As someone whom was not really raised in a real religious household, I chose a religion that is a little different compared to most any other religions out there. The religion I chose, does not believe in a monotheistic or polytheistic system of gods, but more of one’s personal choice to better one’s soul and seek enlightenment. I chose to learn about the joys and spiritualty of Buddhism. To be a little more specific, I chose to attend a Mahayana sect of Buddhism.
I attended a class at the Kadampa Meditation Center located at 30 N Washington Blvd, Sarasota, FL 34236. Classes began at 11am on Sunday November 26th.
As a visitor, I needed to remove my shoes before I could enter the meditation room. There were also no cell phones allowed so I needed to at least silence it, but I instead chose to turned off. Seeing that I was not allowed to photograph the inside of the mediation center, I chose to walk the property and take pictures of the different areas people retreat to meditate.
As I walked into the Meditation room. I could see multiple Buddha depictions on the walls while in route to the main mediation room. Once I arrive in the main meditation room, it was filled with seats and a few pillows on the ground that surrounded the alter. The altar itself, wasn’t very big but did have stairs that led up to a bigger pillow on top. I assumed that it was the instructor’s seat due to its central placement and obvious “pulpit” type appearance.
There was a big shelf in the back of the alter with multiple Buddha statues. Each of the more than fifty Buddha’s on display, were unique and were dressed different or had different clothing and expressions. Each statue came in a different size.
Once it reached 11:00AM, we all stood up as the teacher enters the room, and then instructed to sit once the teacher was sitting. This kind of reminded me of a courtroom in the theatrics. The teacher walked in the room. Once the instructor made it to the altar, she stopped to face the altar, she did a few praying bows, and then walked up the altar. She sat down upon the red cushioned pillow, which was the indicator for the class to sit as well. Our instructor was a female monk with a short hair, and she was wearing a traditional monk robe. I could tell immediately that she was on a different level of spirituality than everyone else in the room. Her confidence and precise movements led me to believe that she has spent years practicing this religion.
We started off with breathing meditations, our teacher instructed us to form a straight back, eyes close, hands in lap and to get rid of any disturbances. We were told to focus on breathing while gradually drawing our attention inward. We were told to follow our breath as it enters and leaves the body. She told us to imagine everything negative and painful in our bodies. We were asked to imagine all the negativity and pain as black smoke in our lungs, for which we breathed out, and imagined taking in pure white, healthy smoke, that is filled with the qualities we want to possess. After a few minutes of getting rid of the black smoke, and gaining pure white smoke, we are told to concentrate on inner peace and hold it on our breath as we arise from meditation.
After our first meditation experience was over, we opened our prayer books and music started to play, “Liberating Prayer,” which is a praise to the Buddha Shakyamuni. After the prayer was finished, and the teacher had a moment for a special intention: “world peace.” “Learning to cherish others is the best method to establish world peace. If all pray sincerely, we could achieve it, the world would then be at peace and happiness would prevail the world. Let us all dedicate our activities today for both inner and outer peace throughout the world,” said The sole instructor (soul instructor too ).
After a bit more discussion on the subject of “world peace,” she changed the topic and discussed with us about those who have a loving mind. ‘Loving minds are not ordinary, and compassionate minds are extraordinary.’ If we can have a loving and compassionate mind, we would develop extraordinary strengths. An example she used was about children, how parents are suffering from sleep deprivation because of their kids, which is in a sense “torture.” Now if the parent was asked about their child, they would say something along the lines of, ‘my child is the most precious thing to me.’ This is a prime example of a compassionate, loving mind. Another example within this topic she discussed with us was about a loved one needing us. “If a loved one was to call us at 3am and they really need us, would we jump for them? Of course a loving compassionate mind would for a loved family member or friend. Whether they were in trouble or in need of a shoulder to cry on, we would be there for them.”
After about 30 minutes of speaking about world peace, selfishness and loving/compassionate minds, she began to teach the class about Bodhicitta: ‘a mind that is seeking enlightenment, motivated by compassion.’ To achieve a mind of Bodhicitta, one must become compassionate, which is done with suffering. Our teacher then explained to us about her personal goals, ‘I want to save people from suffering, save the world from suffering. But how do I achieve these goals when I am also suffering? It’s like two drowning people trying to save each other.’ In order to fulfill that wish, you need to transform, to become a fulfilled being through enlightenment.
