meditation and university students

Dharma in the dorm: MIT hires Buddhist chaplain (Science & Theology News)

Michael Kunzelman, The Associated Press: Tenzin Priyadarshi, a Buddhist monk with a physics degree, is Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s first Buddhist chaplain.

Tenzin Priyadarshi’s path to becoming a Buddhist monk began when he was just 10 and he ran away from home in pursuit of the recurring ‘vision’ he saw in his dreams of a monastery and an old man.

Tenzin, who grew up in an upper-class Hindu family of intellectuals and bureaucrats, slipped away from his boarding school one morning with the equivalent of $5 in his pocket. He left a note for his parents that he was embarking on a ‘spiritual quest.’

After a 24-hour train ride, he found himself at the foot of a mountain in Rajgir, India. It was at the top of that mountain where he found the very same monastery he had seen in his dreams, he said. He recognized the face of one of the monks who greeted him as the same man he had seen in his vision.

‘This is what in Buddhist terms we call karma,’ he said, adding that his story may sound too fantastic to be true. ‘I have no reason to fabricate it,’ he said.

The monks took him in, not realizing he was a runaway child.

‘Even at that age, I looked like a 35-year-old guy,’ said the 26-year-old, whose large forearms pour out of his monastic robes.

He probably never envisioned the pursuit of Buddhism would lead him to the United States, on the grounds of one of the nation’s elite universities: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is the school’s first Buddhist chaplain.

Many colleges and universities have added Buddhist monks to their roster of chaplains as the religion has grown in the United States. MIT didn’t have one until Tenzin arrived in 2002, while he was completing his graduate work at Harvard Divinity School.

Tenzin’s parents, who knew about his fascination with Buddhism when he ran away, tracked him down eight days later. Although they disapproved of his interest in Buddhism, they agreed to let him split his time between a traditional school and the monastery.

Tenzin never had second thoughts about becoming a monk.

In 1992, he left India to study Buddhism in Nepal and Japan. He enrolled at Syracuse University in 1996 to study physics.

Tenzin isn’t hard to pick out of a crowd at MIT, given his habit of roller-blading across campus with his monastic robes flapping in the wind. But what has most impressed his students and colleagues is his encyclopedic command of a diverse range of subjects.

‘I live to learn,’ said Tenzin, who speaks five languages. ‘I live to study new things.’

He went from being ordained by the Dalai Lama to earning a physics degree, so it makes sense that Tenzin has found a home at MIT, where the scientists who surround him are on a similar path: unlocking the mysteries of the human mind.

‘The methods are different, but the goal is the same,’ he said. ‘They’re both looking at the nature of reality, whether it’s physical or metaphysical.’

Tenzin, whose name in Tibetan means ‘holder of dharma,’ said he believed his religion’s teachings and practices ‘ including meditation ‘ could help students cope with the pressures of attending one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

‘It is visibly the most stressed-out campus in the world,’ he said. ‘I believed I could help ease the suffering in students.’

Robert Randolph, senior associate dean for student life at MIT and a Protestant minister, recruited Tenzin after hearing about him from colleagues at Harvard University.

‘It has paid off wonderfully,’ Randolph said. ‘We wanted to have a religious presence on campus to serve our Buddhist students, but he also has broadened the experience of students who wouldn’t know how to spell ‘Buddhism.”

One percent of college students identify as Buddhist, according to a recent study of college students’ spiritual and religious practices, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute and funded by the Templeton Foundation. The same study found that Buddhist students had high levels of charitable involvement and religious skepticism and they espoused ecumenical world views.

Tenzin not only teaches and counsels students, he also lives in a campus residence hall, in a studio equipped with a meditation room and a laptop with a high-speed Internet connection.

He started with only three students, who gathered in his room for meditation sessions and a weekly class on basic Buddhist philosophy. His class has since grown to 30 to 40 students, and he has added a forum on contemporary ethical issues called ‘Dharma and Chai.’ Next semester, he said he plans to start teaching a new course, ‘Practice of Contemplation.’

Tenzin said his students know he isn’t there to convert them.

‘It’s a very nonthreatening tradition, and it doesn’t require any conversion,’ he said. ‘Religious conversion is something that has to be done at a deeper level and takes years of time.’

John Essigmann, a professor of chemistry and engineering at MIT, said he saw Tenzin in the dining hall discussing gravitational lensing with a renowned physics professor. The next night, he and a neurophysician were debating theories about meditation’s effects on the brain.

‘All in a seamless conversation, as natural as could be,’ Essigmann said.

