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The Garrison Institute

Throughout human history, people have created sacred places—whether they’re called monasteries, ashrams or vihars—where the spiritually inclined can withdraw from the world or society. These are places designed for profound thinking and deep reflection, where rich inner lives and wisdom are pursued over status and wealth.

These sacred places have also been centers for intellectual exploration. The first university in the world was originally a Buddhist vihara in India. The oldest existing, continually operating university in the world is the University of Al-Karaouine in Fez, established in 859 A.D. In Europe, the monasteries were used as models for the university system. And so many spiritual traditions have recognized the need for places of retreat, deep study, reflection and action as sources of societal resilience.

The Garrison Institute’s founders believed that the ancient wisdom cultivated inside these sacred places should not belong to the select few ready to renounce the world. Many monasteries had an outward role in the past—they were the places that preserved knowledge in their libraries, they healed the sick, and provided hospice—and they typically cultivated wisdom and taught compassion to the communites that they were part of. So monasteries were part of the world, too. In light of urgent environmental and social issues—from underperforming schools to climate change to humanitarian crises—the Institute’s founders reimagined the monastery as an incubator for ideas that would spread into the wider world.

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