To all of those who claim the College lacks diversity, beware: there’s a new religion on the block. Jess Row, professor of English, has recently started a Buddhist meditation group, the first of its kind at the College.
“When I first came to (the College), it seemed like the kind of campus where students are interested in exploring new cultures and belief systems,” Row said. So far, the College has not let him down. “The room has been full every time we’ve had meetings.”
The group is new this semester, so new that it has not yet become an official student organization. The meditation sessions started on Feb. 1 and are every Thursday from 11:30 to 12:20 in the Spiritual Center.
“Every time I meditate, it’s like the whole world opens up for me again,” Catharina Evans, senior English major, said. Evans helped Row start the group.
“I’ve been meditating for about three or four years,” Evans said. “I was a Christian up until I was about 16; then I stumbled upon Buddhist philosophy and something inside me just clicked.”
While Evans was already familiar with Buddhism, other participants came from a variety of backgrounds. “It’s for everyone,” Scott Schwartz, freshman secondary education/mathematics major, said. Schwartz, who is Jewish, finds that the meditation makes it “a lot easier to focus for the rest of the day.”
“We’re so stressed out all the time; (meditation) is relaxing,” Schwartz said.
At the beginning of the session last week, students formed a circle with their sitting cushions and found comfortable positions, focusing on their bodies’ posture and balance. Row lit incense candles, took his place and began a resonating chant in Sino-Korean.
After everyone was relaxed and comfortable, Row went over the three aspects of Buddhist meditation: the body, the breath and the mind. The students had already found stable body positions, so the next goal was to regulate their breathing.
Once everyone’s breathing was under control, Row went on to the last and most difficult aspect of meditation: keeping the mind focused on the moment.
“The idea there is to help us to free ourselves from being trapped by our habits of thinking and our egocentric way of looking at the world,” Row said. He compared a Buddhist observing his or her thoughts in meditation to a person watching fish come to the surface of a pond. While Buddhists observe their thoughts, they do not interact with them during meditation.
The meditation session lasted about 20 minutes while the students remained silent in their attempt to obtain a perfectly cleared mind. After Row had struck a bell to end the session, Evans selected a passage from a Buddhist text and read it aloud.
In an interview later, Row discussed the group’s future. “I think the next step is to get organized as a student group so we can have access to resources,” he said. A hindrance to the group’s growth is the number of meditation cushions it owns; currently it only has a few that were donated to Row by his Buddhist community at home.
Row expressed hope that the group would continue to grow and that becoming an official club would help. “Anyone can meditate because it’s about keeping a clear mind and focusing on the moment,” he said. “Buddhism is not an exclusive religion; there’s no demand that if people practice Buddhism they have to give up their other practices.”