HISTORY OF THE LAMA FOUNDATION: A DRAMATIC READING
by Steve Fox
April 17, 2010
Many Taoseños have connections to the Lama Foundation, just north of San Cristobal, and many more know of the eclectic, spiritual intentional community through its printed prayer flags, Dances of Universal Peace and annual summer retreats. Many around the country and across the world have heard of Lama because the foundation sold and distributed, beginning in the ’70s, the famous “Be Here Now,” Ram Dass’s account of his conversion to the guru Neem Karoli Baba’s teachings in India. Hand printed and assembled loose in a box, the book sold 770,000 copies in 32 printings by 1991, providing Lama a small stream of income that helped keep the community stable.
While all the other collectives and communes in northern New Mexico—and in most other U.S. locations—faded from the scene years ago, Lama endures, even after the catastrophic Hondo Fire in 1996 created a raging firestorm that took 1,000 firefighters four days to control and destroyed 20 of its 23 buildings. Rebuilding drew in volunteers who helped with spiritual renewal as well as structural, after Stewart Brand printed an appeal in the Whole Earth Catalog.
How Lama was born, faced its crises of doctrine, fire and succession of core membership—and kept regenerating itself—is the subject of “Lama Genesis/Lama Incarnations,” a two-act dramatic reading that spans the history of the Lama Foundation since its founding on land in northern Taos County in 1968. This production draws from 100 hours of interviews to tell Lama’s dramatic story in the words of the founders and other residents. It tells of Lama’s efforts to create and recreate itself over 40 years of changing conditions.
Lama Foundation rode the wave of the back-to-the-land movement in the late ’60s. It remains a viable intentional community, founded on the principle that all spiritual traditions maintain a “kernel of truth” and are practiced and respected as such. Its dedication to consensus decision-making, respect for the land and ecology, conflict resolution and life-affirming paths continues to invite and inspire all comers.
The interviews were conducted over the last five years by Ammi Kohn, who began spending summers at Lama a decade ago and realized that no one had begun taking its oral history. Such stories from within are very important for anyone trying to learn from this place that is one of the handful of Sixties collectives still viable after 40 years, anywhere in the country. Oral histories have been taken from the charismatic founders, the average “Lama Beans,” and from those “coordinators” who took on the task of overseeing, for a year, Lama’s rich network of shared work assignments and what they call “tuning,” or dispute resolution and tension reduction.
The reading will include voices explaining the impact of the “Holy Wars,” when founder Steve Durkee returned from Saudi Arabia in the ’70s, having converted to Islam, and demanded that all Lama residents convert. A community confrontation ensued in the main geodesic dome, with complicated personal relationships and new alignments facing off in a climactic struggle over community identity, decided by popular vote.
The chief challenge for spiritual groups started by charismatic founders has always been to establish effective succession of leadership, and then to continue appealing to second and third generations of members. This reading will address how Lama has fared in that rare process. Because of funding from the state Humanities Council, a question-and-discussion session will be held after each performance, with humanities scholars familiar with Lama’s history available to provide context.
The performance is directed by Bruce McIntosh and produced by Metta Projects Theater of Taos. Four performances are scheduled: April 22, 23, 24 and 25 at their Metta theater, located in El Prado at 1470 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. An eight-page portfolio of pictures spanning Lama’s history, taken by Ahad Cobb, will be available free (donations to cover costs appreciated). Linking key quotes from the reading performance, the portfolio will give the audience images to go with the oral history’s significant phases.
For further information contact Steve Fox at 758-8101 or Ammi Kohn at 719-256-5080.