In the hamlet of Big Indian in Shandaken, the former Rudrananda ashram, a gathering place for idealistic young hippies in the late 1960s, has been coming back to life as a spiritual center since half the property was donated to the Bodhivastu Foundation for Enlightened Activity in 2014. In the past two months, Bodhivastu has purchased the remaining land, which was dedicated with a May 18 Buddha Jayanti celebration of lights at the pond-side temple, commemorating the traditional Nepali date for Buddha’s birth, death, and enlightenment.
“We couldn’t do the project we envisioned with just half the property,” said Lama Rangbar Nyimai Özer, president and founder of Bodhivastu. “The idea was to give life to the original intent of Rudi. He wanted to build a center for spiritual awakening, and that’s what we’re doing also.”
Rudrananda, born Albert Rudolph in Brooklyn in 1928, was initiated by Swami Muktananda in 1966. His ashram drew students such as the late Dean Gitter, who became a local developer, and Stuart Perrin, now known as a spiritual teacher in New York City. After Rudi died in a small plane crash in the Catskills in 1973, his disciples dispersed. One of them, John Mann, bought the property to preserve it as a spiritual center, but over the years it went into decline.
Rangbar has a background not unlike that of Rudi. After growing up in New York City, the former Adam Friedensohn owned a construction company in Kingston in his early twenties. At that time, he attended a retreat at the farmhouse that preceded the Tibetan monastery on Meads Mountain in Woodstock. He then spent 20 years in Nepal, where he brought solar electricity to villages, organized the Himalayan Life Foundation to address poverty, and studied with Buddhist masters of the Vajrayana tradition.
Since Bodhivastu, based in Wappingers Falls, took over the Rudi ashram, students and volunteers have been developing the property as a retreat center and sanctuary. They have built retreat cabins, repaired the stupa shrine to Rudi, and erected a 10,000-pound black granite statue of the goddess Mariamma, donated by Indian spiritual teacher Sai Maa.
The ashram was centered around a 32-room former hotel, once known as Kasimir’s Lodge, which fell into disrepair over the years. “We’ve been doing meditation retreats and teachings,” said Rangbar, “and trying to keep up the lodge. But the Catskills eat buildings for breakfast, and it’s in a place where water perambulates through the building.” The dilapidated structure will probably be torn down and replaced by a smaller building higher on the slope.
The newly acquired land includes a meditation hall, which has already undergone some critical repairs. Plans call for the construction of more retreat cabins and a second stupa, to be designated “a world peace stupa to rally people toward peace and end divisiveness,” said Rangbar. “It will be a monument to our interdependence with each other and with nature.” Around the lake, a path will be developed for walking meditation.
Rangbar plans to hold free monthly meditation classes, as well as retreats for people committed to the practices. On the 10th day and 25th day of the lunar month, respectively, ceremonies will be devoted to Padmasambhava, representing the principle of compassion, and the dakini practice of feminine wisdom. “Our wish is for people to have recourse to something other than panic in these shaky times,” said Rangbar. “People can transform their worlds inside, and then they can spread that peace.”
At the May 18 celebration, several rarely performed ceremonies took place to honor World Peace and to bless the land. It was attended by nearly 100 people from all over the US, along with accomplished lamas and ritual masters from Bhutan and Tibet.