Tenzin said his spiritual adviser is the 14th Dalai Lama, who is no stranger to MIT. The exiled monarch of Tibet visited the campus in 2003 to participate in a conference called ‘Investigating the Mind: Exchanges Between Buddhism and the Biobehavioral Sciences on How the Mind Works.’

B. Alan Wallace, a Buddhist scholar who spoke at that conference, said science and Buddhism is a ‘match waiting to be made,’ although there are skeptics on both sides.

‘The very conservative elements on both sides will in all likelihood continue to ignore each other for the foreseeable future,’ he said.

Tenzin said Buddhists have been studying and cultivating the mind for 2,500 years, but he wants to explore ways that science can answer questions that religion cannot.

‘Buddhism goes very well with MIT,’ he said. ‘We both want people to have good reasons for their beliefs.’

Original article no longer available.

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Counseling and Psychological Services explores meditation as a stress reduction tool (The South End Newspaper, Detroit, MI)

Candice Warren, The South End Newspaper, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan: Dr. Steven Schoeberlein, of Wayne State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center, talked Wednesday about the importance of keeping stress at bay during a workshop on the fifth floor of the Student Center Building.

Schoeberlein demonstrated in a stress reduction workshop how stress can be reduced and how attention can be enhanced through a practice called “mindful meditation.”

He addressed a group of six people and discussed the benefits of mindful meditation and afterwards led the group in a brief meditation exercise.

In the discussion part of the workshop, Schoeberlein highlighted the importance of calming the mind.

“The idea is you’re going to learn how to slow your mind, be aware of your thoughts and be able to focus your attention somewhere,” he said.

Schoeberlein said that mindfulness was paying attention in a particular way.

“It’s about learning how the mind wanders,” he said.

The wandering of the mind should not be seen as a mistake or a failure, he pointed out. It is normal.

According to the Mindful Living Web site, mindfulness is the cultivation of non-judgmental, non-reactive, present-moment awareness.

The Web site stated that practicing mindfulness includes meditation and present-moment awareness during daily activities.

Schoeberlein mentioned multi-tasking as not being in the present. He said it was likely in American culture for people to have several tasks going on at once.

Schoeberlein also said not to believe everything you think. It could lead to anxiety.

He demonstrated what he called the “raisin exercise.”

He told everyone to imagine that there was a raisin in his or her hand and to imagine what it looked like. He then told everyone to put it up to his or her nose and smell it. Afterward, he said to imagine what it would taste like.

Schoeberlein explained that he was teaching how to bring attention and awareness to what one is doing.

He said that mindful meditation is particularly useful for artists and schoolteachers. Teachers who practice the technique don’t feel as burned out.

He said that mindful meditation helps people to become more connected to one another.

“If you’re not in the moment and paying attention to people, you’re not going to pick up on how people express themselves,” he said.

According to, a Web site that gives information on meditation, mindful meditation can lead to more efficient studying for students, increased ability in problem solving and acquisition of skills such as language.

Schoeberlein said that anyone can meditate.

“Kindergartners can meditate,” he said, speaking from his experience working with them. “They do it pretty well.”

Schoeberlein said that with meditation, there is the common belief that one will have a lofty experience or a great zone of enlightenment.

The group engaged in a type of meditation derived from Buddhist training that he said comes from focusing on the breath.

The meditation started off with Schoeberlein telling everybody to sit quietly, close their eyes, and focus on the abdominal wall.

Mindful meditation requires one to sit in a comfortable position, with the back upright.

“In order to be in the present, you have to have an anchor to that present [moment],” he said.

Schoeberlein said focusing on the abdominal wall serves as the anchor.

Attention is to be focused on the rising of the abdominal wall with each inhale, and the recession of it with each exhale.

As the mind wanders from the breathing and one has realized it, then one should reconnect to the present moment. In other words, one should reconnect his or her focus back on the breathing. The reconnecting may happen several times, according to the Mindfulness of the Breath guide.

The meditation can continue up to 15 minutes or longer.

At the end of the meditation, Schoeberlein asked if any of the group members would share their experience.

Kim Werth, who works in CAPS, was one of the group members who shared how she used the breathing as an anchor to the present.

“I threw this mint in my mouth before I sat down here, and I was salivating and salivating,” she said. “I was trying to become aware of my bodily sensations and what was happening and being aware of all the saliva in my mouth and it just stopped.”

“My mind would wander and 30 seconds later, “where’s my breath?” she said.

Schoeberlein said he intends to do more mindful meditation workshops in the future.

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Meditative practices for the college life

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.”

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Soulful stretch

Meghan Moran, The Cavalier Daily, Virginia: Yoga offers stress relief, wellness and ‘peace’ of mind to college students.

