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The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies: EcoDharma Beacon

Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. From

The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (BCBS) is not your average Buddhist organization. Established in 1990 by Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, the center is situated on 48 hectares of wooded land in rural Massachusetts, about 90 minutes west of Boston. Rather than being affiliated with any one tradition or lineage, the center lists 194 different Dharma teachers on its website and is known for holding a wide range of residential and online programs, retreats, and workshops.

When I reached out to the BCBS, it was with the intention of finding out about their environmental policies, practices, and challenges. What I discovered through my correspondence with William Edelglass, director of studies, and Richard Henning, executive director, far surpassed my expectations: the BCBS is at the vanguard of ecoDharma practice, offering much to share with others.

Minimizing the center’s environmental footprint

Here are examples from the past five years:

  • • Performed a systematic evaluation of building insulation and an insulation project to address places that were inadequate;
  • • Installed heat pumps in every BCBS building;
  • • Had a crew from the local utility carry out a US$6,000 lightbulb replacement project, most of which was covered by a grant from the state so that the center only had to pay US$1,000;
  • • Conducted a US$7,000 project changing the center’s cooling system for a walk-in fridge and freezer that made it much more energy-efficient;
  • • Adding EV charging;
  • • Major solar installation, putting panels on both sides of the Dharma Hall roof. This is the first phase of a larger solar project. The BCBS is planning one more big installation or two smaller ones to cover virtually all their electricity usage, including the increased usage from heat pumps and EV chargers;
  • • Committed to serving organic and local farm food as much as possible;
  • • Established a board committee, including three staff members, that is focused on land stewardship.

Looking to the future, being a rural retreat center running many programs, the BCBS recognizes that their most significant sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at this point come from transportation and food. They’ve carried out a GHG analysis of most of their emissions except for those two, which require much more data than they currently have available.

The grounds of the BCBS. From

Cultivating ecoDharma in North America

Recognizing the need for Buddhism to speak to the current causes and manifestations of suffering, many teachers at the BCBS emphasize contemporary social, political, and ecological issues, integrated into whatever Dharma topics their programs address.

Here is a sample of some of the workshops they have hosted in the past three years and/or are planning, all grounded in the orientation that environmental work is part of contemporary Buddhist practice. You may recognize many of the teachers’ names. The titles of the workshops—mostly experiential, in person, but some with an online component—reveal a plethora of possibilities!

  • • Tim Ream: Practicing the Dharma as Earth Activism;
    • Touching the Earth, an annual three-week retreat for young adults on a Vermont homestead;
    • Nic Redfern: Turning Toward the Climate Emergency Together;
  • • Bhikkhu Anālayo: Mindfully Facing Climate Change (this was an online course that had more than 2,000 participants);
  • • Kaira Jewel, Konda Mason, Eden Tull: Embodied Change-Making and Sacred Justice on Behalf of Life (this is a three-month program culminating in a week-long residential retreat for activists);
  • • Chris Ives: Buddhist Resources for Engaging the Climate Crisis; Meditations on the Trail – Being Fully in Nature as Nature;
  • • Adam Lobel: Spacious, Vibrant, and Responsive – A Dzogchen Ecology for the Anthropocene;
  • • Stephanie Kaza and William Edelglass: program on Climate and Climate Justice for Dharma Teachers; retreat on climate and Buddhism for the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center to help them become more climate-focused;
  • • David Loy: Buddhist Responses to a World in Crisis; The New Bodhisattva Path – Buddhism in a Dangerous Time; EcoDharma – Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis; Buddhism and the Ecological Challenge;
  • • Thanissara: Engaging the Call for ReLOVEution – Dharma-Informed Activism for These Times;
  • • Jess Morey: Belonging to the Earth – Wise Action Toward a Life-Sustaining Society;
  • • Lama Rod Owens: Becoming a New Saint—while it is not clear from the title, Lama Rod’s work has turned very much toward Earth-based practice and environmental activism;
  • • Kristin Barker and Adam Lobel: Discover your EcoDharma – Provocations and Possibilities for Practitioners;
  • • Joanna Macy and Stephanie Kaza: A Wild Love for the World – Joanna Macy on Grief, Gratitude, and Belonging;
  • • Lama Elizabeth Monson: a year-long program that emphasizes climate and ecoDharma, The Wild Edge of Love – Buddhist Rituals of Reconnection to Nature.

The center has also published articles on ecoDharma in their Insight Journal and the coming summer 2024 edition is a special issue devoted to ecoDharma.

Started in 2023, and planned for 2024 through 2027, the BCBS is hosting an annual retreat for Dharma teachers who are primarily focused on climate/ecoDharma/Green Buddhism. Participants include Stephanie Kaza, David Loy, Kirsten Rudestam, Susie Harrington, Tim Ream, Thanissara, Santacitta Bhikkhunī, Kritee Kanko, Kaira Jewel Lingo, Deborah Eden Tull, Nic Redfern, Dekila Chungyalpa, Willa Baker, Rod Owens, Kristin Barker, John Bell.