After a bit more discussing of selfishness and enlightenment she started to clarify a common belief people have about Buddha and enlightenment, and that anyone could truly achieve it if they focus well enough. “Becoming a Buddha? That is not reasonable, I could become a plumber, but never a Buddha,” said the teacher. Many people believe that because they have faults, they are polluted and have already destroyed their spiritual self. However, this is not true. A Buddha is some who has brought all good qualities to perfection, and we could do that too. If we truly believe in ourselves, we could remove all limitations and become what we truly desire.
The last thing our teacher said to us, before we did our final meditation and prayers, was a short quote from Buddha; “everyone has pure potential.” And that we should leave thinking, “maybe one day I too could become enlightened.” At that point music started to play. A selection named, “Prayers for World Peace.” After that prayer we did our final 5 minute meditation in complete silence. After the meditation there was two more prayers. “Prayers for the Virtuous Tradition,” and “The Nine-Line Migtsema Prayer.” As soon as the final prayer ended, the class rose to their feet as the teacher exited the room. At that point the service had ended.
I found the service to be extraordinary. I found pleasure in the fact that it was different then what I was accustomed to. As someone who grew up as a Catholic, graduated from a Catholic school, and attended Catholic Church, it was nice to see how a different religion functions. I did find a couple things to be similar to the Catholic Church. The singing of prayers is similar and also how our priest talks to us, tells us stories, etc. She did things in a very familiar manner. The teacher also taught us about Buddha like the priest would teach us about Jesus and God.
I was never confused about what was going on during the trip, thanks to the clear cut explanations given by the monk. Learning the religions customs prior to attending the service helped a lot when it came to little items that others might have been confused about. A friend that had accompanied me, had no basic knowledge on the religion, yet she didn’t seem to be that confused either thanks to the monk’s instructions. The instructor was very easy to follow due to the fact that she explained everything with great detail.
The only thing about the service that truly surprised me was the setup and how much time the teacher spent talking. The room had mainly chairs in it and only 3 pillows. I honestly thought we would all be on pillows or yoga mats to learn meditation. I also thought that the only talking the teacher would do was to explain each step in meditation, she did more than just that. I expected the talking in total to be 5-10 minutes and the meditation to be about 50 minutes to over an hour. The service started at 10am and ended at 11:35am, the meditation took about 10-15 minutes and prayers took about 10 minutes. That would leave us with a little over an hour of talking, which deluded my original thoughts.
I really enjoyed how well the teacher drew us into the conversation, you could really relate to what she was saying with all her great personal examples she used. I also really found it exciting that the teacher was an actual monk. Before entering, I expected some regular man in non-formal attire to teach us. A couple things I didn’t really like about the service were: 1) the rooms’ setup and 2) there wasn’t enough moving. The reason I didn’t like the room was because it felt like the amount of decorations affected my ability to focus during meditations. I expected the room to be practically empty, but have big windows with a view of a beautiful garden. Although they did have a bit of a garden view, it was very small and we were facing the other way. When I reference the room having an excessive amount of decorations, I mean the many Buddha statues and paintings they had, and each statue/picture was mainly gold, which made the room have a certain feel. It just didn’t feel quite right for a place of non-material focus to be reflected by the many gold profits. The Second thing I didn’t really like was the lack of any movement. Now I didn’t expect there to be any moving, but I wish I was wrong. I can’t sit still, and one thing I do appreciate about Church is that we stand when needed, sit and kneel when asked, and when we are sitting, I can at least fiddle my thumbs or do some other little action for some sort of solace. In the meditation session, you were not supposed to move at all, which did not work for me.
During the teacher’s speech to us, there was only one question that I really had persistently in my mind. What is the Boddhicitta? It sounded familiar to me, but I could not recall the meaning of it. She spoke a lot about the question, and explained that it is a type of mind seeking enlightenment. The Boddhicitta is the only thing I couldn’t recall when she spoke about it throughout the service. I later discovered that I confused Bodhisattva and Boddhicitta, which made Boddhicitta something new for me to learn. The only thing I could say that I was wrong about Buddhism, and their meditation services is that it was a lot different than what I had in mind when approaching. I seriously believed the class would just sit there for an hour and practice the art of meditation. I didn’t expect there to be as much speaking as there was, nor the amount of prayers that had been committed.
In conclusion to my experience with Buddhism, I don’t believe I would ever go there again. I truly enjoyed witnessing another religion, and experiencing a force outside of Catholicism and Christianity, but it was not for me. I love the religion I grew up in. I love the belief system of the Roman Catholic Church. I did enjoyed the overall Buddhism experience, getting a taste of a belief system completely different from my own, but I didn’t love it like I do my own belief system.