By Kristin Leffler & John Vogan
As the brief meditation commenced, there was the slight creak of floorboards, the gurgle of stomachs and the hushed chorus of exhales, but it was a peaceful, powerful silence that most filled the quaint living room.
Lama Pema Dragpa led the Nov. 2 gathering about the Buddhist perspective on death and dying, part of a monthly Dharma talk, a public Buddhist discussion.
The meditation sessions are held in the Ithaca area by teachers from Padmasambhava Buddhist Center’s monastery retreat in Sidney Center, N.Y. Dragpa says an inclusive meeting with others to discuss and practice Buddhism is an essential part of the learning process.
“The community is incredibly important for inspiring one another. It’s a special opportunity to help each other along the path to fully actualizing our potential,” he said. “We are locked in a smaller sense of ourselves than what we naturally are. We really have unlimited potential, and it’s practical and helpful to be around other people who support that.”
The monthly gatherings started two years ago, and interest has been growing locally.
The Namgyal Monastery Institute in downtown Ithaca is looking into expanding their facilities to accommodate an increase in their student base, according to their website.
Pema Damcho lived in Ithaca for a year before moving to study Buddhism and live at the Padma Samye Ling retreat center seven years ago.
She says Ithaca’s open-mindedness and a sense of introspection has made opportunities for meditation – an essential part of Buddhist practice – available and desired.
“The only way we have found we can do anything about our own mind is through meditation practice,” Damcho said. “Otherwise, typically most of us are in this whirlwind of life.”
The gatherings give locals an opportunity to focus on the teachings of Buddha and discuss important aspects of the religion such as compassion, awareness and appreciation. About ten people attended the discussion on death and dying, an important thing to contemplate since it is related to how we live now, Dragpa said during the talk.
“We have to really use the time now. If we haven’t trained to be peaceful and aware during our lives, why would we think that’s how we’re going to be when we die? That’s the whole point of meditation, to use our time now to connect to that absolute, undying nature in ourselves, which naturally expresses itself as love and compassion for others,” he said.
The Dharma talks provide an opportunity for people to explore their own nature, something that Dragpa says all people, regardless of faith, have the potential to do through meditation and discussion.
“What’s found is not a Buddhist thing or a Christian thing or a Muslim thing, you just find your nature. We all have such an amazing capacity,” he said.
Ithaca locals interested in exploring Buddhism are welcome to attend the next Dharma talk in Oneonta on December 14.