First Year

"I arrived at Dhamma Giri in October 1976, a few days after its official opening. The first ten-day course was in progress and I was asked to help until the next course began. My first jobs were scraping whitewash off the tiles in the new bathroom and clearing a walking path around the Plateau of Peace. I was surprised by the place. I had thought I was coming to a centre that was fully, if newly, built. Instead, it seemed to me a raw, unfinished building site. Some structures were incomplete; all were surrounded by rubble and debris. Only a few trees and gardens had yet been planted.

"Still, the centre had a stark beauty. In the evening, while Goenkaji was giving the Hindi discourse in the meditation hall (then located beside the dining room), I would sit outside and watch the shadows deepen on the surrounding hills. This was the first course at Dhamma Giri, and many people from the town wanted to come at least to hear the discourses. There was no room for them in the hall. So a loudspeaker was set up outside and carpets were put down near the mango tree in front of the gate. Each evening, fifty to a hundred people would come and sit there. They were simple people of all ages, in traditional Indian dress. They listened intently to Goenkaji's words as their ancestors had listened to the Buddha speak. Then they gathered up their sleeping children and in the darkness they hurried home.

…June brought the onset of monsoon. Courses stopped and only a handful of people remained at Dhamma Giri. Within a few days, the land was carpeted in fresh green, and on every side, the Hill of Dhamma was surrounded by flowing streams. At that time, it seemed to me a true island of peace, wrapped in mist and cut off from the world. Those of us who stayed took turns serving and doing self-courses. With Goenkaji's encouragement, we began to learn Pali. It was inspiring at last to understand the meaning of the chants that we had heard so often during courses. Every weekend Goenkaji would come to visit Dhamma Giri and attend our class. He seemed as delighted with our progress as we were. For hours he would explain Dhamma to us or tell us stories of his experiences in Myanmar. Those early days at Dhamma Giri remain unforgettable to me. In them so many seeds were planted that were to come to fruition in later years.

When I return each year to V.I.A., it is the trees that convey most vividly the change in the place. I remember one morning during the monsoon of 1977, when a hundred silver oak seedlings lay in a little pile under the mango tree outside the office. Today those seedlings are each twenty feet tall and form the border of the Plateau of Peace. I remember when the trees along the drive from the gate to the old bungalows barely reached my shoulder. I remember when I first came, that the Burmese Bodhi tree in the central garden between the men's dormitories was so weak that it drooped from a stake. Now its trunk is thick and straight, its roots deep, its branches thick, giving pleasant shade-a visible symbol of the growth of Dhamma Giri. - Bill Hart, Canada