This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Meditation club offers Zen experience to UB community

Published: June 29, 2006

Reporter Staff Writer

The UB Zen Buddhist Association welcomes members of the UB community eager for the chance to meet weekly to practice the ancient art of meditation.


Dharma teacher Okhee Kim meditates at Baird Point on the North Campus.
PHOTO: UB Zen Buddhist Association

The club is unique because members benefit from the free instruction of an experienced "dharma teacher," Okhee Kim.

Kim explains that her husband, Jin Myoung Lee, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science, founded the club six months ago so fellow practitioners of Buddhism could meditate together.

The biggest—and best—surprise, according to Lee, has been the high level of interest the club has received from local students and alumni.

Lee, who came to UB from South Korea, says he didn't expect much response beyond the international student population. But he soon discovered there is a lot of interest in Zen and Buddhism in Buffalo.

There now are almost 50 persons on the club's mailing list, with 30 official members and 10 to 20 regulars who never miss a session. Participation does decline a little during the summer, he adds.

Kim says she has been impressed with her students' level of concentration and skill, especially the newcomers.

"It's wonderful progress. I didn't expect it," she says. "I don't ask, 'What did you get through the meditation?' but I know." Without the presence of some inner experience or change, she says a student can't sit still 10 minutes.

Kim says her relatives introduced her to Zen. In the late 1980s, she moved from South Korea to Japan and later earned a degree in Zen Buddhism from Hanazono University in Kyoto—an institution that in the past had barred admission to all but Buddhist monks. She then spent three years as a dharma teacher in the city's 13th-century Tofukuji Temple. Her practice continues under the guidance of the temple's abbot, Roshi Keido Fukushima.

Kim leads club members in weekly, three-hour meditation sessions—a length of time that can intimidate some beginners, she says. However, she pointed out, a common misconception is that meditation must take place sitting. While members do sit in the familiar cross-legged lotus position about half the time, she breaks the sessions into half-hour chunks so there are times when meditation takes place as the group walks in a circle. Once, during an outdoor meeting on a cool afternoon, she led a session of "running meditation," she laughs.

Zen is difficult to explain to someone who doesn't meditate, Kim says, but she uses the metaphor of a flower to describe its effect on a person's life. If each petal of the flower is one aspect of life—such as work, school, or family—then the practice of Zen is the stem and leaves because it nourishes and beautifies the entire blossom. So the benefits of mediation permeate all aspects of life, even after the time set aside for practice comes to a close.

"Zen is an experience," Lee says, emphasizing the wellspring of tolerance and compassion it creates in its followers. Although meditation focuses on the self, Lee says it is not an act of selfishness, but rather it helps one develop a greater sense of identification with objects outside the self, such as other people and nature.

Central to the practice is the question: "Who are you?" he says.

"As we meditate we become like a mirror," he says, explaining that a mirror becomes the object it looks upon. "Then you can find very effective ways to help others."

As an illustration of this selflessness, Lee talked about two undergraduates in the club, one of whom Emily Diblasi, a junior in the Department of Biological Science, once asked the group to meet later in the day so she and a fellow student could participate in campus clean-up activities on Earth Day. The duo spent all morning clearing trash in the rain—so focused on their task that their clothes were soaked at meditation that afternoon, Lee recalls.

"Meditation definitely effects how I look at things," Diblasi says. "It's a very simple thing, but you just feel different. It's very powerful."

A club regular, Diblasi says meditation has strengthened her concentration on work and class assignments. Intense focus on a single thought or breathing is an important aspect of the practice, she notes.

Moreover, the club doesn't just meet to meditate, she adds. Members organized a celebration last month that marked the 2,500th year since the birth of Buddha. The event, which took place in the Student Union, involved arts and crafts and traditional Korean food. In addition, members sometimes prepare food for regular sessions or watch a film on meditation, she says.

Members of the club are excited about the upcoming visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Diblasi notes. She and others are interested in attending the Dalai Lama's Distinguished Speakers Series lecture on Sept. 19.

Kim is also pleased about His Holiness' visit—not because he is a famous international figure, she says, but because he is a great humanist monk. "I would love to meet him as a Buddhist," she says, "not as a world leader."

The UB Zen Buddhist Association meets every Saturday on the North Campus. Students, alumni, faculty and staff are welcome. For locations and meeting times, go to http://www.geocities. com/ubuddhas/.

Kim also will conduct free, not-for-credit Zen meditation sessions during the fall semester. The sessions, offered through Wellness Education Services, will be held from 5-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays in the community building at South Lake Village, North Campus.