7:00 Wake-up bells
10:00 – 1:00 Seva
2:00 – 6:00 Seva
7:30 Evening Program
The daily schedule changes from time to time, and from winter to summer, but the basic structure above is generally followed.
Meditation is held every day, generally for thirty minutes, though in the winter the time is usually increased. There is no structure to this time, except for observing silence. Some practice Buddhist meditation techniques, others use the time for silent mantras, and some just enjoy the quiet space. It is a way to develop self-awareness and to begin the day softly.
Heart Club is held on Wednesday evenings after dinner. Everyone who has been on the land for more than a week is invited. During this time we open our hearts and ears to each other. It is, amongst other things, a deep practice of listening. As the talking stick passes around the circle, we are given the opportunity to drop our own stories and sink into the spirit of compassion for the speaker, and community. Speakers are invited to share their struggles, joys, and whatever is in their hearts. There is no time limit. The ability to speak and share, coupled with the opportunity to listen and sympathize, is part of the backbone of communication that promotes community and trust at Lama. On occasion, it creates the most subtle, beautiful moment – that rare and special blossoming of the heart.
Zikr is held most Thursday evenings. The Sufi practice of remembrance, it is a group practice involving chant and movement, bringing our awareness to the source of all life.
Shabbat is held every Friday evening, ever since Rabbi Zalman Schachter first introduced the practice to Lama in 1970. Since then, family and friends have gathered every Friday night at Lama Foundation to take food, converse and welcome in the Shekina, the presence of God. Sometimes traditional, sometimes delightfully casual, every evening is different, but the candles will always be lit, the wine will be blessed, and the challah always shared amongst those gathered.
Men’s and Women’s Lodges. On occasion, just the men or women at Lama come together to share a circle of common understanding. Often similar to heart club, the format can vary, including hikes, evening bonfires, or whatever those present find valuable.
Drum Circles and other creative events happen regularly in the summer, often after Shabbat or whenever the mood strikes. With plenty of drums, guitars, and other instruments to play, this is an opportunity for musicians both practiced and new to come together and make music and fun – and dance!
Countless other events and ceremonies take place at Lama, but these are the core practices that occur weekly, or nearly weekly. The summer is rife with special opportunities like the sharing of kirtan, Dances of Universal Peace, sweat lodges, trips to the Hanuman Temple in Taos, group outings, visits by various teachers or communities, herb walks, participation in retreat offerings, and much more.
Families at Lama
Lama is delighted to have children and families on the land, both short-term and long-term. Many little ones were born on the land, and their return is always a gift. Incidentally, children born at Lama are the sole individuals whose tuition is waived. Lama has many children’s toys, books, a playground and plenty of helpful individuals. Older children can often find a playmate, and their incorporation into the structure of Lama usually occurs easily as there is always something to do. However, children used to plenty of time with electronics can find Lama challenging. No structured childcare system exists, but it is very common to find a free hand who delights in time with children and can give weary parents a brief respite. If you are coming to Lama as a retreatant and wish to bring your child, please call beforehand to discuss individual needs.
How does Lama support itself?
Lama thrives on many hands. The resident circle performs the bulk of the daily work, both winter and summer, but is heavily reliant on the steward community in the summer for help in the kitchen, preparation of spaces, work in the garden, hauling recyclables and trash, and every miscellaneous thing that arises. Dozens of volunteers provide support wherever it is needed, whether on our solar power system, plumbing repairs, preparing meals in the kitchen, or organizing the library. Visitors and retreatants, often serendipitously, fill much-needed roles, providing knowledge or expertise that is lacking in the current circle. It is truly a community effort.
Lama’s finances come from various sources, but we are still heavily dependent on donations. Nearly half the needed income comes from summer programs. The rest is comprised of donations, Flag Mountain Cottage Industries, royalties from the book Be Here Now, hermitage income, guest fees, fundraising events, grants, etc.
