Bhavana Society celebrates 40 years in High View
HIGH VIEW — “You know, this really is a very loving place.”
Brian Chamowitz spoke in a low voice, his bare feet padding down the hall away from the hushed meditation hall.
As if on cue, a sizeable spider scurried across the hallway in front of him, and one of the Bhavana Society’s weekend visitors immediately stooped down, gently guiding the spider into her cupped hands. She cooed that she’d take him outside, out of harm’s way.
Chamowitz smiled and gestured toward the visitor who carried the spider to safety.
She was proving his point.
The Bhavana Society, High View’s hidden gem of a Buddhist monastery and meditation center, celebrated its 40th birthday here this May. The center has an intricate, beautiful timeline, beginning May 4, 1982, when the land was purchased for $18,000 – the exact amount the organization had in the bank at the time.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (called “Bhante G” by others at the monastery) founded the Bhavana Society, and at the center’s 40th anniversary celebration, he looked back at how far it has come since it began in 1982.
“Bhavana is a unique place. There are different kinds of people here. Sri Lankan, Chinese, Indian, Burmese, American,” he said. “So many different groups here. This is the place for them.”
The center’s 40th anniversary soirée coincided with the Buddhist Vesak holiday, which celebrates the birth, the enlightenment and the death of the Buddha – events, Bhante G emphasized, that are “significant for the entire universe.”
“Everything (the Buddha) did, he did mindfully. Eating, drinking, speaking, even going to the bathroom – the call of nature. In all of this, be mindful,” Bhante G described to the visitors gathered reverently in the meditation hall last month. “It is extremely impossible for any human being to scratch the surface of the greatness of the Buddha. We can’t do it, but we can try.”
The center has been trying to scratch that surface here in Hampshire County for 4 decades now, and even though they had to close to the public for 2 years during the pandemic, their doors are open now, and everyone is welcome. One of the refrains that echoed around the property during their anniversary celebration was, “come and see for yourself.”
It’s an open invitation for everyone, no matter who you are. Come and see for yourself.
“The population here ebbs and flows like crazy,” explained Chamowitz, an Alexandria, Va. native and currently the only lay resident at the center. “It’s completely open, you just have to contact (the center) to let them know you’re coming.” The center has a website, bhavanasociety.org, that explains how you can schedule a visit.
Everything is free; since the Buddha never charged for his teachings, Chamowitz said, the Bhavana Society doesn’t charge for anything either.
Visitors come from all over the region, either just to visit, spend a weekend or experience one of the center’s occasional retreats.
One of the visitors, Cindy, said she’s gone to several Bhavana Society retreats now.
“This is the most peaceful and wonderful place,” she said.
Bhante G took time to thank everyone who has helped in any way over the last 4 decades, but emphasized the impact of 1 individual: Matthew Flickstein.
Flickstein met Bhante G in the ’70s when he was seeking meditation guidance. The 2 go way back; Flickstein was even able to address the center’s visitors at the anniversary celebration – through Zoom, a far cry from any communication technology that would have existed when the center first opened.
“Bhavana means ‘mental cultivation,’” Flickstein explained. “and the (center’s) logo is a lotus, which represents how everything unfolded organically. We had the exact amount of money to pay for (the land).”
Mindfulness, mental cultivation, listening and meditation. The Bhavana Society aims to expand those qualities in all of its visitors, and has been doing so now for years.
While some questions might arise about a forest monastery tucked away in the mountains of West Virginia – chief among them may be, why here, in the Snow Belt? In the Bible Belt? – the answer is simple.
“Come and see for yourself.”