Buddhism interests me from way back. I like the practicality of it, with its emphasis on changing your life through better thinking, meditation, and personal insight. It has, I think, the potential for opening a person up to broad spiritual vistas. It even has numbered steps to reaching happiness: four Nobel Truths and an eightfold path. I also have become convinced, after years of reading on the subject, that meditation is a key to spiritual development and to effective living for an individual. This conviction has grown for me in the last couple of years that my wife and I have put such a big emphasis on physical fitness.
You see, we reached that point in our lives where getting fit reached a "now or never" point and so we joined a local fitness club (MUV). Following a program of taking various fitness classes and using personal trainers, we both reached a level of physical fitness we haven't had in a long time (or, never, in my case). Though the effort is hard work, it's better than being fat and constantly fatigued. I've been so amazed at the results, that I thought again about supplementing physical fitness with mental and spiritual fitness.
What I want is some instruction in meditating in the same way we found instruction and guidance for our physical work-outs. Over the years, I’ve done some book-studying on the subject and reached the point where I can easily enter the state of "remembering myself" (watching myself at the same time I'm watching everything around me) and can even do a traditional meditation of concentrating on my breathing. Self-remembering has been especially helpful, but I haven't made it a regular part of my life. I haven't reached the point of maintaining the state and going to deeper levels to find the insight and release I believe to be there. I need professional help.
So I made a Google search for meditation classes in my area and it returned a hit on a Buddhist Meditation Center within two miles of my house. It's the Kadampa Meditation Center and it offers classes for a fee comparable to fitness clubs. Recently, they put on a free public talk at the State Museum entitled, "The Art of Positive Thinking." We decided to attend.
Donna and I arrived at the museum on a Tuesday night, already tired from work and work-outs, but determined to give this thing a try. We were greeted at the door by smiling members of the Meditation Center who directed us to where the talk was being held. We climbed a set of stairs (open to the center of the spacious museum building) to find the specified meeting room. We signed in and took seats in uncomfortable chairs among a group of about 80 people making up the audience.
It was mostly an older group--a lot of apparent retirees such as the members of my writing group. Like me, I suppose, these were people who had reached the last quarter of life, wanting to find some real spiritual connection during this time when they are free of a full-time job. Of course, I’m still constrained by a full-time job, but I'm determined to not let that stop me.
The staff were friendly and did not pounce on us—asking why we were there or trying to get us to sign up for anything, or try to push any books on us (though they did have a table with a few books on it). I was encouraged.
At the top of the hour, the speaker arrived. She was a Buddhist nun, recently moved to Columbia from Florida. A smiling, mature woman with closely cropped hair and wearing glasses, she took a seat on a dais behind a large microphone and greeted us in a warm, soft voice.
She began by guiding the audience through a simple breathing meditation. She gave no instruction as to the form, other than saying we should bring our awareness to our breaths. So I shifted into self-rememberance and observed my breath. She offered a few words of calm guidance for a couple of minutes and then instructed us to release.
She then began her talk, which was basically about letting go of annoyances and angers, and adopt a positive attitude. She supported this with examples (like the positive and negative attiudes she recently observed at a Waffle House) and with some quotes from Gautama Buddha and from her own guru.
Now this talk may sound simplistic, but that's the nature of Buddhism—profundity in simplicity. It's also its attraction and strength. I think the talk could have been entitled "The Art of Skillful Thinking" and that is the slant the nun took. Skillful (or “right”) thinking is a part of Buddha's eightfold path to happiness (which is skillful application of: Understanding, Thinking, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration). Assimilating the path into your life is the work of Buddhism facilitated by certain tools, the chief of which is meditation.
I can't say the talk produced any great insights for me, though I enjoyed it and appreciated the congenial and nonthreatening atmosphere. It confirmed my anticipation of what an introductory Buddhist talk would be, and I found that encouraging. My wife also seemed to enjoy it to the point that she was interested in reading about Buddhist concepts. I referred her to a book in my library: Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha's Path by Bhante Gunaratana. We have also downloaded a free Kindle book suggested at the talk: How to Transform Your Life: A Blissful Journey by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
And so we begin 2018 with another new start. We’ll attend some classes at the Kadampa Center and see where they lead us. There are indications on the Kadampa website that they offer some deep teaching in Buddhist thought and meditation. My primary interest is meditation. I'll let you know how it goes.