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How I Came to the Practice: Part 4 – Religious Studies and Meditation Instruction August 4, 2012

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This is part 4 of a series on the full story of how I came to mindfulness practice, part 1, part 2, and part 3 are also posted.

My first connection to meditation instruction started with a university elective course. One elective I took in my first year of university was Religious Studies 110: World Religions. Overall, the course seemed to have more emphasis on the history behind how the major world religions, including Buddhism, came to be, and less emphasis on the actual day-to-day lay practices and rituals for religious followers. The content on Buddhism covered almost primarily the religion in Asia, with only a brief afterthought of Buddhism in the West. Even so, the mention of Western Buddhism was only in the context of Asian culture, where Asian Buddhists brought the religion over from Asia after immigration. There was no mention that Buddhism could be stripped of the Asian culture and still be applicable for modern westerners as a religious or spiritual practice.

Overall, the religious studies course did not add to my initial interest in Buddhism and Buddhist meditation. I didn’t see how either were relevant to me at all, and they didn’t seem to be applicable to modern, western society and lifestyle.

Nevertheless…the story doesn’t end there! One of the assignments for the course were to visit either a Hindu or Buddhist temple in the city. We were given the addresses and contact names and numbers of people from each temple. I chose to visit the Chinese Buddhist temple (with a friend taking another section of the same course) and met the community leader, John*, an older Chinese gentleman. He seemed like one of the nicest people I had ever met, and he proceeded to give us a tour of the temple and symbols decorated throughout.

John also spent a fair amount of time explaining how Chinese Chan (Zen) meditation was incorporated into their Buddhist religious practice. This was my first conversation with a real person about meditation, and with another person who actually practiced meditation themselves.

The detailed explanations of meditation was incredibly interesting to me, because I was currently taking an introduction to psychology university course, and had been considering majoring in the subject since high school. After my conversation with John, I was still eager to learn more about meditation and Buddhism. John gave me his e-mail address and sent me a file with meditation instructions, and he also let me know that he led a Chan meditation group twice a week at his private home.

I should mention here that I actually received a lower than expected mark for the temple visit assignment that I finished and handed in. The marker wrote that I didn’t take much time to provide my own personal reflection of the experience rather than just description!

Later that year in the summer I took an opportunity to visit John’s private home for an introductory meditation session. I looked up the address and drove across the city to his quiet suburban neighbourhood. He invited me to his home and introduced me to his lovely wife, and showed me his living room which served as the meditation room. Scattered throughout the floor were zafu cushions, and I took a seat on one as I was shown how to sit in half lotus position.

I was then given a very short guided meditation instruction, my first meditation session with an in-person teacher. I remember enjoying the session very much, I think in part due to the fact that the teacher’s quiet and mesmerizing voice served to calm my mind in a way I had never been able to do on my own. I would also describe my experience as somewhat mystical, in that my mind and body were completely calm and still, and I felt a connection with a larger wisdom, something bigger than my everyday reality. I experienced this for just a few moments, but it was exhilarating and left me wanting more.

I went home and tried to recreate the experience on my own, but never succeeded. I was back at the starting point, sitting on my own, struggling to find my way through the endless repetitive thoughts of “monkey mind.” I was aware of different meditation groups in the city, but spiritual practice wasn’t a priority in my life as much as my studies, socializing with friends, and playing sports. In the end, after much struggle with meditation practice on my own, I wasn’t able to begin a daily practice until I regularly attended a weekly meditation group.

*not real name

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Comments»

1. How I Came To The Practice: Part 5 – Running Away From The Darkness « Living Abundance - September 24, 2012

[…] (This is part 5 of a series on the full story of how I came to meditation practice. Click on the links for part 1 – My Christian Roots, part 2 – Why Meditation Came Naturally To Me, part 3 – Asian Exoticism and Zen for Dummies, and part 4 – Religious Studies and Meditation Instruction). […]

2. How I Came To The Practice: Part 6 – Seeking Spirit « Living Abundance - October 22, 2012

[…] 2 – Why Meditation Came Naturally To Me, part 3 – Asian Exoticism and Zen for Dummies, part 4 – Religious Studies and Meditation Instruction, and part 5 – Running From The […]

3. How I Came to the Practice: Part 7 – Finding Sangha « Living Abundance - November 21, 2012

[…] 2 – Why Meditation Came Naturally To Me, part 3 – Asian Exoticism and Zen for Dummies, part 4 – Religious Studies and Meditation Instruction, part 5 – Running From The Darkness, and part 6 – Seeking […]


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