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University of the Soul, China

Published September 22nd, 2015 in Community Perspectives

By Peter Moore, Business Director

In October this year, I will visit China for the first time. I love Asia and earlier in my life spent a couple of years in Afganistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma and Thailand, but never China. My visit this year isn’t a tourist thing; I’ll be attending a Centers Gathering ( at New Haiwen (, a Chinese retreat & conference center, and will later give a talk at an international conference where I’ll speak about the benefits of starting and managing such a center.

Attending the Centers Gathering is a continuance of a pattern I’ve involved myself in over the past decade, and written about (University of the Soul, Breitenbush Newsletter/Catalog, Fall, 2011). This annual event is a gathering of administrators and program directors representing centers from every continent. We have convened for three decades, each year at a different center, in the US, British Isles, Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia and Canada (at Breitenbush, 2008). This will be the first time the event is held in Asia and represents a significant symbolic adaptation of the human potential movement, I believe. Which leads to the second purpose for this trip to China, my speech.

You never know how these things turn out really, but to me this looks like a good cross-cultural communication opportunity. Chinese society is evolving rapidly. Enormous wealth is being generated and a “middle class” forming. This may only represent 12.5% of China’s population, but still, 12.5% of a billion people is 125 million with disposable income, educational opportunities, passports and time and freedom to explore the inner and outer dimensions of cultural and economic offerings from the world over, not to mention consciousness itself.

With the above as context, you’d think the presenting opportunity is the Chinese market, resulting in more business for Breitenbush. But that is not what I have in mind.

Established centers like Esalen, Findhorn, New York Open Center, the Haven and Breitenbush (and developing centers such as Atlan Permaculture Village and thousands of other new ones) are, if anything, alternative and interdisciplinary education institutions whose programs focus on discerning something quite profound, yet basic in the human experience. Such centers direct our awareness toward our own intrinsic nature and certain innate truths. This kind of work is variously called the human potential movement, personal growth, the spiritual path, wisdom tradition … you get the idea. It’s about evolving our consciousness—not self-centered, but human centered.

One thing I will tell my audience in China is that, based on our experience at Breitenbush, exploration of one’s own consciousness, and its relationship to nature and the divine, is among the most important study areas of them all. It leads toward enlightened self-interest, which is qualitatively distinct from personal self-interest. And enlightened self-interest is the necessary precursor to peaceful, progressive and sustainable relations between all people, not to mention the planetary web of interdependent life forms. Ultimately it’s about engaging sustainable practices, from the local to the universal.

But before getting to that particular punch-line, I’ll talk to them about my own experience co-founding Breitenbush and observing it through its growing pains, from humble origins and guiding principles, to success in the spheres of economics, service and business values, to the most important measure, the transformative effects on the lives of many thousands of people who visit. These measures of success are wonderful as far as it goes for a little off-the-grid center in the mountains of Oregon. But the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, and this is where it gets really interesting.

Contained in Breitenbush’s Credo (written and adopted by consensus of founders in 1978) is the following:
…It is our hope that the thriving community which we create will be an inspiration to others in their exploration of lifestyle and community. We also extend ourselves to the greater society in which we live, the world community, and commit ourselves to being socially, spiritually, politically, and environmentally responsible.

Here we are, nearly 40 years on, working with centers from around the globe, sharing these values, serving our growing constituencies, working out the difficulties, and now talking to counterparts in China.

There are thousands of centers throughout the world doing the good work, each a “one-off”, i.e. not franchised, but rather a local expression of a worldwide phenomenon arising from a cross-cultural intuition, a dreaming into human destiny. In other words, I believe there is an evolutionary imperative within our species, and we can see it at work with these centers. And this is why I think this meeting in China is a significant and symbolic step in development of the human potential movement. Though humanity’s politics and economics can be so at odds across our world, our commonalities and compatibilities are really where it’s at. Local centers springing up everywhere can be viewed as evidence of this evolutionary imperative.

Thus the main point I will make to my Chinese audience is quite simple. I’m not here to invite you to Breitenbush (though we welcome you if you come), I’m here to invite you to initiate and develop more of your own centers, right here in China, manifesting and magnifying your own local expressions of the potential that is alive within our incredible species. We’re all in this together.