I was driving to my first yoga class ever. Visions of peace, balance and spiritual health danced in my head.Suddenly, I heard a bang, and my vision-filled noggin snapped toward the windshield. I’d been rear-ended on Rugby.

Although I left the scene unscathed, my heart was racing and my stress level had skyrocketed. Peace and balance seemed miles away. This yoga class had its work cut out for it.

I cautiously drove the last few blocks to Body-Mind-Spirit, Center for Life Enhancement, a Charlottesville yoga studio located just off of Preston Ave.

According to my yoga teacher, Surya Lipscombe, yoga is the “best stress management technique on the planet.”

I was ready to test this ringing endorsement out for myself.

The classroom was a small, windowless space with crème walls and wine-colored carpet. I entered, laid down my towel and tried not to look like the novice that I was.

Waiting for class to begin, I glanced over at the one wall that was not bare. Its decoration consisted of a small wooden shelf holding a candle and a crystal. Above hung two framed images.

One, Lipscombe explained, was a Yantra –- a design that serves as a meditation tool and is made up of, among other things, symbols of many different religions and a six-sided star representing the male and female energy. The other image was a photo of Satchidananda, the founder of Integral yoga — the form of yoga Lipscombe teaches — which combines several techniques, including pranayama (control of breath), meditation and postures.

Four other students arrived, mats or towels in hand, sporting comfortable cotton clothes and bare feet. We arranged ourselves in two seated, parallel lines facing each other. As the last student entered, Lipscombe dimmed the lights and began class with a set of chants.

Following along with the short chants was simple enough; keeping up with the next step of the class was a little more of a challenge.

Lipscombe proceeded to lead us through a series of poses that stretched the spine, lower back, legs and even stimulated the thyroid gland. As we manipulated our muscles into the cobra pose, bow pose and fish pose, among others, he spoke of the benefits and purposes of each position.

The back is one of the many parts of the body yoga can work wonders for. Lipscombe said many of his students suffer from back pain.

“Yoga is the cheapest and I think the best way to reduce back pain,” he said.

In fact, Lipscombe said one of his fellow teachers at Body-Mind-Spirit initially discovered his love for yoga while he was searching for an alternative to going to a chiropractor twice a week. Lipscombe reports that Yoga has helped this teacher’s back pain, as well as his golf game.

As class continued, the poses became more difficult, and I found myself falling into a deeper level of concentration as I worked harder to stay balanced and in correct form.My mind was forced to drop the worries it had been mulling over.

Lipscombe is familiar with this effect.

“No matter what’s going on [in your life], it’s pretty much impossible to hang on to it for the length of the class,” he said.

Lipscombe added that a regular yoga practice helps improve focus, noting that the Pittsburgh Steelers practice yoga and meditation together to improve their awareness and focus while on the football field.

“They say the Steelers used to know intuitively where everyone was on the field,” he said.

Athletes can also utilize yoga’s physical benefits. Along with relaxing the heart, lowering blood pressure, increasing metabolism and boosting the immune system, yoga lengthens muscles and prevents athletic injury, Lipscombe said.

Non-athletes, however, need also apply. “Yoga can be for people who are overweight or stiff,” Lipscombe said. “It’s a gentle exercise … we have a more spiritual element than any other yoga technique, more than just body, body, body.”

The spiritual element Lipscombe spoke of became very obvious as the class came to a close. After having stretched, reached and breathed for about 45 minutes, we moved into the corpse position for five minutes of silent meditation.

It may sound morbid, but the corpse position is simply a term to describe the comfortable pose of lying flat on one’s back, legs flat and about three feet apart and arms resting alongside the body with palms up. Lipscombe dimmed the lights even further, and the five restful minutes began.

I loved every second. Finally, a class in which closing your eyes was the assignment, not the unfortunate side-effect.

As the silent meditation (sadly) drew to a close, we were brought back to class with a quiet chant from Lipscombe –- a sound I found much easier to wake up to than the obnoxious “BEEP…BEEP” of my alarm clock.

Class ended, and I emerged feeling refreshed and energized. I had a bounce in my step and my back thanked me for having treated it to “half spinal twists” and “bow” poses. I hadn’t necessarily forgotten about the bumper bashing earlier that afternoon or tasks that stood between me and my bed, but these were now challenges I was ready and willing to take on, not looming worries. My schedule hadn’t changed, but my perspective had.

I felt the positive effects that Susanna Nicholson, yoga instructor and therapeutic yoga specialist, said yoga could produce.

Nicholson, who runs her own yoga studio, Union Yoga Loft, near the Water Street Parking Garage and the Downtown Mall, said that a student of yoga “should feel as though, yes, they’re becoming more aware of themselves; they feel more mentally and emotionally in control, that’s the goal.”

