I designed The Ram Dass Library at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies to honor its namesake, Ram Dass, and to promote spiritual awareness and inquiry in a comfortable and peaceful environment.
To crystallize this intention in form and as a tribute to the spiritual tradition of Ram Dass and his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, I have based this design on the Vedic system of sacred architectural traditions called Vastu Shastra or “Indian Feng Shui” started in the 6th century AD.
In keeping with the Omega Institute’s wishes to create a library that expresses the commitment and dedication of Ram Dass to Omega, the Library design reflects the following sacred expressions and symbols: Om meaning Unmanifest, Mani meaning Jewel or Crystal; Padme meaning Lotus and Hum meaning Heart. “From the heart of the Lotus … like a pure jewel … manifests Light, Knowledge, and Consciousness”
The Lotus blossom is one of the principle archetypal symbols in Sacred Vedic Architecture and the most appropriate image to illustrate the unfolding energy of divine essence, an apt symbol for this building expression of spiritual inquiry.
Form, Symbol, and Sacred Geometry
As in the Vedic Shastras, the Ram Dass Library architecture expresses a model of the cosmos. The floor plan is a mandala creating a power field or circuitry in which the powers of the sacred are invoked, symbolizing the building’s harmony with spirit and nature. The mandala crystallizes the rhythm of creation. Composed of elementary shapes of the triangle, the circle, and the square, the mandala is the fundamental form of sacred architecture in ancient India.
The specific mandala invoked in the Ram Dass Library is that of the astakona (an eight-sided figure) resulting from the superimposition of square on square and associated with the eight directions. This astakona signifies and honors the eight great world religions or wisdom traditions in each of the eight petals of the lotus blossom. The literary works of these eight great world religions are prominently displayed in the lobby of the Ram Dass Library.
The focus of the library is a two-story atrium lobby space with a domed bell tower and spire-a vertical energy axis which grounds and connects the earth energies with the higher heavenly vibrations.
Site Orientation and Meditation Gardens
The Library is oriented in north/south alignment in accordance with the four cardinal directions, as is customary in sacred Vedic temple building and secular traditions.
Dedicated entries in highly symbolic quadrants include:
- Northwest – intellectual achievements
- Southeast- healing and spiritual growth
- North – pooja
- Northeast – water
- East- spirit, life energy (position of teachers)
- Southeast – fire
- South – lord of death
- West – place of adventure
The most auspicious orientation and entry for the Library in the classical Feng Shui tradition (both in the present and into the next 20-year cycle) is a west-sitting footprint facing east (between 82.5 and 112.5 degrees) with a northwest entry door. A northwest energy orientation for a building built before 2004 is most favorable for writing, creativity and scholastic achievement, which appropriately complements the goals of the Omega Institute.
The windows, doors, decks, and gardens open to the seasonal stream to the east and northeast and are most beneficial in the Vastu Shastra tradition. Beneficent energies come from the northeast and thus the flow of energy, as designed, remains unencumbered in the north and east.
Likewise, the triangular shaped lot crimps the energy of the existing pavilion and an attempt to move the building about 20 feet to the northwest is advisable to increase the harmony of the new building with the landscape.
Higher ground, berms, landscaping, a stairway, and a mechanical closet shield the south and west. The vulnerable energy Marma points of the Vastu Parusha mandala (spirit body of the site) remain open to the beneficent northeast energies and all the cardinal energy lines.
Landscape Design /Circulation
While traveling and studying Vedic Vastu architecture in India, I experienced the most dramatic energy in the company of medicinal plants and trees that had been banked by stones and worshipped and venerated for generations as alter places. Several such landscape concepts emerge in my design for the Ram Dass Library and Mandala Meditation Gardens.
Because the library is situated between the busy café, bookstore and the Main Hall, I envision meandering circuitous paths to be created by connecting the cafe with a streamside path to various power points and trees, then to the library, existing sculpture, and finally to the Main Hall.
Placing benches and outdoor reading rooms near the stream, under trees, and at the sculpture, create a footpath and bridge to connect the old stone spring house, using similar native stones in the pathways and planters.
Each stone planter of the lotus configuration is planted with the appropriate healing plant energy, fragrance and color corresponding to the Vedic mandala, specifically, jasminium for psychic purity and begonia for perfect balance.
The mandala meditation gardens feature a wealth pooja in the north, water element in the northeast, metal sculpture in the east, and a fire element in the southeast, around which are outdoor benches and places of solitude.
Building Program and Architecture
The Library will serve 500 summer guests at Omega and will house a holistic book collection dedicated to spirituality, psychology, art as well as an audio and video collection, interactive internet access to global resources, CD ROMs, lectures, readings, and quiet reading areas.
