The thing you find out right away is that Lama is not a collection of buildings, pathways, encampments and hidden shrines in the forest. It’s not even the people who call themselves “Lama Beans.” It’s something ephemeral. It’s intangible.
Lama, it turns out, truly exists in the hearts and minds of the people who have landed there in a search for something humans have sought from the beginning of time. At times, it has been fulfilling and a path toward enlightenment. For others, it has been a disappointment, but all along, it has been a work in progress that continues to grow and evolve.
This week, Lama is celebrating 50 years on the planet.
For some, that’s kind of hard to wrap your brain around. Writer-translator-teacher Mirabai Starr literally came here as a child. Dropped off when she was 14, Starr was absorbed into the Lama community with open arms. And, for many years, she was the youngest member of the group, the kid everyone took under their wing, taught and protected. Now, she says, she is dealing with the idea that folks up there consider her an elder.
This week, Lama celebrates its 50th anniversary. “We are inviting everyone who has ever been touched by Lama to visit,” an announcement reads. “The world needs to hear from us. By gathering as a common tribe, we can tap into the collective inspiration of the past 50 years, and help breathe inspiration into our communities for the next 50 years.”
From now through Sunday (June 25), “simple yet abundant, we will follow the structures that have endured at Lama for years, starting with morning meditation, practice and tuning, zikr, Shabbat and culminating in a grand gathering Saturday (June 24). We will weave practices throughout, led by historic Lama teachers and returning Lama Beans, as well as an organic response to the energy and talents of everyone present.”
The celebration isn’t limited to just this week. Lama is commemorating this milestone reunion all summer through Sept. 24.
Asha Greer, formerly Barbara Durkee, is one of the founders of Lama.
We spoke with her on a June 7 visit to Lama with Mirabai Starr.
Tempo: How did you come to be at Lama?
Asha Greer: My husband and I in 1967 had a vision of starting an ecumenical spiritual community. But, it was very elaborate at that time, you know, it had the tarot deck at the bottom, the major arcana, the tarot deck and then it had ladders going up – we were in our early 20s – something like that roof there [she then pointed to the Lama dome] or something elaborate and a meditation place. We also had an idea of making wings off it for different lifestyles because it was the early ‘60s and people had so many lifestyles. We were married and we were kind of conservative, among the conservative people that we knew, and so we packed our two children into a bus and we came out here to look for land. We rented a house on the Nambé Pueblo, started meeting people in Santa Fe. The collection of people who came were many because everyone was feeling like they wanted community, but what happened was that our adviser who was in India went into retreat.
At this point, we should explain a little about Greer and her background. She is considered “a lifelong student of the human condition,” according to her website (ruhaniat.org). “She is often intoxicated with awe, fascination, or bafflement about the nature of reality. Her ‘her-story’ includes a lifelong interest in comparative religion and its influence on the brain, thought, and behavior. … She raised four daughters, and has spent years as a school teacher, a school principal, and a hospital nurse. She is a practicing artist and has created a deck of meditation cards from paintings she has done, as well as a book illustrating each day of a 40-day retreat.
Now, back to our conversation …
Greer: So, we needed another ‘adult’ – I was 25 and he was 21 – for something this big. The third member of the founders had pledged $20,000, which was a lot of money then, but not for what our vision was. So, he said he’d help us, but only if we went more modestly, if we had a spiritual motive – not a utopian motive – and if there would be no drugs or alcohol. That reduced our number from 200 to three. So, we became known as the bourgeois of the hippie movement. That’s how we came here.
Tempo: What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen come to Lama over the years?
Greer: Well, we came to get away from the conservative world that was pretty tight and boxed-in, non-diverse and not very spiritual. When I grew up, in spite of the fact that everybody I knew went to church on Sundays, nobody talked about God. Nobody talked about love. It seemed crazy. So, we wanted to get out of that, and many other people did, obviously. So, it was very small at first. There was this building that we built and others. I don’t know what we would’ve done without the Gomez family [of Taos Pueblo], Little Joe just because he was so inspiring and then Henry and the rest of them – all that huge family – and the connection with the Pueblo was really important to us at the time. … The people from the Pueblo helped us a lot in making the adobes and in living lives that were so much closer to the land than ours. It’s changed a lot since we started because we started with the orders that we were to sit and meditate for half an hour a day and also then have discussions about spiritual things. Then, we left. We left because our marriage broke up, actually. So, I went to the east to start another community with another group of people and my husband actually went to build a place at Dar al Islam up in Abiquiú. It’s a very beautiful place, a kind of mildly used Islamic center, I think. Anyway, one of the things that has remained the same is that it’s ecumenical. Everyone was welcome here. The community has grown. … You know who Richard Alpert is? Ram Dass?
Another bit of backstory: Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary were prominent Harvard college professors who became known in the 1960s for their experiments with LSD. Alpert “continued his psychedelic research until [a] fateful Eastern trip in 1967, when he traveled to India. In India, he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately known as Maharajji, who gave Ram Dass his name, which means ‘servant of God,’” according to his biography (ramdass.org). “Everything changed then – his intense dharmic life started, and he became a pivotal influence on a culture that has reverberated with the words ‘Be Here Now’ ever since. Ram Dass’ spirit has been a guiding light for three generations, carrying along millions on the journey, helping to free them from their bonds as he works through his own.”
Greer: Richard had been part of our original group, and we had been living with him before when we were at Nambé Pueblo. And, he went to India and he found a teacher and came back and he wrote a book, which we helped put together, called “Be Here Now,” which was very successful and made us an income that was a little bit more secure than everybody whose parents would give them some money. There was no income stream. Then, he went back to India and he got this big statue of Hanuman that he sent over here. Our spiritual center up to that time had been in the prayer room. It was very charged in the way a sanctuary in a church is charged, charged with love and spirit, love. But, he brought the Hanuman here and I was always an iconoclast – I never liked statues – and my husband felt the same way, so we didn’t want the statue. So, it went down to Taos.
Lama today and in retrospect
Lama’s origins were simple and yet revolutionary, coming at a time when experiments in living were popping up all over the nation and the world. Here in Taos, many of the people who were drawn to Lama were often labeled “hippies” and shunned because of negative stereotypes involving illegal drugs, “free love” and pagan worship. In May 1996, the Hondo Fire served as a demarcation point in the history of Lama. Those who visited Lama soon afterward were struck by how the flames had destroyed the lush forest surrounding the site, but had left its buildings intact. It has been said the road around the main area served as a firebreak, but others still believe there was another hand at work, sparing the place for a reason.
That reason continues to inspire retreatants and longtime associates and residents. And, while it may have originated with strictly spiritual intentions half a century ago, its future is pointing to an evolution that embraces permaculture and land stewardship, thereby attracting as many youthful participants as it did in its infancy.
For more information, call the Lama Foundation at (575) 586-1269 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a visit. Also, view The Taos News video shot on the occasion of the 50th anniversary at taosnews.com.