The Lama Foundation was founded in 1967 by Steve (now Nooruddeen) and Barbara Durkee (now Asha Greer) and Jonathan Altman, whose work with the psychedelic art community USCO in New York led to the intention and eventual creation of the community in Lama, New Mexico. Designed by Steve, the Dome complex was the first building constructed at Lama Foundation, and Little Joe Gomez of the Taos Pueblo, an early mentor to the fledgling community, directed its construction. Another early mentor, Hermann Rednick directed the formation of the invisible structure. On his counsel, Steve, Barbara, and Jonathan agreed to three fundamental rules that have shaped Lama since it’s beginning: 1) No drugs 2) Daily Meditation 3) Marital Fidelity. In 1968, the community was incorporated as a non-profit “educational and scientific” organization.
In 1970, Steve and Barbara’s friend Richard Alpert, now Ram Dass, returned from his first pilgrimage in India where he met his guru Neem Karoli Baba. With the aid of the artists in residence at Lama Foundation, Be Here Now was originally printed and sold by the members of the community in 1971, and eventually reformatted and printed for mass publication by Random House.
The success of Be Here Now led to a flourish of activity, and Lama Foundation quickly became a landmark for spiritual renewal and discovery. One of the first centers in the United States to host Eastern teachers, the inter-religious dialogue at Lama helped to spark a national movement. During this time, Lama hosted many eminent spiritual leaders, notably Murshid Samuel Lewis of the Chisti order of Sufis who is now buried at Lama Foundation, Stephen Levine, Jack Kornfield, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Father Thomas Keating, Robert Bly, Baba Hari Dass, Natalie Goldberg, Bhante Gunaratana, Rabbi Zalman Schachter, and Joshu Sasaki Roshi.
Originally, the intent for Lama was to be a place of residence for the founders, and the programs and retreats held here were generally for them and a select group of people on a similar path. With the booming success of the 70’s, however, Lama quickly turned into a large retreat center, hosting gatherings upwards of 100 people, highlighted by the yearly Ram Dass retreat, which drew enormous crowds.
The success and evolution at Lama continued through the 80’s and 90’s, but on May 5, 1996, a massive forest fire turned the once highly forested area into a relative empty expanse. The fire, which consumed about 7,500 acres of national forest, nearly wiped out everything at Lama Foundation. However, the Dome Complex and the kitchen, along with the, as yet incomplete, new kitchen and community center, survived. Twenty-two other buildings were entirely destroyed. The Intensive Studies Center (ISC) was burned to rubble though much of the foundation and the original adobe walls remained intact. Work immediately began to rebuild Lama Foundation, and enormous outpourings of love, effort, and funds poured in. Later that year, Ram Dass suffered a debilitating stroke and his physical presence at Lama Foundation was forever lessened.
Throughout the late 90’s and the first decade of the new millennium, Lama Foundation began building with a new vision, adding permaculture to the spiritual and community focus that were always present. Massive efforts were undertaken to protect the unstable soil from eroding and to provide clean drinking water. New buildings were constructed with fallen timbers, straw bales, cob walls, passive and active solar heat, and other natural building techniques. New gardens were developed, and the whole mountain buzzed with activity. During this time, Lama became a classroom for permaculture and natural building, hosting many workshops dubbed “Build Here Now”. Work continues to this day, and Lama Foundation has hosted a full program of retreats for many years now. Housing is available for up to 20 residents or guests, and work is under way for increased guest capacity.
Since the fire, the resident circle has shrunk to about 8-12 people each year, but in the summer there may be as many as 100 people on the land: teachers, retreatants, stewards, guests, and volunteers. The sense of community is palpable, the core values are firm, the practices are breathtaking, and with God’s grace, the future will bring many more people to Lama.
The governance of Lama
Lama is guided by the spirit of consensus, and every decision must go through some form of it. Each body, however, has a unique method of consensus.
The resident circle is responsible for most daily decisions. From summer programs, maintenance of the infrastructure, accounting, record keeping, organizing practices and events, conducting meetings, coordination of the kitchen, oversight of construction, editing the website, laundry, and doing the dishes – every detail of daily life at Lama is in the purview of the resident circle. This work is completed only with the enormous aid of the steward community in the summer and the dozens of volunteers that work tirelessly throughout the year.
Currently, consensus amongst the residents is defined as all “yes’s”, or all “yes’s” and one “stand-aside”. One “no” vote means no. One “stand-aside” is allowed, but two such votes is equivalent to a “no”. Therefore, decisions must be made with everyone in mind, and the intent is always to appeal to the best choice for Lama as a whole, not for the individual. Needless to say, meetings are an integral aspect of resident life at Lama.
