By Ben Wofford
June 30, 2012. The International Center for Meditation and Well-Being welcomed more than 2,000 guests to the former Heavenly Mountain west campus for an inauguration of the renovated property.
The Art of Living Foundation purchased the 381-acre tract of land in October 2011 and dedicated the compound to a stress-free, violence-free world.
The Art of Living Foundation is a non-governmental, non-religious humanitarian organization based on yoga, guided meditation and breathing exercises.
2,500 guests attended the initial ceremony with a live telecast being broadcast worldwide, according to Dr. Venkat Srinivasan, manager-operations for the Center.
Guests and practitioners were welcomed into the newly renovated 17,000 square foot main meditation hall where bluegrass musicians, Appalachian Fire and grammy nominated artist, Chandrika Tandon exchanged musical cultures.
Art of Living founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, was present with guests of honor from local, state and federal government. Leaders from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu communities were invited to share blessings on the Center as well.
“I wish this place to become a place where reason becomes sharper, faith becomes deeper. A place where young and old come together in a sense of a one-world family,” Shankar said.
Shankar said he wants to see the Center become a place where compassion, love and togetherness are nurtured.
Shankar and the guests of honor took part in a lamp lighting ceremony that sanctified the Center and prepared it for its service to the world.
“Light symbolizes knowledge or wisdom. It indicates lighting the lamp of wisdom and knowledge and this center will spread this wisdom to millions of people in the coming years,” Dr. Venkat Srinivasan said.
Nilendu Srivastava, managing director of the Center, said the Foundation has spent $3 million in renovation and construction with approximately $2 million more to go.
“The bulk of this construction money has gone into Boone and the surrounding community through contractors and subcontractors,” Srivastava said. “Even the volunteers that are coming every week are going into town to eat, get gas and other supplies.”
Srivastava said the property taxes for the Center are $67,000 but the Foundation is hoping that will change since the tax value is based on an $18 million evaluation. The Foundation is hoping to get the property reevaluated for a more reasonable $9 to $10 million and the tax thusly lowered. The Foundation paid $6.35 million for the property in October 2011.
Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson praised the Foundation for their environmental efforts when renovating the Center for use.
“Some people may say I’m a tree hugger, and I answer to that,” Clawson said, as she thanked the group for continuing environmental stewardship in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Elaine Marshall, N.C. Secretary of State lauded the Foundation for its work with veterans. She welcomed Art of Living to North Carolina, it’s military bases and some of the hurting families.
“The incredibly important jobs they are asked to do and the unbelievable stress experiences they live through, in my book they deserve all the help we can give them,” Marshall said.
Focusing on soldiers and veterans as well, Joe Walsh, the U.S. Representative for the 8th district of Illinois thanked the Foundation and their work toward the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Every single day 18 veterans take their lives … this center will provide a more effective way to remove the stress they live with every single day,” Walsh said. “They will come here, become a part of Project Welcome Home troops and God willing, they will be healed.”
180 Art of Living volunteers and local emergency agencies made sure the event took place safely and efficiently, working tirelessly through the heat of the day.
Tom Redmond, head of TME Enterprises, patrols the property on a regular basis but experienced a break from the usual while working event security. Redmond gave rides to those who needed to be anywhere quickly or responded to emergencies.
“We had one minor slip up, a lady fell ill due to heat related issues. Otherwise the day went perfectly,” Redmond said.
Approximately 1400 participants and guests are staying on-site and off-site through July 4 for workshops and events. According to Dr. Venkat Srinivasan, the guests comprised of travelers from Canada, U.S., Argentina, Brazil, Germany, U.K., India, China and Mongolia.
For more information regarding the Center visit www.artofliving.org/intl-meditation-center-usa.
Personal interview with Sri Sri