The Buddhist Center visited had a plain and simple building. The outside was concrete and glass. There was a living room-style set up with various couches and chairs. Offices were all surrounding and the meditation room was upstairs. Tufts students lined up to donate the suggested five dollars to the Center. The man at the basket was in his forties and balding. Typically I would imagine American Buddhists to be of younger age. I found this to be false as well as other misconceptions I had about what a real modern American Buddhist Center.
On the way upstairs we took our shoes off as a sign of respect to the Center. Just the thought of removing shoes makes one infer the ground of the meditation room is sacred. Silently everyone filed upstairs through a winding staircase. I entered the room, then bowed toward the altar as a sign of respect. I immediately observed everyone already sitting down in their meditation positions. The room was perfectly quiet except for the rustling of clothes as people filed in to sit. There seemed to be an odd peaceful silence surrounding the meditation room.
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The alter consisted of a table with two pictures of old smiling Buddhist monks. One man was the founder of the center, so people bow to his picture as a sign of reverence. There were small glass jars containing water in front of the pictures. Dead center was a large scroll with a single character written on it. Two smaller scrolls were on either side of the large character in the middle.
An older woman with gray hair faced the twenty or so congregants in the meditation room. People were also seated in a row at the back of the room in chairs. The night was an open house, so many new faces were in the crowd. The veteran meditates could easily be spotted by their perfect posture and quiet, content, stiffness. To see each person in their own position was amusing. Most had their legs in front of themselves, crossed and slightly below their hips. Their gaze was typically a few feet in front of their eyes. Some had their eyes closed and some were simply staring. One woman to my right was sitting with her arms resting on her bent legs, a unique approach. Her old age and heavyweight prevented her from sitting any other way. One middle-aged man was sitting on his heels with a tiny wooden bench under him. Each person, based upon their size and flexibility, found their won position to stay in.
Once still my mind began to wander and think about the various other people in the Center. I could not read the _expression of the leader facing us, and that made me a little uncomfortable. She seemed to have a somewhat content _expression, but I never could quite tell. After about ten minutes of sitting in silence, the leader struck a gong. It signalled everyone that it was time to begin the open house. Honestly, the woman’s speak never held my full attention during the whole talk. I found it difficult to keep a decent posture and my mind wandered because of my body’s pain.
The talk was all about how being a nobody is what we should aspire to. What she really meant was that we should not limit our thinking because of our preconceptions. We learn every day that there is only so much of our own lives we can control. Buddhism would prescribe individuals to let go of the struggle for control of one’s life. If one sits back and contemplates his nature and the nature of his actions he can then understand their roots and decide if they are virtuous or self-destructive. When we think of ourselves in past or future terms then we can never truly enjoy the moments we do live in.
These were the main points at which I believe the speaker was trying to convey in her talk. The language she used was a little vague as were her examples. I would have liked the talk to be more organized and driven than delivered in such a scatter-brain way. None the less I did learn, from observing the people around me, there is no typical American Buddhist. They come in all colours, ages, shapes, temperaments, and sizes. This is important for a westerner to contemplate. Often times when examining an outside or unknown religion or people we tend to make broad generalizations. The point of being Buddhist I believe is that anyone can be Buddha, or have Buddha-nature. To live a certain way, in tune with the truth, can lead one to happiness and Buddha-nature.
It was interesting to observe the mixing of American cultures and Buddhists. The Center was very modern and its celebrants very diverse. I believe this speaks to the truth of Buddhism as a mindset. It truly can work in any culture because its truth is cultureless. I found the question and answer session to be the most enjoyable part because of it exhibited the freedom of beliefs within different Buddhist worshipers. Never was anyone called “wrong” for believing something, just another opinion was offered.
That is the difference between Buddhism and most western religions that tend to have a highly detailed and planned doctrine that cannot be strayed from. Buddhism leaves the door open all the time for new opportunities and possibilities. That is the point I believe Buddha tries to deliver most in his teachings and meditation practice, the here and now of life. I enjoyed my visit to the Center, even if the talk seemed a bit jumbled and hard to understand. The good nature of the Center was evident.
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