Undistracted, aware, and at peace. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The Bodhi Path Center in West Tisbury is an enclave for cultivating just that. Founded in 1999 by Shamar Rinpoche (a lineage holder in Tibetan Buddhism on par with the Dalai Lama), the Bodhi Path Center offers authentic Buddhist teachings, if that’s what you’re after, or simply serves as a place to meditate among community. There are no religious commitments. No membership fees. No ceremonial undertakings. This is nondenominational meditation on your own terms. An “inside job,” Bodhi Path co-coordinator Sharon Gamsby calls it.
Many swear by meditation. Research shows it can reduce stress, control anxiety, assist in pain management, enhance self-awareness, and help combat addiction, among other benefits. Although rooted in Buddhist philosophy, meditation is meant for all, and Bodhi Path centers provide a nonsectarian approach to the practice, according to Gamsby and fellow coordinator Barbara Dacey, who recently sat down with The Times.
Bodhi Path has locations all over the world, and Martha’s Vineyard was put on its map 20 years ago. Shamar Rinpoche had students with ties to the Island, and the first center was in a spec home on Mayflower Lane, for about a year. In 2000, Shamar Rinpoche and his appointed board, which included Gamsby and Dacey (they are now the entire board), found the current location on 21 Laurand Dr. They renovated the once two-car garage into two buildings on a sprawling campus only a few blocks from the beach. One building is the residence, where teachers like Lama Yeshe Drolma and Lama Tsony stay during visits on-Island. The other building is the meditation hall.
Yellow walls with splashes of blue, green, and white — the colors of Tibetan Buddhism — adorn the space. Large windows let in soft light, reflecting off the shiny hardwood floors and mahogany detail. Purple cushions and wicker chairs, each lined up just so, face a front alter embellished with sculptural representations of the Buddha and bodhisattvas. There are flowers, candles, and offering bowls.
The meditation hall is open every Sunday morning and Tuesday and Thursday evening for hourlong drop-in community sessions. People can come and go as they please, no experience is necessary, and everything is donation-based. In the summer, spring, and fall, the center also hosts resident teachers who offer additional instruction and workshops for those interested in deepening their practice.
“The main message is for people to feel comfortable coming in, learning to meditate, and from there, any other parts of the practice are accessible, but not being handed out in a general way,” Gamsby said.
And over the years, the center has generated a vibrant community — each connected to the center in his or her own way.
“Some people bring flowers every week,” Gamsby said. “Some come in early to turn on the lights and make sure the cushions are clean. One regular mows the lawn first thing in the morning. People take different ownership of the space.”
And some people simply bring themselves, which Gamsby and Dacey emphasize is OK, too.
Calm abiding meditation
The co-coordinators admit the center can be intimidating for first-timers. That’s why they offer newcomer information cards with tips explaining the principles of calm abiding meditation — “a very effective, refreshing, and uncomplicated form of meditation,” Shamar Rinpoche writes in his book “Boundless Awakening.” Calm abiding meditation is sort of a gateway to the practice. It focuses on learning to sit still for periods of 10, 20, or 30 minutes, gradually extending the duration of sessions. Many different meditation methods exist, but they all have the same underlying purpose: “to enable the mind to remain peacefully and uninterruptedly in a stable state of one-pointed concentration over an extended period of time,” according to Rinpoche.
Sessions are broken into three 15-minute intervals, and the timekeeper (often Dacey or Gamsby) strikes a bell to break up each interval. Attention to posture is important (lengthened spine, chin slightly tucked toward the chest, palms open or resting on the knees), and counting inhales and exhales is a mechanism of focusing a wandering mind.
The result? Maybe a little more patience. Maybe a friendlier relationship with your mind. Gamsby sees it as a practice of maturing. “When you get triggered and notice yourself getting snarky, taking responsibility for it,” Gamsby said. “You know where you’re coming from.”
She referenced a Tibetan proverb: “It is easy to see the fly on the other person’s nose, while ignoring the horse on your own.”
“It’s looking at the self, and understanding how you operate on different levels of emotion,” Gamsby said. “What generates your actions? Over time, if you’re not being hard on yourself, a kind of maturing takes place. You’re not looking out. You’re looking in. This place is conducive for this.”
“It works like alchemy,” Dacey said. “It’s transformative. Letting go and receiving those aspects of repetitively wishing the best for one another.”
Dacey and Gamsby have seen the transformation. “You can see it in people’s eyes,” Dacey said. “It becomes something that goes beyond ourselves and beyond the walls of the meditation hall. That’s one of the most satisfying things about the whole endeavor.”
Dacey concluded, “The Buddha lived 2,500 years ago. But these authentic teachings are still alive and here on the Vineyard, and at the Bodhi Path.”
The Bodhi Path Center Martha’s Vineyard is located on 21 Laurand Dr., West Tisbury. Tuesday and Thursday meditation sessions run from 6 to 7 pm, and Sunday sessions are 10 to 11 am. For more information, visit bodhipath.org/marthasvineyard.