The Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC), a Buddhist retreat center and pilgrimage site in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, was overrun by the Cameron Peak wildfire last week. The center lost some buildings but the Great Stupa and items enshrined inside it survived.
According to reports from SMC director Michael Gayner, the fire reached the center on 26 September. It was not immediately clear what damage the fire had caused, but over the days that followed Gayner and others were able to visit and assess the extent of the loss.
By 27 September, it was clear that most of the main buildings had survived, including the kitchen and dining areas, the Sacred Studies Building, the registration building, and the Great Stupa. However, numerous smaller buildings were consumed in the fire—most of them situated on the periphery of the grounds.
Center staff took care to move sacred objects into the Great Stupa ahead of the fire. “It’s made of concrete and rebar, so it’s unburnable,” Gayner said. “It’s intact. The firefighters had a lot of people and engines up there, just doing doing amazing work protecting our structures. “We’ve just gotten overwhelming numbers of emails of support and it’s been deeply touching to hear about what SMC means to people, and the power of the stupa as a place of pilgrimage. The Stupa is definitely one of those things people go to for solace and rejuvenation.” (Denver Post)
Dharma teachers have been posting messages of support for the center and community over the last week, including Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche and Lama Tsultrim Allione.
The Shambhala Board issued the following statement summarizing recent events and plans moving forward:
To the Shambhala Community –
As many of you know, last night, the Cameron Peak wildfire expanded onto the Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) land. SMC Director Michael Gayner is working with local authorities to assess current damage and communicate out to the sangha, and the Shambhala Board is working to support Michael and the staff who have evacuated the land.
For the most up-to-date information and communications, please visit the Shambhala Mountain Center Facebook page or their Cameron Peak Fire Update webpage.
As new updates become available, they will be e-mailed to the SMC mailing list, as well as posted to the Facebook page and webpage linked here. We expect more updates from Michael later today.
Please refer to his messages for the most complete and accurate information about the status of the land and structures.
The last 24 hours have been heartbreaking and devastating for all of us, given our deep heart connection to this sacred land. Michael has also communicated that the SMC staff is being supported and he is grateful for all of the care and love being expressed from our sangha.
We want to express our deep appreciation for the efforts of Michael Gayner and the SMC staff who are doing everything they can to protect this precious land.
Please continue to hold SMC, the staff, firefighters and Colorado residents in your practice. As possible, we will continue to communicate how best to support our center and staff. For now, the communications channels referenced above are the most reliable and current sources of information.
The Shambhala Board
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the head of the Shambhala organization, also issued a statement:
To the Shambhala Community,
The Sakyong Wangmo and I have been staying informed of the situation at Shambhala Mountain Center. We began practicing as soon as we heard of the dangers and have received many supplications from students to hold Shambhala Mountain Center in our prayers.
Shambhala Mountain Center is a special place, infused with the blessings of our lineage and we are deeply saddened by the losses that we’ve heard about. At this poignant time, we are holding the well-being of Shambhala Mountain Center in our hearts and in our practice.
With a tender heart,
The center has created an online fundraiser for those who would like to offer support. Gayner noted: “COVID stripped out all of our finances, so we have been crawling through the year.” He added that anyone who wanted to support the center could donate on its website: “At a time like this, some help would be wonderful.” (Denver Post)
The SMC was founded by the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche—father of Sakyong Mipham—with his students in 1971. Trungpa, Sakyong, and the organization as a whole have come under renewed scrutiny in recent years as allegations of abuse have mounted, spearheaded in part by Andrea Winn’s Project Sunshine exposé.
As of this writing, the Cameron Peak Fire is 51,330 hectares in size and is 42 per cent contained. The nearby Mullen Fire has spread over 69,540 hectares with 14 per cent containment. More than 2,000 people have been assigned to fight the two large fires. Dry and windy conditions across the region have made containing these and other fires extremely difficult.
Landmark building at Buddhist retreat survives Cameron Peak fire (Denver Post)
Cameron Peak Fire Updates (Shambhala Mountain Center)
Board Letter Regarding SMC Wildfire (Shambhala Times)
Message from the Sakyong regarding fire at SMC (Shambhala Times)
What we know Monday: Cameron Peak Fire breaks north containment line overnight (Coloradoan)