May 22, 2003
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Dharma Center kicks off campaign to buy home
Since it opened 10 years ago, the Yellow Springs Dharma Center has provided local residents with something people who live in a small town rarely have — a quiet place in which they can experience peacefulness, twice a day, in the company of like-minded neighbors.

“In our busy lives, people can have that moment of quiet at the beginning and ending of the day,” said Dharma Center treasurer and co-founder Donna Denman.

Along with meditation, the Dharma Center, located at the corner of Livermore and Davis Streets, offers a weekly discussion group, a monthly dinner group, Zen, Vipassana and Tibetan Buddhist practice groups, a library, yoga classes and a weekly family hour designed for families with children.

Dharma Center organizers have offered these services and activities to the community for free, although organizers welcome donations.

Now, though, the Dharma Center board is asking the community for financial support. Specifically, the group started two weeks ago a capital campaign aimed at raising $200,000 to purchase the Livermore Street building where the center is located. The funds would cover the purchase price and necessary repairs. The campaign, which accepts both donations and pledges for future donations, will formally end on July 1, although the center will continue to accept donations after that date.

Not used to seeking donations, some board members find themselves uncomfortable asking for money, said Dharma Center board member Mary Frost-Pierson. But the need is immediate. The building’s owner, Jane Baker, has decided to sell the property, and organizers believe the center offers the village a valuable asset.

“The Dharma Center is a place everyone in Yellow Springs can find warmth, even if all they need is a quiet spot to meditate,” said Frost-Pierson.

Beyond that, said Denman, the center’s Buddhist values offer benefits to both the individual and the community.

“The values stem from the belief that we’re all interrelated, that our actions and words affect everything we touch,” she said. “Buddhism provides techniques that help us be more kind and understanding, more aware of ourselves and of others.”

Denman believes that Dharma Center teachings are especially relevant in today’s tumultous world, in which, she said, it’s critical that people understand different cultures and traditions.

“This is an Eastern tradition, and it gives people a broader perspective,” she said.

But those who attend Dharma Center activities don’t have to be Buddhists, or even want to become one. It’s open to everyone, board members said. About 50 to 100 local residents form a core group, and more than 500 people, some from the Miami Valley, are on the center’s mailing list, said co-founder Robert Pryor. It’s a high percentage of practitioners for a tiny village, he said, but many local residents have found something they need in Buddhist practice.

“The essence of sitting is staying in the present moment,” he said. “What worries us tends to be thoughts of the past or the future. But in the present moment there is clarity.”

That clarity leads to a heightened sense of life’s fleetingness and, along with that awareness, a sense of compassion and understanding, said Dianeah Wanicek.

“Because practice leads to clarity and compassion it can lead to less suffering,” said Wanicek. “People can become more active and happy.”

Those not already familiar with meditation practice can learn meditation at the center’s twice monthly orientation sessions. While most who attend center activities practice meditation in some form, not all do, said Frost-Pierson, adding that about half of the families who attend the 10 a.m. Sunday family hour are not practitioners. Started several years ago, the family hour seems to fill a need, she said.

“People seemed to be looking for an open and loving place to bring their children,” said Frost-Pierson. The hour includes small rituals, personal sharing and stories, said Wanicek, adding that Buddhism includes “wonderful teachings for children.”

This month’s activities also include, besides the Sunday family hour, weekday sittings at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., a Zen meditation sitting from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays, a Tuesday evening discussion group and a May 30 dinner event at Strange Brew restaurant in Springfield. The center also provides regular yoga classes.

The range of activities far surpasses the center’s scope when it opened 10 years ago, when it was primarily a residence for several Antioch College Buddhist studies students and a center for meditation. The center grew from the need of a group of local villagers, including Pryor and Wanicek, who had been meeting in each other’s homes to meditate since the early 1980s. Denman joined the group when she discovered Buddhism in the late 1980s, after traveling to India and Japan with her husband, Al, a retired Antioch College professor of religious studies.

The group frequently met in the Livermore Street house, where Wanicek then lived. When she and her family moved and the apartment became available, group members decided to use the space for a center, which the Bakers’ affordable rent allowed them to do. Since then, the group, and its activities, have grown.

Purchasing the Livermore Street house would provide a stable foundation for the group, said Pryor. It would also allow the center to continue to provide activities on a donation basis, he said. The house’s extra apartment would remain affordable housing.

Because Jane Baker has announced her intention to donate all of the house proceeds to the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, those who donate to the center would be “donating twice” to Yellow Springs, Pryor said.

In only two weeks, the group has already raised over $52,000, according to Denman, who said a $20,000 matching grant has also been offered. A fundraising concert with Puzzle of Light took place last weekend, and the group will host an “all town” dance party, with DJ Rev. Roxy Roberson, on Friday, June 27, at the Bryan Community Center.

Donations to the Dharma Center’s capital campaign for housing can be sent to 502 Livermore Street, or by calling 767-9919. More information is available on the group’s website,

—Diane Chiddister