The Library will provide an array of traditional library functions, a showcase of the world’s great spiritual literary traditions, work by Omega’s most respected teachers, 12 carrels of state-of-the-art audio visual and internet access equipment complete with lounging, lingering, overstuffed pillows, and possibly tea. This library is a hybrid combination of a more familiar “branch” library, a favorite New Age bookstore and a living room-a place where you can truly find a cozy nook and curl up with a good book, tape or video.
Special display racks display the printed word and corresponding multimedia, upon entering the library. The exhibit will change regularly to feature the latest developments as well as new authors and speakers.
Proceeding to the central atrium lobby you have visual access to the entire floor where you can experience the center of the lotus and view display cases with manuscripts, sculptures, and banners representing each of the eight great wisdom traditions of: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and the Shamanic Tribal Traditions.
Downstairs offers five intimate semi-private reading rooms with floor-to- ceiling books, two A/V/Internet carrels each, and an oversized window seat. Upstairs there is more open reading space with bigger library tables and a loftier feeling where you can review reference collections, archives, and special collections. upstairs with bigger library tables and.
Also upstairs, the multi-purpose meeting room transforms with drop-down screens and A/V for speakers and special events. Movable seating for about 60 people can stack and be stored away to create space for yoga or activity classes. The space has high wooden ceilings and a visible bell tower that rings in the next event-melodically, of course.
French doors open out to decks and a view of the stream and meditation gardens for breaks.
The room is bright with clerestory windows and star shaped patterns of low-voltage cable lighting suspended above the lobby.
While the design plans support sacred precision to create optimum energy patterns, the space is anything but formal. As in the Vedic tradition, vernacular-building traditions ruled even in temple design.
This lotus is a gem of Vedic form, articulated in the local wooden building tradition of exposed wood framing and ceilings, cedar siding, decking, with the simplicity and palette of the Sanctuary, as is fitting to this Catskills area Summer Camp.
The roof form is a lovely, simple star shape, and the domed bell tower roof could be an off-the-shelf silo component gilded in gold with a Tibetan bell and spire.
Environmental and Ecological Aspects
The building form lends itself to natural ventilation. The 32-foot central space acts as a cooling tower, with hot air drawn up and vented from the operable clerestory and bell tower windows and vents.
Ceiling fans and operable windows in the first floor rooms directly across from one another set up a positive cross ventilation system and provide air movement on hot summer days.
The upper floor shades the window seats, reducing the heat gain on hot summer days. The north, northwest, and northeast orientations of openings encourage air movement and also keep down the heat on hot days. The clerestory windows provide natural daylighting, reducing the need for high lighting loads on hot summer days
To protect the archives, a back-up cooling and humidity control system is recommended, though minimal heating should be required in the winter, when Omega programs end.
Natural and healthy non-toxic building materials and finishes are envisioned for the entire project, including some natural fiber carpeting and/or cork flooring for sound attenuation.
If post and beam construction is employed, super insulated wall panel systems can be considered for reducing heat gain in summer and heat loss in winter. Solar powered landscape lighting could illuminate the meditation gardens in the evenings without adding to the electrical loads.
Vastu Shastra and the Sacred Harmonic Measures
The ayadi or sacred measures are either derived from an individual’s horoscope or from the vibration of a person’s name. In the case of the Ram Dass Library, I based the sacred measures on Ram Dass’s name, which was derived from the sacred texts of the Indian calendar known as the Nama Naakshatra.
Basically, the Ram Dass ayadi or sacred measures affect the building in the following six ways:
1. Anyam is income or benefits connoting Spiritual Harmony.
2. Vyaya is expense or loss connoting Good Income.
3. Yoni is the best direction, expressed as east, west, north, south.
4. Dinam refers to the stars or zodiac; the building will achieve great pride in the neighborhood.
5. Amash is the classification of characteristics connoting Pleasure and Enjoyment.
6. Vaaram is the best day for ceremonies, functions, special displays, or work of any kind; here Monday is the best day.
The sacred measure with these attributes is a module of 500/10 = 50 – 4′-2″. All measures will be multiples of this sacred measure to induce this specific vibrational energy relating to Ram Dass. The overall perimeter module establishes the proportions of the windows and doors; in fact this system establishes the calculation for the entire building’s sacred measures-all for the benefit of Ram Dass and in turn for the Ram Dass Library.
The windows, doors, decks, and gardens open to the seasonal stream to the east and north and are most beneficial in the Vastu Shastra tradition. Beneficent energies and the flow of energy remain unencumbered in the north and east.