Within the resident circle, there is a group of caretaking members, generally residents who have been at Lama longer and have an eye towards the long-term success of the Foundation. From these members are elected a Coordinator, Treasurer, and Secretary, the three officers of the Lama Foundation, the closest thing Lama has to an executive branch. The board of trustees places the legal responsibility for the Foundation in their hands.
As a non-profit, Lama Foundation is required to have a board of trustees. Ultimate legal authority rests in the hands of this board, per the structure of 501c(3) organizations, but the board, mostly comprised of past residents, chooses to serve as an advisory board rather than a decision-making body. They do not impose decisions upon the resident circle, but prefer to make suggestions. Their wisdom and insight, of course, are obviously invaluable and therefore they exercise significant “soft” power.
A third body of Lama is the assembly of continuing members. Made up of past residents who are elected to the body of continuing members, these people choose to regularly serve Lama through service, financial support, prayers, or other intentional acts. Like the trustees, all continuing members have significant “soft” power.
The highest decision making body of Lama is the Lama Council. Comprised of three caretakers, two trustees, and two continuing members, the Lama Council is responsible for any decision that costs over $5,000 or has significant long-term impact on the Foundation.
But wait. The community of Lama is more, much more, than those entrusted with responsibility and authority. All of the stewards and volunteers, every retreatant and visitor, every person who walks up the Mountain or holds Lama in his or her heart is a member of the Lama community, and the intent of all of Lama’s members is to create an association that serves everyone. The governors and boards of Lama are servants, seeking a consensus of the whole.
What does “Lama” mean?
The name “Lama” comes from “la lama”, which means “mud” in Portuguese. Portuguese, not Spanish, interestingly, because the predominant culture and language of the early European immigrants who made their home in the Taos vicinity in the 1550’s were Spanish. How precisely the Portuguese term came to be used in this small settlement 20 miles north of Taos is uncertain, but the community that developed, and continues to this day, is aptly named. During the winter and spring, the roads and paths are perpetually muddy from the freeze/thaw of the snow and the spring rains. Nearly everyone on the Mountain has an anterior “mudroom”, where shoes are taken off in order to keep the rest of the house from becoming one large dirt floor.
Many mistakenly assume the name “Lama” refers solely to Lama Foundation and implies a singularly Buddhist focus. In fact, Lama Foundation was named for the Spanish community that was already here when the Foundation was founded. The land itself was historically an important crossroads for the Pueblo Indians that travelled through the area, and the spring on the land was considered a holy place, where warfare was not allowed. One of the original homesteads in the area, the approximately 110-acre property was privately owned before the Forest Service bought up the surrounding mountains and protected it as the Carson National Forest. Famously, the co-founders of Lama Foundation named it for the Lama area and the concrete foundation that existed on the property when they purchased it.
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Lama has two main community buildings – the Dome Complex and the Community Center. Each has a unique function. The Dome is the spiritual home of Lama, the icon. Most retreats and ceremonies are held in this space, though the outdoors provides plenty of room too. Connected to the Dome are the Library, the Prayer Room, the Music Room, and the Wash House. The Library is a beautiful space to rest for a morning or afternoon, and has an enormous and utterly unique collection of spiritual, herbal, scientific, and psychological books. The Prayer Room is where meditation is held every day, a circular room sunk into the earth, like nothing else. The Music Room, once called the Only Room, because it was the only completed room at Lama, holds Lama’s many drums, guitars, a piano, a harmonium, synthesizer, sitar, didgeridoo, and many other instruments. The Wash House has a communal space where residents and guests store toiletries, and can brush their teeth and wash their face. Next to this space is an enormous private shower, tiled in deep blue and surrounded by living bamboo. Showers may be restricted in the summer months due to temporary water shortages or large groups. Adjacent to the shower room is one of Lama’s greenhouses.
The Community Center is comprised of the Kitchen, the heart of the community, the Pantry and the Larder. Off the Kitchen is a large Portal where meals are served in the summer. The building also houses the Lama Office, the Mudroom, the Dining Room, the Den, and another greenhouse.
