Saturday, November 17

Students resurrect campus Buddhism


Group meditates, watches films, hears guest lecturers to understand human suffering

Raised by a Vietnamese Buddhist mother, Amie McCampbell never
felt alienated from Buddhism. An altar with the Buddha’s
likeness permanently sat in her parents’ home, she attended
pagodas and wore a necklace with a tiny gold Buddha for years
during high school.

But the necklace never carried much significance for her, until
she came to UCLA just over a year ago and became interested in the
2,500-year-old philosophy.

“I wore (the necklace), but I didn’t know what it
was about,” McCampbell said, adding that she had previously
associated the small sculpture with her heritage rather than
religion.

As a relatively new follower of Buddhism, McCampbell, a
second-year undeclared student, is a typical member of the
University Buddhist Association, a relatively new student
organization started last fall after a three-year absence of
Buddhist groups at UCLA.

Yet Rosa Langley, the club’s social chair and meditation
coordinator, who has been practicing Buddhist meditation since age
13, is also a typical member of the group.

“Some of us are very experienced meditators; some have
only just begun to meditate,” said Aaron Lee, UBA president
and a second-year linguistics student, describing the
organization’s varying range of followers.

So far, regular attendance boasts about a dozen members, with a
mailing list of 40 and growing.

The students of the organization meet regularly for lectures on
Buddhist philosophy, history and application to daily life, as well
as for group meditation.

They spend their Monday evenings in silence, sitting still for
intervals of 25 minutes, led by Reverend Kusala, the Buddhist
Chaplain for the University Religious Conference at UCLA and the
Association’s director. Kusala, an American-born Bhikshu, or monk
ordained in the Zen tradition of Vietnam, defines his beliefs
behind the Theravada Buddhist doctrine.

Forming a circle with each person resting atop a
“zafu” cushion, quiet ensues, eyelids drop, and Rev.
Kusala gently strikes the gong three times so that meditation can
officially begin.

Sitting still in meditation is just one of the methods members
employ to understand human suffering, Buddhism’s basic focus.
By ceasing all action temporarily, they deny any distracting
pleasures to their five physical senses, and to the mind, what
Buddhists label as the sixth sense, and according to Kusala, is the
“hardest one to control.”

In addition to regular meditation, the Association also gathers
to hear guest lecturers which include Bhante Walpola Piyananda, the
first Sri Lankan monk on the West Coast and the first Buddhist
chaplain for UCLA, according to the organization’s Web site.
The group’s next event includes film screenings tomorrow
night on meditation programs that helped inmates at a minimum
correctional facility near Seattle, Wa. as well as one at Tihar,
the largest prison in India.

For students in the organization, the group offers a unique
experience where they can pursue their beliefs and practice
Buddhist techniques.

“Out of all religious traditions, (Buddhism) is the one I
resonate the most with,” said Langley, a first-year world
arts and cultures student, who added that her non-religious parents
had no religious influence on her.

What attracted McCampbell ““ who serves as UBA secretary
““ to Buddhism is that its teachings can help people deal with
problems they are having at any point in their lives, no matter
what age, she said.

The purpose of resurrecting the Buddhist group on campus was to
make Buddhism accessible to UCLA, a path previously unavailable
after the UCLA Buddhist Club’s activities died off three
years ago.

“There is a need to be filled,” Lee said, citing
that Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups dominate the campus
religious sphere.

Lee said he worries that in the absence of Buddhist
organizations on campus, some might not be able to develop their
beliefs in Buddhism at all.

“(The UBA) gives students a chance to explore Buddhism. If
they explore it and don’t like it, that’s fine. But I
feel bad if they don’t even get the chance to find out what
it’s about,” Lee added.

Buddhism tends to appeal particularly to college students
because the nature of Buddhism is to question rather than accept
simplistic maxims or rely on a divine authority, said William Chu,
a Buddhist studies doctoral student who occasionally leads group
talks.

A number of beliefs and practices set Buddhism apart from other
religious traditions. Buddhist techniques and mantras all surround
the basic idea of achieving spiritual enlightenment by ending
suffering with personal discipline, ethics, mental purification and
wisdom.

Followers learn about the faith through the teachings of the
Buddha known as the Dharma, monks and nuns who have committed
themselves to the faith through formal ordination and who have
accepted the five precepts of Buddhism ““ not to kill, steal,
engage in sexual misconduct, lie about spiritual attainment and
consume intoxicants.

While he has been practicing Buddhist techniques for decades,
Rev. Kusala emphasizes that it is not a matter of which religion is
the correct path, but rather that people choose a single religion
for themselves and then stay with it.

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