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Won Dharma Center opens doors in Claverack


CLAVERACK–”Everyone is Welcome,” says the Won Dharma Meditation and Retreat Center’s open house invitation. The center, under construction since 2009, is the new flagship of Won Buddhism, a Korean branch of Buddhist practice that stresses what followers describe as a practical and accessible approach. The collection of buildings on a westward-facing hillside is designed to be a haven for spiritual inquiry and is now ready to receive Buddhist practitioners and others.

Last weekend guests inspected the center’s Route 23 facility, with its five buildings at 361 Route 23 a couple of miles east of the intersection of state Routes 9H and 23. In addition to viewing the facilities, visitors had the chance to view works by local sculptor Bruno Pasquier-Desvignes and to hear a performance by jazz pianist Armen Donelian, a Hudson resident. A presentation by staff and practitioners followed the performance.

“This place has very auspicious energy,” Rev. Dosung Yoo, the center’s director of retreats and a dharma teacher, said of the 426-acre site. His organization chose to build the center here after looking at sites throughout the Northeast. The quiet spot set some distance from the highway offers dramatic views of neighboring farmland, hills and mountains. Its spare but commanding architectural style, designed in Rev. Yoo’s words to be “simple, open, and friendly,” features common pine plank siding, animated by the copious knots, which create a decorative pattern.

Large plate-glass windows frame the landscape, sometimes in surprising ways, as with horizontal bands of windows just above the floor on two walls in the 3,000-square-foot meditation center, a placement that may be geared toward enhancing the visual experience of people meditating while seated on the floor. The all-wood construction features laminated support timbers and spacious porches partially enclosed by overhanging wooden screens that flank the meditation hall, a design meant for walking meditation and one that offers striking views to the west and south.

Inspired by Korean grass roofed huts, the center was designed by Hanrahan Meyers, a New York City architecture firm. The complex geothermal and solar systems provide passive heating and cooling.

“Buddhism offers a path to spiritual growth and healing, and a happiness does not depend on circumstances,” said Rev. Yoo. “It is a path to our authentic self. Peace comes from calming our minds. When our mind has focus, pictures start to be revealed.” He points to the landscape, which on a recent morning was partially obscured by mist. “On a sunny day we can see the mountains. The mountain has been there all along,” he said.

The practice has facilities in major urban centers around the U.S., including New York City and Philadelphia. The name Won Dharma Center is symbolized by the circles that decorate the center rather than statues of the Buddha. Won means circle, symbolizing the true self. Dharma means “the path.”

The center will offer weekly meditation sessions, private instruction, retreats with seated, walking and chanting meditation, and yoga and tai chi. Following the open house, a grand opening is planned for Sunday, October 2. There are still places available for the center’s first week-long retreats scheduled for this fall.

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