Vajrapani Institute

Thrashed by Extreme Storms

by The Vajrapani Institute Team
First published on: May 30, 2017

Mother Nature has a habit of showing us that we are not invincible and that everything we build and strive for is impermanent. Bizarrely, though, (and the Buddha had a thing or two to say about this) we humans insist on forgetting this basic truth again and again. Denial never really works for long, however. Eventually something so uncompromising and extreme comes along that we are forced out of our cocoon. Momentarily, at least, we confront our frailty, eyes wide open. The intensity of the storms we faced this winter brought this message home to the Vajrapani Institute community loud and clear. It’s been a wake-up call!

The ‘Big One’ Hits

We had heard warnings that a severe storm was coming on President’s Day. We’d already weathered several ‘big ones’ this season and were bracing ourselves for another onslaught. Nothing, though, could have prepared us for what we were to witness on the morning of Tuesday, February 21st. It was a scene of breathtaking devastation. It had rained so much the previous day and night that the usual course of the creek had burst its banks. Approximately 20 giant concrete blocks weighing 200 pounds each had been dislodged from a dam in the creek and were scattered across the road, making it impassable. Our hydroelectric system, housed in a shed by the creek’s edge, had disappeared without a trace, carried away by the sheer volume of water. Our phones were still working, but we had no Internet, no drinking water, several trees were down and mudslides were threatening to take the road out in a number of locations. In the wider area, multiple highways were closed.

Team Spirit Wins the Day

Some organizations pay good money to have their staff engage in outdoor team-building challenges. We got ours for free! The results were quite extraordinary. This was a day when everyone pitched in, worked tirelessly in rough conditions and gave the best they had: staff, community members and neighbors included. (Our beloved retreat leader, Rob Preece, was one of the first to get busy with a shovel.)

We will never fully understand how we achieved all we did that day. By some miracle, by 7.30pm, the official start-time of our Tasting the Essence of Tantra retreat, the majority of participants had been safely shuttled in by staff. Our drinking water and Internet systems were back up and running, a team had cleared the giant trees and concrete blocks littering the road and the mudslides were partially contained. A riverbed which had carved its way past the Potala Lodge Dorm Building had been flattened into submission and neat new gravel paths laid. A number of blocked culverts had been cleared of storm debris. It was an exhausting day, yes, but for many of us, it was also one of the most satisfying and memorable days ever.

Our Heroic Land Crew Struggles on

Many participants in the retreat taking place here that week were blissfully unaware of the incredible efforts going on behind the scenes as the storm clean-up continued. One feature of ‘active mudslides’ is they keep on moving, bringing down whatever trees and debris happen to be riding on them. This was one of many challenges our doughty land team faced that week. Whilst the retreat participants meditated in the peace of the Gompa, the road’s status kept shifting from ‘open’ to ‘closed’ as tree after tree fell and saturated stretches of the road degenerated into an epic mud bath. Fortunately, by departure day, the road was back to ‘open’ again and the participants left without incident, full of appreciation for their retreat experience.

Assessing the Damage: the Bigger Picture


The President’s Day storm was probably the worst ‘extreme weather’ incident we experienced this year, but remarkably, it was just one of a series of momentous storms we weathered this winter. More than 100 inches of rain fell between November 2016 and March 2017, making our local town of Boulder Creek one of the wettest in California. Despite our best efforts, storm damage forced us to cancel two big retreats in February. As a result, we have a substantial chunk of income loss to recoup, in addition to the cost associated with fixing structural damage to our buildings, as well as all the other essential repairs on our list.

To tide us over, we have applied for a $150,000 emergency loan from the Federal Government. This buys us time, but it’s a loan, not a gift. We need to pay it back.

Give to Our Storm Relief Fund 2017

The generosity of our members and donors is the lifeblood of this organization. This has been an extreme winter and we are asking for your help. We deeply appreciate your care and involvement. Thank you for helping us rise to this challenge.

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Donation Total: $50

The Vajrapani Institute Team