People standing in circle holding hands

Contemplating the End of an Era

Celebrating CMind at UMass Amherst

On June 17, 2023, the Robert S. Cox Special Collections and University Archives Research Center (SCUA) collaborated with the Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society (CMind) to host an event celebrating the conclusion of CMind’s quarter century as a visionary institution focused on increasing the understanding and incorporation of contemplative practices into Western society.

Officially founded in 1997 by Mirabai Bush, Charles Halpern, and Robert Lehman, CMind has roots that stretch back to 1991. In that year, two retreats brought together people who would become instrumental in the development of CMind and a purposeful introduction of the teachings of dharma and mindfulness to foundational elements of American society, including law, business, and higher education. On the west coast, in Malibu, CA, “A Retreat for Environmentalists” was led by Thich Nhat Hanh and sponsored by the Natural Resource Defense Council, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Ojai Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. The east coast retreat, held in Sharon, MA, was called “Compassionate Awareness and Social Action,” and it was led by Ram Dass, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Salzberg, having been sponsored by SEVA Foundation, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the Insight Meditation Society. The interest and interpersonal connections generated by these retreats led to the formation of a working group, led by Bush, to explore the possibilities for an organization that would respond to the clear social desire for meditative and contemplative practices. Several years of deliberate, thoughtful discussion and discernment enabled the development of CMind as an organization that would have a significant effect on American society. Among the many ways CMind cultivated positive changes was by granting fellowships to university professors representing disciplines from art history to anthropology and physics to poetry, including UMass Amherst professor of English Judith Fryer Davidov.

Over the coming decades, CMind would collaborate with a wide variety of American cultural and business institutions, including Yale Law School, the U.S. Army, and Google – not necessarily the first organizations that might come up in a conversation about dharma, meditation, and contemplative practices. It was this willingness to bring the message of contemplation to unexpected places that was part of the reason CMind flourished, however, and this form of “right action” has led to social change, which is one of the hallmark collection areas for SCUA.

It was therefore a natural fit for the UMass Libraries and SCUA to host the celebration for CMind, bringing together members of CMind’s community through its history and offering an opportunity to mark the accomplishments each had contributed to the success of CMind’s efforts.

As Mirabai Bush, founder and first Executive Director of CMind, observed, “It was a day of contemplation and conversation, inspirational activities and practices, and the final Arthur Zajonc Lecture on Contemplative Pedagogy, all to commemorate the sunsetting of CMind. Faculty from across the country attended, honoring the close community that had formed over many years. Speakers addressed the many initiatives that will take this movement forward. SCUA was the perfect host—the spacious room, the delicious food, the excellent photographer, and the administrative support all contributed to a memorable last event and the beginning of our archival home.”

“SCUA was delighted to host CMind for this celebration of their decades of groundbreaking work,” said Adam Ware, Associate Dean for Special Collections and University Archives. “As an organization, their commitment to positive social change aligns powerfully with SCUA’s own role as the archive of social change and complements many of our collections, such as the papers of Brother David Steindl-Rast.”

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