Hoya Paxa

Understanding Buddhism: From Individualism to Communalism

I am the product of a multi-cultural home. Born to a Lebanese father and an Italian-American mother, I was constantly influenced by two distinct cultures. I have grown up celebrating Muslim and Christian holidays, eating delicious foods the names of which I still have trouble pronouncing, and observing rich traditions that have shaped my outlook on life. 

In addition to that, growing up, my best friend – an Israeli Jew – and his family invited me to partake in their own rich traditions – Friday night Shabbats, Purim, and others…I appreciated the rich culture, sense of community, and of course, the delicious food!

When looking back at the privileged opportunities I have had partaking in varied faith traditions, I felt encouraged to attend a service as a Doyle fellow in hopes of experiencing something new, yet instilling that same sense of wonder and respect toward a personally unexplored way of life.

To this end, I chose to attend a Buddhist meditation service at the Vajrayogini Buddhist center in Washington, D.C. I felt drawn to the individualistic and reflective nature of Buddhist mediation. Not to say the other traditions I have experienced do not promote similar reflections, but meditation, for me, allowed for a degree of self-reflection I had yet to experience. Specifically, the type of Buddhist meditation I participated in, the new Kadampa Tradition, emphasizes the pursuit of meaning, purpose, and the development of inner peace and happiness through “Heart Jewel” prayers. These prayers are self-guided and focus on ways in which to achieve aspects of peace and happiness through compassion, understanding emptiness, loving-kindness, etc.

Needless to say, I was skeptical. Going in, I knew attending just one service would not allow me to fully understand and appreciate the sentiments and beliefs, but I was hoping the individualistic emphasis would perhaps allow me to reflect in a way I had not before.

I arrived at the center a bit late; there were about 10 people already there, some advanced, some first-timers like me. I felt welcomed and appreciated; the teacher, an American Buddhist nun, respected my attempt to experience a new faith tradition. I began praying, trying my best to reflect on my experiences and how they related to my happiness. The instructor gently reminded us to breathe, so that we might eventually come to feel the breath upon our upper lip. At that point, she said, we will have advanced a great deal.

The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to bring oneself to a spiritual centeredness. Aside from providing practical benefits such as reduced levels of stress, improved concentration, and a general feeling of communal harmony, I found that the experience of engaging in prayerful meditation developed my sense of communal interdependence. I felt that all those in the room, praying silently together, could relate through this uniting experience on a level of pure humanity. Religious, ethnic, and racial differences became irrelevant, and in meditation all of us were one.

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