Northern Colorado’s Great Stupa: Service and Resilience

A retreat group stands in front of the Stupa in February, 2022. Photo provided by Drala Mountain Center.

Annie Lindgren | North Forty News

 

Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, CO, recently renamed Drala Mountain Center, is an extra special place in Northern Colorado. They had several challenging years leading up to a recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, but many good things happened in the midst, and they are excited about their future. Here is their story of growth and resilience.

The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. Photo provided by Drala Mountain Center.

 

Drala was founded in 1971 by a Tibetan Buddhist meditation teacher and is one of the oldest of its kind in the United States. Originally a Tibetan Buddhist retreat, it expanded to include a wide range of secular and non-secular traditions and activities. Located in a peaceful mountain setting, the facilities provide meditation and meeting spaces, dining, lodging, year-round programs on meditation, mind and body awareness, contemplative Arts, leadership, outdoor activities, yoga, among their offerings.
With its colorful decorations and gold top, the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is an icon of Buddhist architecture and a place of pilgrimage and refuge for thousands of people every year. The Stupa is a multigenerational project that began in the late 80s and took 14 years of volunteer labor to get it to the point of its 2001 consecration. Spiritual leaders from all over the world have visited, including the Dalai Lama. It is considered inauspicious to ‘finish’ a stupa, so if you see scaffolding, know it is a sign of ongoing work and a reason to return again and again to see the transformations.
People entering The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya at Drala Mountain Center for a visit.

 

What’s with the name change?
In February 2022, Shambhala Mountain Center changed its name to Drala Mountain Center (DMC) to signify its new status as an independent 501c3 educational non-profit. Drala Mountain continues to host programs connected with Shambhala International, a global organization serving Shambhala centers in fifty different countries. DMC’s mission is to bring people together to experience wisdom and serve as a catalyst to create an enlightened society grounded in wisdom and kindness towards individuals, the community, and the natural environment. 
 
On February 28, Drala Mountain Center filed a voluntary chapter 11 subchapter 5 bankruptcy petition. This came after a financially challenging couple of years. The COVID-19 Pandemic forced the cancelation of in-person programming and retreats for sixteen months. In 2020, the Cameron Peak Fire caused evacuations, destroyed 17 buildings, and damaged power and water infrastructure for a total of $1.9 million in damages. In 2018 and 2019 programs were impacted after a sexual misconduct scandal arose involving the leader of the international Shambhala community. Some retreats were canceled, and an investigation ensued. Drala Mountain Center established a level of independence in 2020 and then completed legal independence in 2021. Changes to policies and training practices assured the organization addressed all the concerns. 
Michael Gayner, the Executive Director of Drala Mountain Center, joined the team in 2010. He shares, “for organizations experiencing pandemic, fire-related or other challenges such as we have over the past few years but have a viable business model and demonstrable path to financial stability, chapter 11 subchapter 5 is a powerful tool that can streamline and thereby lower the costs of a reorganization. It is a positive process, and we expect to emerge within around 6 months, with strong financials and significantly less debt.”
Michael Gayner describes the significance of land formations to DMC staff on the west side of the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. Photo provided by DMC.

 

Despite the struggles, there has been growth. They offered online programs via Zoom, received over $600,000 in donations to rebuild and repair the fire-damaged property, and were able to reopen in July of 2021. In addition, they received a $500,000 matching donation from the Pema Chödrön Foundation to help pay off the debt that they are well on the way to matching. During the chapter 11 process, DMC continues to hold a range of programs and retreats and scheduling extends through 2022 and beyond.
While working with fire, finances, and the pandemic, they also found time for interesting projects.
 
One such project is their forestry work, gaining them international and regional recognition. In 2019 they were awarded the Larimer County Land Stewardship honor for their Phase 1 forestry work. In 2021 they completed Phase II, restoring the health of over 225 acres of forest. Mac McGoldrick, the Senior Director of Built and Natural Environments, was recognized in November 2021 as Land Manager of the Year. They partner with numerous regional conservation, education, and forest agencies. Their work illustrates how fires become more manageable in healthy forests.
An Ermine near the Stupa, photo by Michael Gayner

Another project is social impact work, where they partner with other organizations to provide space for retreats, spiritual gatherings and rituals, workshops, and so much more. “We want to contribute to and support organizations that are doing important work with communities that would not normally access resources like DMC,” shares Michael. Partnerships vary based on the needs of those involved, so reach out to find out more.

Preparing for Ihasang (smoke offerings) behind the Sacred Studies Hall. Photo credit Miles Greenlee.
Kyudo (contemplative archery) demonstration. Photo credit Miles Greenlee.

 

Dhi Good, Drala’s Director of Marketing, shares her excitement with seeing more first-time visitors and younger attendees. “There has been a strong demand for straightforward meditation instruction, without an emphasis on a particular tradition, just straightforward meditation instruction. Many of the guests are in the helping professions and need respite, rejuvenation, and renewal.” Those interested in seeing what Drala offers in programs and retreats can sign up through dralamountain.org
Yoga and Meditation Retreat in the Sacred Studies Hall at DMC

 

Stay tuned for a follow-up story that digs deeper into what is happening with the forestry work. Drala Mountain Center is a shining example of how proper land management creates thriving environments for humans, plants, and animals alike.
Moose in the snow at DMC, photo taken by Michael Gayner from his home on the property.

 

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