The Dewdrop is a small building with two phones and two computers for guest use. It is also where mail is sorted to individuals, and the best place for guests to recharge electronic devices. Underneath the Dewdrop is the Old Larder, where root vegetables are stored in winter months.
The Workshop is stocked with nearly every tool needed for nearly every task that happens on the mountain, and then some. Next to the Workshop is a Recycling building where recycling is sorted before being brought to town and excess materials are stored.
A Solar Shed, near the bank of solar panels, is the residence of the battery bank, various inverters, breakers, the generator, and what supplies might be needed for maintenance of the solar power system.
The CI building is home to Flag Mountain Cottage Industries, where Lama’s prayer flags are printed. It houses the Lamassary, Lama’s retail space where prayer flags and other spiritual goodies are sold.
The Sauna is wood fired and provides room for up to 12-15 people.
The Tree House provides two large spaces for residents, or guests if they are unoccupied by residents.
The Teacher’s House, the first building built after the 1996 fire, is reserved for teachers during retreats, and it is open to guests at other times. In the winter it may serve as housing for a resident.
The ISC, badly burned in the 1996 fire, has been partially restored. It now provides five guest spaces. Adjacent to these spaces is the majestic Sky Temple, a roofless circular structure that provides a beautiful ceremonial and quiet space. There is a hand-crafted stone prayer niche (mihrab) near the Sky Temple.
Two hermitages are on the property. The Maqbara, near the gravesite of Murshid Samuel Lewis, the Sufi saint buried on Lama property, offers enormous panoramic views to the west. The Bear hermitage, built by women, is enveloped by oaks and provides a quiet space for personal retreat.
Two yurts are on the property, both of which are used for guest housing in the summer. One for men and one for women, they are shared spaces furnished with bunk beds.
Greensong and Keyline are two one-room straw bale residences used by residents of Lama Foundation.
Earth Sky and Vault I, similar in construction to the Bear hermitage, are small one-room residences for Lama residents.
The Kanaat, a wood timber structure is used as a home for Lama residents.
The Blue Bird, used as a residence, is a timber-frame structure with a central room and an adjacent greenhouse.
The Aspen A, the only residence to predate the 1996 fire has recently been rehabbed and is currently being used as a residence.
The Bungalow, a small, rustic structure can house 1-2 guests in the summer.
A bank of three Outdoor Showers is available for use in the summer months. Though out of doors, the stalls are entirely private and have plenty of hot water. All showers may be restricted in the summer months due to temporary water shortages or large groups.
Two Solar Showers are nestled into the oaks and provide a great, energy free shower.
There are four Outhouses on Lama land, the only option for solid waste. Men and women are encouraged to urinate in discrete areas on the land, but two “Pee-Screens” are provided in convenient locations for women who are unable to squat.
A Sweat Lodge is kept on the land and used occasionally in ceremony.
Most stewards, visitors and retreatants camp in their own tents. Lama is working to provide more indoor spaces for guests, but nearly all the available space is occupied in the summer months.
Water is sourced from a spring located on Lama land. Taps on the Portal, in the Kitchen, the Mudroom, and in the Wash House provide potable, filtered water.
Electricity is provided by the sun. Lama has ample solar panels and battery supplies, but is entirely off-grid. The use of electronics is generally discouraged for this reason, and because phones, computers, and other electronics distract from the spirit and presence that we hope to instill at Lama.
Be Here Now
Be Here Now, the story of Richard Alpert’s conversion and transformation into Ram Dass, amongst other things, is a perennial best seller and a 1970’s icon. A friend of Lama Foundation co-founders Steve and Barbara Durkee, Ram Dass returned from his first pilgrimage to India in 1970, taking up residence at Lama Foundation. During this time, he wrote what would eventually become the first section of Be Here Now, or Journey: The Transformation: Dr. Richard Alpert, PHD into Baba Ram Dass. He also, along with Steve and the other residents of Lama, contributed to the creation of the other three sections, the illustrations and aphorisms of From Bindhu to Ojas, the instructions given in the Cookbook section, and the recommended references in the Painted Cakes section. The work, originally hand-published by Lama Foundation quickly became a cultural phenomenon, and our portion of the sales continues to help support Lama Foundation to this day.