Look at religions in practice across the globe today, and too often the outcome of faith traditions at odds seems to be mayhem and terror. But juxtapose that with the writings of Trappist monk Thomas Merton: “Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.” Therein resides some hope that religious practice can in fact overcome violence.
Sarita Tamayo-Moraga and Philip “Boo” Riley, respectively lecturer and associate professor of religious studies, saw students’ frustrations with an increasingly violent world and answered it by creating an experimental course in Buddhist and Christian meditation. In addition to classroom study, the course offers techniques that give students a hands-on (or rather, mats-on) experience.
After teaching two spring courses in conjunction with SCU’s Local Religion Project, Tamayo-Moraga, along with a Zen guru and Catholic teacher, will give a final course this spring. Students read works by Merton and Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the best-known Buddhist monks in the West, as well as others. But it’s clear in this class, Tamayo-Moraga says, that students are walking away with a better understanding of these religious traditions through active engagement.
Does this mean students are trying to pray their way to world peace? Not exactly. While meditating, students reflect on real world issues both large and small: the war on terror, what it would be like to live in a war zone, acts of compassion and generosity, or conflict with a friend or family member. This being college, students’ coursework and participation in upcoming sporting events get attention, too.
In both Zen and Christian traditions, the outcome of this kind of contemplation is supposed to lead to action, transforming suffering in our world by creating more mindful, self-aware, and compassionate people—while issuing a call to action to help those in pain.
The majority of students say they have left the class seeing their contemplative life as a resource for making difficult decisions in a non-reactive way, especially when it comes to making choices that might be unpopular, such as supporting (or not supporting) the war in Iraq, personal issues such as going against the wishes of a loved one—and even centering themselves before taking tests come finals week.—EE