Santa Clara students learn a new side to suffering and meditations on the subject
The Santa Clara
February 14, 2019
Fifteen students and five professors crowded into the religious studies lobby to discuss a topic transcending the chaos of everyday life: suffering.
The staff in the room jokingly encouraged students to grab as many slices of pizza and cookies as they wished, but this group certainly came for the discussion.
There’s something magical about the atmosphere of free events put on by a center, organization or academic department. It’s an intriguing study of personality looking at the tiny subset of people who end up attending.
The genuine spirit, the diverse backgrounds and the thoughtful questions during this conversation on suffering revealed the passionate curiosity of the Santa Clara community. There were people out there asking the big questions, and there were students, faculty and organizations working together to have conversations around what matters.
Professors David Gray and Sarita TamayoMoraga led the discussion on how Buddhist principles of mindfulness meditation can help reframe and transform suffering.
First, Gray offered his take on the fundamentals of Buddhism, centered around the Four Noble Truths. Suffering exists in many forms due to human causes. But, a path to end suffering lies within reach through practicing wisdom, morality and meditation.
Gray offered a helpful metaphor of the mind as a lantern with both a flame and shield. The flame is mindfulness, an energy that seeks peace, truth and action. The shield is concentration, a force against the deluge of inputs we receive from the chaotic world around us.
Next, Tamayo-Moraga stepped in to offer practical applications of meditation. She warned that despite the seemingly magical appeal of meditation, it is extremely difficult. Our constantly wandering “monkey minds” prefer safety and pleasure to peace or joy. We are wired to react rather than respond.
Tamayo-Moraga discussed how meditation offers a path to transform suffering in each moment.
“When we practice paying attention on purpose to something natural like our feet, we widen our experience,” she said.
Gray and Tamayo-Moraga also shared what sparked their interests in Buddhism. Gray told the story of how he found Buddhism in college as a fascinating and non-judgmental way to explore new ideas.
Tamayo-Moraga confessed that she began meditating in hopes that it would help her focus on writing her dissertation.
“Meditation didn’t help me with my writing, but it did transform my suffering and my whole life,” she said.
Discussion moderator Paul Schutz brought up a common question raised by students in regards to Buddhism: What about objective suffering like that caused by violence or natural disasters? Can practices of inward meditation really be helpful for a hurting world?
Gray countered that the tools of Buddhism are focused on helping us control what is within our control, and make peace with the rest.
Tamayo-Moraga added that a new school of thought called “Engaged Buddhism,” popularized by Zen Buddhist teacher Thích Nhat Hanh, focuses on bringing Buddhist ideals of nonviolence and mindfulness to seek economic, environmental and social justice action. She recommended Hanh’s book, “Peace is Every Step” as a practical guide to those curious about Buddhism or meditation.
Santa Clara also offers a multitude of options for students looking to meditate. TamayoMoraga hosts “Brown Bag Zen” on Tuesdays at noon in St. Francis Chapel in the mission church.
On Wednesdays, she hosts Zen Sittings at 5:15 p.m. in the Multifaith Sanctuary in St. Joseph’s hall. Finally, students can always use the meditation room in Benson Memorial Center or the mission gardens to carve out a peaceful moment.
Although no existential questions on the nature of suffering were answered, students walked away with an array of insightful ideas and simple meditation practices to counter the suffering and stress of everyday life.
The message of the “A New View of Suffering” event was refreshingly optimistic: we can’t always change the world, but we can practice inner peace by paying attention.
Contact Gavin Cosgrave at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.