Yale University ends nine-year relationship with Indigo Blue, nonprofit center for Buddhist life

According to a report by the Yale Daily News, the university has ended its nine-year relationship with Indigo Blue, a nonprofit center for Buddhist life at Yale, and its director Bruce Blair (a 1981 alumnus). (The paper interviewed Blair in 2010, and you can find that here.) The publication notes that all of Indigo Blues’ programs have been discontinued, and that “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. “[University Chaplain Sharon 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.”

Chaplain Kugler did not specify to the Yale Daily News why the relationships with Indigo Blue and Bruce Blair were ended so abruptly, nor did Blair respond to the paper’s request for comment. (In addition, the report stated, “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.”)

Reached for comment via email, Chaplain Kugler told us at Buddhadharma:

“The Chaplain’s Office continually strives to fulfill the spiritual needs of every member of our community, and to provide the most supportive and rewarding environment possible. As always, we warmly encourage and welcome the ideas and expressions of everyone with a commitment to Buddhism. We will be reaching out to those we have been serving to ensure that we continue to meet their expectations and are responsive to their concerns as the program expands.”

This morning, Blair sent a mass email addressed to “students, staff, faculty, family, and friends of Indigo Blue.” It reads, in part:

“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.
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“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.
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“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.
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“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.
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“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.
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“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.

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“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.
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“[...] 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.
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“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 bpblair@indigoblue.org.
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“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.
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“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.”
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We will bring you more on this story as it develops.