On a balmy Spring morning, 21 young students of a New York University class on East Asian Cultures arrived at Village Zendo. Uncertain yet curious, they looked around the zendo space, wondering what their teacher, Professor Winifred Chin, had gotten them into.
The students, from 18 to 19 years old, were there to complement their Asian Studies with an actual experience in a zen temple, and to receive an introduction to meditation and Zen Buddhism. NYU classes regularly visit Village Zendo (we serve 100 students quarterly) and are part of Village Zendo’s special program of outreach to schools and universities.
At this time, School Outreach Program coordinators, Sybil Myoshin Taylor, Howard Thoreson and Nina Shuka Klippel are planning to expand the program to include middle and elementary schools, with emphasis on teaching meditation to teens and younger children and their parents. A particular area of interest is teaching meditation as an aid for children with special needs.
Here follow some of the comments Professor Chin received from the most recent class to visit Village Zendo:
…Schoolwork, summer jobs, girl troubles and more were draining all of my energy. The thought of a meditation period to soothe my troubled soul seemed like a necessary experience, but not one that I believed I could obtain. I could never have been more wrong.
The whole time I was inside that room everything felt still and quiet. I found this to be very impressive in the middle of New York City, where constructions and police sirens are constantly in competition with each other to become the loudest noise in the city. All the angst and pressure that have been constantly building within me dissipated with nothing more then a soft mat and the light sound of a gong. I find it so hard to try and explain how or why something so subtle and alien to me would have such a positive impact.
…In a day and age where we’re constantly being told to look younger, be thinner, have better skin, wear certain clothes, and act a certain way, it’s almost impossible to imagine a practice that insists that we need not change a thing about ourselves. I wish more people knew about this philosophy in Zen Buddhism, because I think almost everyone could benefit from the practice, encouraging all of its followers to simply live and not worry about what they are not. … Even after an hour of listening and learning, I found myself believing that somehow, I too was a Buddha. The entire experience was worthwhile, and now I’m going to have to consider making Zen meditation a part of my life.
…Like most people, I rush through the day without giving much thought to slowing down and resting. Thus, per the teacher’s suggestion, I decided to practice zazen the next morning before I left for class. With such a small and cluttered room I was not sure if I would be able to achieve a peaceful mind …, but I tried it nonetheless. The result was remarkable. … I fell into a peaceful state and then the rest of the day I felt so much more relaxed. It was not as though I dramatically changed my outlook, but my mind was simply clearer. I finally understood that meditation was about taking that moment to reflect simply upon oneself.
…It is both refreshing and inspiring to engage in a practice so different from the spirituality of my own Christian religion. Buddhism and Christianity are indeed very different entities, but the inner peace gained through both practices remains the same…. When you sit in silence, left only to yourself and your thoughts, devoid of noise and distraction, a great peace and comfort can be achieved. These are ideals I feel everyone can recognize, but it took my experience at the Village Zendo to remember what meditation can do for a person. …What if a large part of the United States practiced Buddhist meditation? How would our society and culture change? Could it ever be a possibility? These are the questions that swirled through my mind as I sat on my pillow, in a bright blank room, immersed in a different spirituality than that I had known before.
…Although we have discussed Buddhism in class, it’s principles were not truly instilled in me until I was sitting peacefully on my pillow in a new, and spiritually conducive environment.
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