___UCLA Students Resurrect Campus Buddhism___

Group meditates, watches films, hears guest lecturers to understand human suffering

Reverend Kusala, a Buddhist monk and UCLA chaplain, leads meditation in Ackerman.

By Peijean Tsai
UCLA BRUIN 1-15-2003

Raised by a Vietnamese Buddhist mother, Amie McCampbell never felt alienated from Buddhism. An altar with the Buddha's likeness permanently sat in her parents' home, she attended pagodas and wore a necklace with a tiny gold Buddha for years during high school.

But the necklace never carried much significance for her, until she came to UCLA just over a year ago and became interested in the 2,500-year-old philosophy.

"I wore (the necklace), but I didn't know what it was about," McCampbell said, adding that she had previously associated the small sculpture with her heritage rather than religion.

As a relatively new follower of Buddhism, McCampbell, a second-year undeclared student, is a typical member of the University Buddhist Association, a relatively new student organization started last fall after a three-year absence of Buddhist groups at UCLA.

Yet Rosa Langley, the club's social chair and meditation coordinator, who has been practicing Buddhist meditation since age 13, is also a typical member of the group.

"Some of us are very experienced meditators; some have only just begun to meditate," said Aaron Lee, UBA president and a second-year linguistics student, describing the organization's varying range of followers.

So far, regular attendance boasts about a dozen members, with a mailing list of 40 and growing.

The students of the organization meet regularly for lectures on Buddhist philosophy, history and application to daily life, as well as for group meditation.

They spend their Monday evenings in silence, sitting still for intervals of 25 minutes, led by Reverend Kusala, the Buddhist Chaplain for the University Religious Conference at UCLA and the Association's director. Kusala, an American-born Bhikshu, or monk ordained in the Zen tradition of Vietnam, defines his beliefs behind the Theravada Buddhist doctrine.

Forming a circle with each person resting atop a "zafu" cushion, quiet ensues, eyelids drop, and Rev. Kusala gently strikes the gong three times so that meditation can officially begin.

Sitting still in meditation is just one of the methods members employ to understand human suffering, Buddhism's basic focus. By ceasing all action temporarily, they deny any distracting pleasures to their five physical senses, and to the mind, what Buddhists label as the sixth sense, and according to Kusala, is the "hardest one to control."

In addition to regular meditation, the Association also gathers to hear guest lecturers which include Bhante Walpola Piyananda, the first Sri Lankan monk on the West Coast and the first Buddhist chaplain for UCLA, according to the organization's Web site. The group's next event includes film screenings tomorrow night on meditation programs that helped inmates at a minimum correctional facility near Seattle, Wa. as well as one at Tihar, the largest prison in India.

For students in the organization, the group offers a unique experience where they can pursue their beliefs and practice Buddhist techniques.

"Out of all religious traditions, (Buddhism) is the one I resonate the most with," said Langley, a first-year world arts and cultures student, who added that her non-religious parents had no religious influence on her.

What attracted McCampbell who serves as UBA secretary to Buddhism is that its teachings can help people deal with problems they are having at any point in their lives, no matter what age, she said.

The purpose of resurrecting the Buddhist group on campus was to make Buddhism accessible to UCLA, a path previously unavailable after the UCLA Buddhist Club's activities died off three years ago.

"There is a need to be filled," Lee said, citing that Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups dominate the campus religious sphere.

Lee said he worries that in the absence of Buddhist organizations on campus, some might not be able to develop their beliefs in Buddhism at all.

"(The UBA) gives students a chance to explore Buddhism. If they explore it and don't like it, that's fine. But I feel bad if they don't even get the chance to find out what it's about," Lee added.

Buddhism tends to appeal particularly to college students because the nature of Buddhism is to question rather than accept simplistic maxims or rely on a divine authority, said William Chu, a Buddhist studies doctoral student who occasionally leads group talks.

A number of beliefs and practices set Buddhism apart from other religious traditions. Buddhist techniques and mantras all surround the basic idea of achieving spiritual enlightenment by ending suffering with personal discipline, ethics, mental purification and wisdom.

Followers learn about the faith through the teachings of the Buddha known as the Dharma, monks and nuns who have committed themselves to the faith through formal ordination and who have accepted the five precepts of Buddhism not to kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, lie about spiritual attainment and consume intoxicants.

While he has been practicing Buddhist techniques for decades, Rev. Kusala emphasizes that it is not a matter of which religion is the correct path, but rather that people choose a single religion for themselves and then stay with it.