But wait, there’s more!

The BCBS has been working closely with the BESS Foundation, which in January 2024 published a wonderful 38-page resource based on that first retreat titled Earth-Based Mindfulness and Meditation: An Exploration of Ecodharma Practices, and who have committed to support the future retreats. (FlippingBook)

In addition, Bhikkhu Anālayo’s book Mindfully Facing Climate Change (BCBS, 2019) is available as a free download* as well as an inexpensive print edition.** The book is a cogent and meticulous analysis of early Buddhist discourses, revealing extensive, solid foundations for a Buddhist ecological ethic and path, while critiquing oversimplifications and false parallels with other approaches to the challenges of the Anthropocene.

Collaborating with other environmental organizations

The BCBS is a party to the Hawes Hill Conservation Corridor, a 393-hectare project at the headwaters of the Prince River watershed. In addition to the landowners—including the Insight Meditation Society next door to the BCBS—it is a collaboration between the Mount Grace Land Trust, Mass Audubon, the Barre Conservation Commission, the East Quabbin Land Trust, and the Massachusetts Division of Water Supply Protection. The conservation restriction comes into effect in June 2024. The project is part of a larger initiative to safeguard 30 per cent of rural Massachusetts in land trusts by 2030.***

The BCBS is setting aside 21 hectares of its land for the conservation restriction—with permitted activities including hiking trails, benches, meditation huts, and so on. This land is a key connector with the other parcels in the land corridor and watershed.

Sensitive to the political aspects of the project and acknowledging the centuries-long stewardship of the land by the Nipmuc peoples, BCBS requested that their participation be sponsored by the Grace Land Trust rather than Mass Audubon—who had originally approached them—because several BCBS Board members were uncomfortable partnering with an organization named after a slave holder. Fortunately, both those secular organizations were understanding and very flexible in accommodating the center.

Facing climate change and acting appropriately

Climate change is not an abstract concept. It is a dynamic with very specific ecological implications. In the case of BCBS, the response has involved surveying the property and dividing it into three domains:

  • • Concentration around buildings;
  • • Transitional area with surrounding fields and transitioning into woods;
  • • The majority of the property, which is forested and will be preserved as is, with almost half of it being included in the conservation easement closing in June.

Documenting the flora and fauna on the property is particularly pertinent now because the forest is in transition. The beech trees in New England have beech blight. The emerald ash borer is killing almost all the ash trees. And the hemlock woolly adelgid is decimating the hemlocks. Moreover, it is highly likely that the sugar maples in the region will not survive the warming climate in the next half-century. So the BCBS is in a position where they need to think carefully about how they can support their forests in playing a beneficial role in carbon sequestration and storage and climate resilience.

The property is also home to bobcats, lynx, coyote, bear, deer, skunk, fox, several species of owl, several species of hawk, etc. So, their habitats need to be maintained and strengthened. One of the goals of the conservation easement with BCBS’s neighbors is to create a significant corridor between large protected areas.

A message of inspiration and encouragement

I asked William Edelglass to imagine that BCBS had cultivated an impact network of other rural Buddhist centers and convened a colloquium. Then I asked him what his top three suggestions for them would be, based on his experience, while acknowledging that each center has different challenges and opportunities. Here’s what he said:

I think it was helpful for us to integrate programming and concrete/material changes. So, for instance, we offered the Mindfully Facing Climate Change program on a dāna basis and said we would use the dāna for a solar project. This meant that the support of the program was going directly towards doing something in the context of climate destabilization. At the same time, we had a special issue of our journal in four parts on Mindfully Facing Climate Change. And we also published it as a book. Then, building on the climate change course with more than two thousand people, we announced that all the money raised by our spring appeal would go to the solar and insulation project.

I feel like it has been important to create an identity for ourselves as having an ecological mission. I realize that we don’t [yet] reflect this on our website. But it has motivated us and we understand that the projects that we have done are also teaching others about what we think is appropriate to embody the dharma in an age of climate destabilization. This is true at the Board level, where we have had lots of conversations—until last month, our Board co-chair was a professor at Harvard who specializes in climate—to the staff, and to our yogis.

The reason it worked for us is that we understand that to follow the dharma in this day and age means to act in response to climate change. This cannot just be rhetorical. It cannot just be programmatic. It must be concrete. But for us, at least, it has been helpful to also be rhetorical and programmatic, as that is what helps us all get behind the fundraising and expenditures necessary to significantly reduce our GHG emissions.

Sarva mangalam.

* Mindfully Facing Climate Change (PDF file; Universität Hamburg)

** Mindfully Facing Climate Change (

*** Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030 (Commonwealth of Massachusetts)

See more

An Ecodharma Retreat for Buddhist Teachers (Tricycle)
Earth-Based Mindfulness and Meditation An Exploration of Ecodharma Practices (FlippingBook)

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Ajahn Sona, Off the Grid
For the Earth: Buddhist Environmental Thought and Activism
Touching the Earth: An Ecodharma Retreat
Planetary Healing: Buddhism and World Ecology

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