Having never formally meditated, I was equal parts intimidated and curious walking into the Atisha Kadampa Buddhist Center (AKBC) on the East Side. The unassuming outside gave way to a tranquil interior complete with light colored walls, Buddhist excerpts, and plenty of space to sit. Upon arriving, I was asked to remove my shoes and take one of several seats facing a shelf brimming with Buddhist figurines and a framed photo of the center’s founder, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
This evening class was, like most of their sessions, dedicated to a particular topic. In my case, this was the first of many in a series on Overcoming Anger. When our instructor, Kelsang Chokyi, entered, our intimate class of ten pressed their palms together in reverence as she walked, unhurried and graceful, to a platform in the middle. After taking a moment to arrange her gold-and-red robes and settle in, she broke into a warm smile and welcomed us to class.
I don’t think I knew what I had expected until I realized what I hadn’t: The conversational, dynamic mood to the room surprised me. We started with an overview of what we were to discuss, then commenced with our first round of meditation. Eyes closed, hands cupped in my lap, I swear my breath matched that of my peers as we melted to Chokyi’s soothing voice and then meditative quiet. When we were beckoned back to the present, I was amazed to see that 15 minutes had gone by; the longest meditation practice I’d managed to do on my own was a whopping five.
Chokyi drew us into the conversation about anger with a story about her morning commute. She described two speeding cars that were weaving in traffic and the bubbling frustration she felt watching them drive so recklessly; anger comes in many forms, she explained, from mild irritation to full blown rage, and often triggers blame. “For anger to manifest, you need three things,” she said. “A seed, a disagreeable object, and inappropriate attention.”
Throughout the discussion, which reminded me of a college seminar, Chokyi referred to passages from Gyatso’s books. She peppered the hour-long talk with humor and personal anecdotes before a final round of meditation, after which she asked us to turn to the person next to us and consider what we learned. This part was especially unexpected for me, since I usually view meditation as something very solitary, but it was refreshing to talk to someone else about the revelations we’d made during the class. Chokyi watched us connect with a soft smile.
While I do not consider myself Buddhist, or even an avid practitioner of meditation, I could not help but come away feeling, on some level, transformed; even if it was just bringing more awareness to my internal thoughts and feelings. Modern Buddhism, Chokyi stressed, is practical, motivated by compassion, and integrated with wisdom - and I certainly experienced all three at AKBC.
Atisha Kadampa Buddhist Center
339 Ives Street