Sumayya Ahmad, Daily Trojan, Univ of Southern California, USA: Buddhist students on campus practice meditation and host discussions weekly.
In the fast-paced college atmosphere, some students at USC have turned to Buddhism, an ancient religion more than 2,500 years old, for guidance in their modern lives because of the faith’s philosophy and the simple answers it provides for everyday problems.
Buddhism is used to purify your mind and understand how to eliminate all suffering, agony and stress,” said Dr. Jongmae Park, Buddhist director at USC and a faculty fellow.
“Youngsters are very hyper and have so much passion. A life of passion is OK, but we try to make them slow down. They are often missing the cultivation of the self,” he said.
Buddhists believe people were born with a pure mind and spirit, and develop greed, anger and prejudices through life, Park said.
The philosophy of Buddhism is unlike most religions in that there is no belief in a supreme being or God, Park said. Buddhists, however, are not atheists, he said.
“We believe in the nature of the universe. In fact, the Buddha said that each sentient being is a small universe,” Park said.
The Buddhist goal is to attain nirvana, or enlightenment. There are several ways to develop wisdom through Buddhism, he said. One way is through the reading of Buddhist scriptures, and another way is coaching oneself through meditation and chanting. The Buddhist book of scripture, the Sutra, is 84,000 chapters long.
Park said that he thinks part of getting an education is to gain wisdom.
“The young age is important. The mind is in high gear and learning to develop many different things. Wisdom doesn’t only come from education, it also comes from experiences,” Park said.
“If you have no wisdom, it’s like building a house on sand, not on a concrete floor. We try to help USC students build a house with a good foundation. This is called spiritual development.”
Darryl Ng, a senior majoring in business with an emphasis in entrepreneurship, is president of external affairs for the USC Buddhist Association. Ng, who was not raised with a religious background, became interested in Buddhism in college.
“The Buddhist philosophy, I find, really clicks with my own personal beliefs; it’s essentially the madhyamam, the middle path, not to one of the extremes or the other, and I try to implement that in my daily life,” he said.
Ng meditates twice a day for 15 minutes, once in the morning after he wakes up and also before he goes to bed. Meditation helps to clear his mind, he said.
Ng also leads meditation sessions on campus for students who want to learn relaxation techniques on Thursdays in the Fishbowl Chapel from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The USC Buddhist Association holds meetings every Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in URC 205, where there are teachings and discussion about the philosophy.
“The mind is like a pool of water — it’s murky, you can’t see through it. By sitting down, and allowing the mind to calm itself, essentially your muddy water becomes clear and you can see through it,” he said.
Caroline Bartunek, a sophomore majoring in creative writing and comparative literature, is the vice president of the USC Buddhist Association.
Bartunek grew up in a Catholic family and said that she, too, became interested in Buddhism in college.
Although she said she considers herself predominantly Catholic and attends church at home, she thinks that Buddhism is a great philosophy.
“I think that for most people it’s a philosophy — it’s not a mythology. It’s really about the core of teaching. It has a great way of looking at life and treating people with compassion,” she said.
Bartunek said that she really liked the teachings of Jesus, but as she grew older, it became harder for her to identify with the Christian culture.
Bartunek also said that most people who express an interest in Buddhism are “white American” kids who are interested in the philosophy.
“Different people follow Buddhism in different ways,” Bartunek said. “One of the precepts is that you shouldn’t use any intoxicating substances. The principle behind that is that one of the goals of Buddhism it to gain a higher consciousness.”
“I don’t make a big deal out of it, but I don’t drink or use drugs. If others want to do it, it’s their decision, though. I go to parties, but I avoid drinking.”
Bartunek also said that she likes how the philosophy can be adapted to any culture.
James Gauntt, a sophomore majoring in Spanish, became interested in Buddhism after one of his friends took him to a meeting last spring.
“I liked how accessible and venerable it is, how entertaining the lectures can be, and how easy they are to understand,” Gauntt said.
Gauntt said he was a “church-twice-a-year” Christian, one who attends only Christmas and Easter services. He said that although he would not call himself a Buddhist, he is fascinated by the philosophy.
“I am really willing to learn more and see about making it a big part of my life in the future,” he said.
“It makes life very easy to understand and deal with. I like the philosophy. It makes life very easy, and I think it’s just the life lesson more than anything.”