Coming from various faiths and traditions, the Saranam sangha began sitting meditation together more than twenty years ago. In 1999, we were introduced to our Zen teacher, Bruce Harris, whom a friend had met on the West Coast. Since then, Bruce has come from his home in France to lead retreats in the Elkins area (and also in Northern California) two or three times a year. Before establishing the retreat center, we met in homes, YMCA camps, and other settings, but it became difficult to find appropriate spaces. So the retreat center itself began with a search for a dependable meeting place for these retreats.
In 2006, a family legacy enabled the purchase of this house and 54 acres, equally divided between woods and pasture. We converted the large garage into our zendo, or meditation hall, and made some smaller improvements. The property was donated to Saranam Retreat Center, Inc., after its incorporation in 2014. Activities and upkeep are overseen by a board of directors and dependable volunteers.
The diversity we brought to our original sitting group has continued. Zen is not at all exclusively Buddhist—our backgrounds include Christian prayer, Muslim Sufism, contemplative Judaism, secular mindfulness practice, and more. We believe the contemplative life takes many forms. For us, it has included talks and retreats led by Tibetan lamas and Rinpoches, Theravadan teachers, and a Korean monk. Saranam is regularly used for yoga, Tibetan medicine, shamanism, art, and writing workshops, and for group and personal retreats. We continue to look for ways to bring light into the world.