November 8, 2011

Religious Experience: Buddhist meditation at the Deprung Gomang Institute

By Lee Cole–

The chanting begins with low guttural tones, building gradually to the full-throated singing of seven men, dressed in burgundy colored robes with yellow trim. Their heads are shaved and all about them are bells, decanters of water, vases full of incense and prayer books.

Along the walls are brightly colored paintings of the Buddha’s various emanations and in the corner, a beautiful sand mandala. But contrary to what you might be thinking, I hadn’t entered a Tibetan monastery in the Himalayan Mountains perched atop some misty peak. Instead, I had entered the Drepung Gomang Institute right here in Louisville, on North Hubbards Lane.

Their mission is to “provide individuals with an interest in Tibetan philosophy and culture and to experience it firsthand,” according to their website.

Beginning with only one monk, the center has grown to include four.

I witnessed the Wednesday night meditation session with seven monks present, three of them visiting from India. The Institue’s sister organization is the Drepung Gomang Monastery in South India.

Tibetan Buddhism is a subgroup of the Mahayana school, and its history has been marked, at least in recent years, by tragedy. Many Tibetan Buddhists were forced to flee with the Chinese invasion of 1959, including the center’s own Geshe Sangay.

Adorning the walls are pictures of the Dalai Lama, who is supposed to be the embodiment of the Buddha of Compassion. When the monks greeted us after the meditation session, their kindness and compassion was palpable. Just being in the room with them, there was a sense of calm.

Many of those in attendence were actually practicing Christians who merely desire a quiet place to meditate. Non-Buddhists are more than welcome and the institute provides the opportunity to explore Buddhism while at the same time honoring your own religious traditions and cherished beliefs.

While the center was almost a 20 minute drive from campus, it was certainly worth it. Those who have been raised in Christian churches, especially protestant denominations, will be surprised at how much time is spent in silence. In between chanting, we would sit for about twenty minutes in total silence, merely thinking about and doing nothing.

For many of us living hectic lives on the go, this kind of activity may seem like a waste of time. As Americans, when we do something, we want to know that it’s going to be productive on some level. Idle time is often seen as wasted time, particularly in a university setting. But there was undoubtedly value in sitting for a while and not thinking. For the time that I was there, it was as though everyone meditating took a break from thinking about work or school and was merely present and silent. The Drepung Gomang Institute is so important to our community because it provides that opportunity.

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Photos: Nathan Douglas/The Louisville Cardinal

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