Cape Ann Buddhist group finds permanent home

By Gail McCarthy, Gloucester Times, August 19, 2008

Rockport, UK -- A spiritual journey into the realm of Buddhism by a group of residents several years ago has turned into a body of students who've now found a permanent location in Pigeon Cove to pursue their studies.

The Buddhist students' new center is at 154 Granite St., Rockport, a former convenience store across from the old Cape Ann Tool Co.

The fledging nonprofit group, called ACI-Cape Ann for Asian Classics Institute recently signed a lease for the site. The group plans to host activities from classes to meditation to yoga. The site will be called the Vajramudra Dharma Center.

"I'm very grateful, and excited for our community. I'm really just thrilled," said Phil Salzman, chairman of the board and president of the organization. "It's something that is rewarding for all of us.

"We are building a community," he said. "It felt very natural, though it happened very quickly. There is so much interest and people are coming forward. It's not people saying 'I want to become a Buddhist,' but I think they are coming because they are recognizing the teachings speak to them and offer something they can understand and incorporate in their lives."

The board members are Mary Kay Dyer, Bruce Young, Terry Flowers, David Greenberg, Barbara Simundza, Pattie O'Brien and Elizabeth Toulan. Actress Lindsay Crouse and her husband, Rick Blue, are senior teachers and advisors to the board.

A core group of 50 to 100 people attend class or meditation regularly. But when special events are held, such as periodic visits of teacher Lama Marut, the number swells to 300 people.

"We can offer more for people who are interested in pursuing their studies further," Salzman said. "The group is becoming more anchored."

The new location will allow the group to offer more during the day; many of the venues used previously could only be used in the evening.

The annual Buddhist retreat, out of which this group blossomed, however, will still be held nearby at the spacious wooded Windhover Performing Arts Center, just a few blocks down Granite Street. This year the event, titled "The Road to Bliss," takes place from Aug. 25 to 31.

The retreat began with a dream of Crouse, who splits her time between homes in Annisquam and Los Angeles, who wanted to share the benefits of her spiritual discovery with others here.

"I think Cape Ann is a deeply spiritual place," said Crouse, who earned an Academy Award nomination for supporting actress in "Places In the Heart," and performed this summer with Gloucester Stage Company and at Rockport's Windhover. "There's a depth here among the people. This place is my soul home, and to bring the thing that has meant so much in my life to a place that has meant so much in my life is incredibly rewarding."

Since that first retreat, the number of interested residents continues to grow.

When the local group began meeting weekly, members met at Crouse's Annisquam home for lessons from Rick Blue, who is also a teacher and a Hollywood editor and director.

"He gave that teaching from a webcam in Los Angeles, sometimes from the hospital where 'Scrubs' is shot, or from our living room in L.A., because they didn't have a center," Crouse recalled. "They would all be sitting in our living room in Gloucester waving at us."

As she saw the continued interest on Cape Ann, the week-long summer retreat become a yearly event led by Lama Marut, a Tibetan Buddhist monk who holds a doctorate in comparative religion.

"He's full of conviction. He really makes you think about what's important in your life," Crouse said. "I find no matter where I go, people are coming up to me and talking to me about their lives, their beliefs and how their lives have changed on account of this."

Salzman said the retreat and the local center feed off each other.

"We have people come to the retreat and when it is over, the question they ask is 'what do we do now' and 'how do we keep going,'" he said.

That question is answered as their studies should continue to grow in the new space.

Salzman said the Asian Classics Institute Cape Ann's fall schedule includes new speakers who come from varied backgrounds. One comes from Colorado, and another lives in both France and on the West Coast.

"We're even getting West Coast students who attend the summer retreat," Salzman said. "They say not only is Cape Ann physically beautiful, but the people of Cape Ann are beautiful too."

Anyone seeking information on the classes or the retreat may call 310-573-6288, leave a message at 978-282-4996, or e-mail