Many of the students Nicholson teaches come to her for therapeutic yoga, or yoga that is adapted to special conditions, she said. These conditions include anything from breast cancer to colds.

“I’m very careful to say that this is not a form of purely medical practice,” Nicholson said. “There’s always a spiritual aspect … we can’t say that it’s as simple as taking a pill.”

Still, Nicholson has had personal experiences with yoga as a path to improved physical health. In the mid-80s, she became severely ill with Lime and Epstein-Bar disease. She tried traditional western medicine to cure her illness, and doesn’t regret it, she said, but became panicked after a year-and-a-half of much pill-popping and missed work.

“I thought I’ve got to try something else,” she said. “Finally I did a combo of Chi Gung and Yoga, and I’m telling you that’s what got me well…I’d always loved yoga, and I’d always dug it but I never thought it would heal me on that level.”

Although Nicholson does use therapeutic yoga to deal with some serious illnesses, she said yoga practices are just as effective on students dealing with stress. She’s worked with University undergrads, and even Darden students who were in need of stress-reduction.

“We can deliver anything from better sleep, better digestion, to ‘I need to get more work done in a shorter amount of time’,” she said.

Before students head to a yoga studio, however, Nicholson has one piece of advice.

“The one thing I would say to a college student is…please do not try to turn these poses into competitive goals, because you’re losing the depth and the quality of your own experience in the pose,” she said.

An additional word for those seeking Jennifer Aniston-like litheness from yoga: “Try to make this an experience that’s about your heart and not about how you look.”

This advice might be tough to follow in a time where pop-culture is embracing yoga as fashionable fitness. Mainstream clothiers like J.Crew and Old Navy sell Yoga pants, and Christy Turlington has graced the covers of Vogue holding a yoga pose in couture.

Nicholson, however, sees promise in the newly established trend status of the practice she’s been doing since the age of 13.

“It’s really kind of exciting I guess.” she said, “To be in this situation where you trip over yoga teachers is sort of cool.”

But there’s still the worry that yoga as a fad will lead to fizzle, not a true public appreciation of the practice.

“I guess we’re all hoping, being the cunning old things that we are,” Nicholson said, speaking for herself and fellow yogis.”We’re concerned that in this marriage of yoga to fashion, that it doesn’t just become a fad, that we let yoga seep into our hearts and our minds.”

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Meditation session relieves stress

Rachel Silverman, The Daily Pennsylvanian: This time of year life on campus can be dreary. Finals week is rapidly approaching and trekking through the snow and wind on Superblock often feels like a life or death struggle.

Yesterday afternoon, several dozen students cast aside their bulkpacks and coffee cups to escape these undeniable realities — through the art of meditation.

Robert Mawson, a certified meditation instructor, led the group in a 30-minute relaxation exercise in the Hamilton College House rooftop lounge.

Participating students came with varying levels of experience with meditation, but many said they enjoyed the event.

“I’m a practicing Buddhist and haven’t been able to go anywhere to do meditation,” College freshman Terra Gearhart said….

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Even for first-timers like Engineering senior Brian Lau, the event was time well spent.

“I didn’t do it exactly right but I was still able to relax,” he said.

According to the instructor, meditation can provide clarity and understanding to those who practice regularly.

“When you meditate, things are much clearer for you,” he said. “You will see solutions to problems instead of problems that are insurmountable.”

For Mawson, meditation practice offers escape from the daily grind.

“From the time you wake up to the time you go to bed your mind is bombarded will all kinds of stimuli,” he explained. “You can get rid of the junk in your brain through meditating.”

Mawson also credits meditation with certain curative abilities.

“I know personally and from personal experience those who meditate get well before those who do not,” he told audience members.

Mawson noted he has survived a heart transplant, multiple cardiac arrests and surgery without anesthesia by relying on meditation exercise.

In spite of health difficulties, Mawson has led quite a life.

Originally from a “poor, coal-mining town in Northeast England,” he has, among other things, lived with Eskimos in Greenland, become a deep sea diver, hiked all over India, learned seven languages and spent time as a practicing monk in Thailand.

Currently 60 years old, Mawson works for the Dhammakaya Foundation, a nonreligious, nonprofit group committed to teaching meditation. He also holds relaxation seminars at the United Nations and power walks eight miles daily.

The Thai Students Association and the Office of Health Education collaborated to bring Mawson to campus.

Engineering sophomore Ron Wallach called for more such stress-relieving activities at Penn.

“The University should offer group meditation sessions throughout the year,” he said.

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