Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Buddhist group touts meditation




By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Tibetan monks discuss meditation at the Columbia Performance Center.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        Only 1 percent of the American adult population — or about a million people — are Buddhists, but the religion's primary practice of meditation appeals to people of many faiths.

        Studies show it can help lower blood pressure, ease stress and control anger and depression.

        But for many, the physical benefits are second to the emotional ones. For them, meditation is a portal to spirituality.

        Carol Tyler, 49, of Oakley, hopes to expose more people to the power of meditation. She established Buddhist Cincinnati this winter to bring together the different Buddhist sects in the Tristate. Thursday, the group is having the first communitywide Buddhist Meditation at 7 p.m. in Ault Park, Mount Lookout.

        Area Buddhists will guide visitors through chants and meditation.

IF YOU GO
  Cambodian and Tibetan monks and area Buddhists will lead prayers and chanting Thursday at the Tristate's first community-wide Buddhist meditation. Guided and silent meditation will follow, with a question-and-answer period at the end. The public is invited to participate.
  Bring a mat, pillow or blanket for sitting.
  Event is 7 p.m. at Ault Park in Mount Lookout. Information: 531-6032.
WHAT IS BUDDHISM?
  Buddhism was founded 2,500 years ago by Siddhartha Guatama. As Buddha, he preached of four Noble truths:
  • All life is suffering.
  • Suffering is caused by craving or desire.
  • Cessation of suffering is possible.
  • And the Noble Eightfold Path can lead to the end of suffering.
  The Eightfold Path gives an ethical framework for followers to make right choices and thereby avoid suffering. Buddhists also believe in reincarnation.
        “People are looking for much deeper and more contemplative opportunities,” Ms. Tyler says. “I can't explain what's causing people to feel there's an emptiness in their lives ... It could be just modern life, chasing deadlines and money.”

        Hla Myint, a Burmese immigrant who lives in Madeira, says Americans enjoy democracy, freedom and immense wealth.

        “You name it, you have it,” he says. “America is the greatest country in the world. The most powerful and the most liberal ... When it comes to spiritual values, I fear something is lacking.”

        Indeed, despite today's unprecedented prosperity, a 1998 Gallup poll shows four of five Americans say they feel the need to grow spiritually. This widespread interest in spirituality has created a religion buffet of sorts, with traditional Judeo-Christian followers selecting an eclectic mix of beliefs. For example, some fundamentalist Christians co-opt the Far East belief of reincarnation.

        “I don't think we're going to see mass conversions of Americans to Buddhism, but I do think we're going to continue to see the mixing and matching of religious practices,” says D. Michael Lindsay, a consultant for theology, religion and culture for the Gallup Organization.

Concentration
        Ms. Tyler reads Dharma, the teachings of Buddha, tries to abide by the faith's philosophy and sets aside time for meditation.

        To meditate, she concentrates on her rhythm of breathing. Inhale. Exhale. In. Out. She conjures visions of deep, clear water or sometimes the compassionate eyes of an old pet.

        Even when clarity comes, sometimes thoughts streak through her mind.

        Ms. Tyler acknowledges she still needs more practice in meditation. But during those times when her mind clears the clutter, she finds peace and a sense of enlightenment.

        “In Buddhism, that is the ultimate goal,” says Mr. Myint, 62. “To meditate. To reach (the state of peace known as) nirvana.”

        He has been Buddhist all his life. But he still finds meditation a challenge.

        Each morning after breakfast, he freshens up, then heads to his prayer room for meditation. The longest he's ever been able to meditate is 20 minutes.

        “You need a lot of practice, because it's very difficult. Your mind tends to wander,” he says.

Clear thinking
        Bonnie Beverage, a Northside teacher in her 50s, started meditating 12 years ago. Each morning and evening, she sits at a bench in the corner of her bedroom and works to clear the clutter from her mind.

        Ms. Beverage didn't know she was on a spiritual journey when she discovered Buddhism. She only knew family and job problems had set her adrift.

        “I guess I was looking for the great escape,” she says. “And instead, I found Buddhism.”

        She found peace in meditation. It changed her philosophy of life.

        “Most of us are planning ahead or worrying about things that have already happened,” she says. “When we're really present for our lives, the most interesting things happen. It's like an adventure.”

Mindful thinking
        Ms. Tyler practices another type of meditation called “mindfulness” or focusing intently on the present.

        So if she's fixing a salad, she watches the event unfold.

        “I'm cutting the carrot. I'm washing the lettuce. I'm cutting up the lettuce. I'm opening the refrigerator.”

        This type of meditation makes her more aware of how precious life is — and how it's constantly changing.

        “It's like I have eyes that see differently.”

Buddhism gains higher profile in Cincinnati



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