.
“We are ensuring all spirits a peaceful move,” his translator said after he quieted, and before the chanting began.
Wesley had noted that the monastery was doing all it could to treat the structure they called home for so long with the utmost respect and honoring, along with the greater community in the town they call home. ++