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The Student News Site of Prospect High School


The Student News Site of Prospect High School



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My experiences with: Buddhism

 By Jane Berry
Associate editor-in-chief
The Challenge: Over the next few months, I plan to immerse myself as much as possible in as many different religions as I can. I hope to come to a better understanding of the peoples’ lives around me and share that with you. I will attempt to practice each religion for exactly three weeks and write about my experiences. Check online after every issue for the next update.   
The first religion I decided to practice was Buddhism. I was learning about it in my World Religions class and thought, “Why not?”
My first day of practicing Buddhism was research. I needed to know what kinds of lifestyle choices Buddhists made and where they got their beliefs. I found that many Buddhists are vegetarians, practice in daily meditation, believe in Karma and reincarnation, follow the Four Noble Truths and are usually part of some sort of congregation to practice their beliefs.

Because the basic beliefs are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, I figured that was as good a place as any to start. To be practicing this path, one must be always conscious of these principles. My personal way of always being conscious was to keep reading Buddhist literature. During the past few weeks, I read parts of “The Heart Sutra,” “The Dhammapada,” “Siddhartha” and I started “How to see yourself as you really are.”


Because these constant readings, I made connections in every class to the Buddha and his beliefs. For example, in English, we were reading “Hamlet,” and every chapter I made a new connection, which I thought was actually impressive considering Shakespeare had never met a Buddhist.  

I found that understanding the four noble truths was not too difficult, but, instead, the Eightfold  Path presented the challenge.    

Right understanding is knowing that life is suffering and understanding the four noble truths. Recently, I read in the Chicago Tribune that the Dalai Lama was returning to Chicago this April to give a talk about non-violence.   


My first thought was “I really, really want to go.”


The second Noble Truth  told me that this desire was going to cause me suffering, but I couldn’t stop wanting this experience. This most likely has to do with the fact that, according to Buddhist teaching, I do not have enough control over my mind yet.  


Right thought is to think without anger or harm for others. I do not find myself frequently wishing harm on others, but to be without anger is very difficult. The other week, my father interrupted my reading of “Siddhartha” to talk about something trivial. I got upset and an argument ensued. At some point, my father told me that he always gets to win because he is the father. Granted, this was in the heat of a moment, but he still said it.    


I felt like I got slapped in the face; my opinion didn’t even matter anymore. At this point, I felt like screaming, but instead, I took a deep breath and walked away. (Note to all teenagers: Even when practicing Buddhism, it is never a good idea to walk away from your parents mid-argument.)


Right speech and right livelihood were also difficulties because I had to consciously  think about never saying or doing anything that would cause harm to others. I try my best to not “make fun” of people, but I will not claim that I became a full-on angel during these three weeks. I often find myself trying to justify that I am more important than somebody else for some trivial reason. For example, I will say things like “She couldn’t find a belt this morning?” or “I can’t believe he needed clarification on that.”


When these things come out of my mouth, I immediately wish I can take them back, even if the person I am talking about will never have any idea I said them. For one, the fact that I thought these made me better than anyone else is a logical fallacy (therefore making me the stupid one) and, secondly, if I were a Buddhist, and this is how I practiced daily, I would probably be reincarnated as a toad. Serves me right. At first, I just felt bad, but I reasoned with myself that being conscious of my actions was the first step to changing them.


Right action consists of the ideas that one must abstain from killing other things. I practiced this by becoming a vegetarian, which I took to mean that I could not eat anything that was made by another animal’s death. Warning: This is not as easy as it may sound. Just to be clear, I love meat. I completely buy into the “circle of life” concept, so this was not a breeze for me.


By the end of the first week, I started to feel a bit like I was running on a half tank of gas. I did some research and found out that there are several foods I should be eating to gain back the nutrients lost. For example, soy milk is something I had to make part of my daily routine. I love milk. I drink easily three glasses of two percent a day. I honestly believe there should be a warning on every carton of soy milk for first time users, something like: May taste like chalky water. Swallowing that first glass was not a pleasant experience for me (which is why I now put it in my cereal instead). On the plus side, the few dietary changes I made did help me gain my energy back.

By the second week, I was pretty proud of myself: I had lasted 15 days without eating meat. The pride I felt from this accomplishment was not practicing right thought, but I didn’t stop myself. It was on this 15 day that my mom took me to a Thai restaurant for lunch. I ordered a vegatable and tofu dish and waited as each course was served. The first course was a simple soup. I started to eat the soup and it was on my third sip that I realized that the broth was made from chicken stock. You know what I learned: Karma is a female dog.
As I am writing this, I am at the end of my third week. Have you ever heard someone say that your dreams try to tell you things? Well, I am not exaggerating in the slightest, I have had dreams about eating meat; dreams of barbecues, fancy steak dinners, even bacon. I sincerely hope that these dreams do not continue, because it is not fun to wake up hungry. 
The last three steps to the eight-fold path are right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. These all have to do with centering the mind and pushing out unwholesome thoughts. To help me practice this, I attempted to meditate every night for 10 minutes before I went to bed. In hindsight, I don’t really know why I thought youtube was a go-to source for meditation lessons. It wasn’t until I visited the Dharma Drum Meditation Center that I discovered the true art of meditation.  

When I first arrived at the center, I was sure I had come on the wrong day, hardly anyone was there. I found a woman in the back and introduced myself. She brought me into a small, softly lit room with cushions on the floor and gave me some basic instruction on meditation.


This was just the beginning.


When class actually started, we loosened our bodies through moving meditation, which is a but like yoga. The most interesting part was that there was never a set amount of time to complete the stretches, whenever the leader decided we would switch, we did.


After some stretching, we started to meditate, or attempt to meditate, as the case may be. We were asked to sit with our backs straight up, legs crossed and to not move for 45 minutes. The woman there announced to the class that we should sit through pain an anxiousness to appreciate meditation.


It became overwhelmingly clear after the first five minutes that this was not going to be easy. My mind was racing to a million things, but mostly the fact that I was sitting in such a position that I knew my foot was going to fall asleep by the end of this meditation and when I moved it again, it was going to be painful.


I found that when I really concentrated there were moments that I actually let everything else slip away, but the moment I realized I was doing so, all my other thoughts came flooding back. It was endlessly frustrating.  


After the meditation, we had a special guest, the Venerable Guo Ming, who lead us through some chanting. She has been a monk for 19 years and was the past director of the New York Chan meditation center and served as a director of other affiliates in Taiwan. Although I knew nothing about Guo Ming until meeting her that day, I could feel the admiration that everyone in the room felt for her.


Following the chanting she was supposed asked to give a speech on meditation, but announced that she thought it would be more effective to answer any questions that we had about meditation. I sat there for at least an hour soaking in everything she said. 


Suddenly, she looked directly at me and asked if I had any questions for her. Apparently, I looked like a new comer. I had the opportunity to ask her anything in the world, and I was beyond nervous. I did ask her a few questions, but mostly, she wanted to know about me. Why was I there? How did I find it? Did I learn anything? Why did I want to seek enlightenment? We had a full on conversation about Buddhism mid-class.


The aspect that struck me more than any other was how genuinely kind everyone at the Dharma Drum was. If they were surprised or felt it rude that I just showed up, they never showed it. I truly felt that I could belong there. That is the best thing that I learned over these past few weeks: Buddhism teaches kindness.

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