Orderly Chaos: Is there a Dharma Architecture? An invitation to senior students:
On average, North Americans relocate every seven years, reinforcing a sense of independence from space – even a superiority to space. We treat homes and neighborhoods much like clothing: we use them until they wear-out, then we try something new. Awkwardly, our old homes and neighborhoods do not go away like our old clothes. They persist; they often fester for the lack of attention.
I venture to say that Jack has taken the challenge of evolving practice and living into a seamless whole. These traditional local patterns are focused on achieving a home for its teachers and a school for its students. Jack, as teacher, has a great advantage: he has leveraged a 100-year-old house that employs 400-plus years of tradition in its native context. Its timeless qualities are reinforced and actualized by the surrounding culture which venerates the art form and practice.
With an unceremonious modern culture of construction, the inhabitants of the West are unduly challenged to develop the required attention and diligence to effectively merge practice and daily living. Furthermore, due to a chronic deficiency of integrated patterns of space, there is a desire to fill space with the contents of our mind. Whether posh or kitsch or somewhere in between, the collections of our lives with which we decorate our space are reflections of our habitual patterns: our aspirations and our hang-ups. The focus of the space is not pointed at the natural world, nor is it accommodating an expansive perspective (chronologically or spiritually). Rather it serves to highlight that which distracts us from others and our experience of nature.
Another interesting attempt to "reverse engineer" a sense of architectural space was initiated in the 1970s by a group of researchers at UC Berkley. They developed a collection of spatial patterns and a theory for how places that have a sense of timelessness employ those patterns. As it was funded by the United States government, the study was culturally focused on North American and European patterns. In the simplest definition, this collection of patterns invites the user of proposed architecture to lead with an emotional desire, and then build a space that fulfills that desire. The results were interesting but challenging to apply consistently.
In my career as an architect, I have found myself fawning over a single pattern in a design for a building which had a high potential for user delight. I could lavish hours on tweaking such spatial patterns to maximize their connections to the elements, the seasons, etc. Such isolated patterns were not consistently grown from a language of patterns, and so my results in employing patterns similarly have been mixed. Even so, opportunities to delve into the design of a spatial pattern arise more often for me since a disproportionate number of my projects are sacred spaces. Such work also has led to conversations with sangha members about the design of retreat cabins, retreat centers, and, recently, retirement communities.
There has been an expressed need within the sangha to develop a manner of living suitable for the elders of the community, a space that integrates our culture with our practice. To achieve this, I invite the elders to participate in a two-month study that integrates your understanding of the nature of mind with your innate understanding of delightful space. This invitation to Western senior Dharma students is manifold in purpose:
- you have the most experience with the traditional patterns of abiding
- your contemplative energies are likely focused on the question of how to live in a manner that fosters practice
- you are likely possessed of the bittersweet awareness that a home is a possession of Samsara
Trungpa Rinpoche interpreted a variety of cosmological traditions from Tibet and Buddhism and reintroduced them collectively as studies into the nature of art and psychology. Curriculums at Naropa University have been taught for four decades on these subjects, spawning books and weekend workshops and a significant body of research. (My career as an architect began at Naropa in 1996 with the class "Sacred Geometry of Architecture" under Dr. Phillip Tabb.) There is a vast ocean of Dharma cosmology we could draw upon to infuse an "Architecture of Dharma". While there may be more nuanced approaches we could use, the following teachings provide a starting point that has immediate utility, in part because they are not secret:
- Five Wisdom Families
- Natural Hierarchy
The experience of this workshop can guide us to better organize future workshops that address other cosmologies and these patterns of space examined and developed by the volunteers.
For example: Is a kitchen more focused on the abundance it creates, the desire for its craft, or the industrious sous chefs? Would a kitchen be focused on the earth for which it supports or is it a place of inspiration? Does a kitchen that is focused on feeding the masses express more industriousness than a hot-plate in an efficiency apartment? When I’m feeling paranoid should I go cook a meal for a friend?
The goal of this project is not to develop a Buddhist "Xanadu". It is to develop skillful means to create delight in space. Developing these patterns as a group will leverage our collective knowledge in a way that this architect cannot alone bring into being.