Mind over Matter

Matt Pickering
Religion 101
Brantley Gasaway
Section BD

Out of the myriad of religions that encompass the earth, one of the
least understood is Buddhism. In the pursuit of a higher plane of existence, a
Buddhist monk will renounce his worldly secular life, instead embracing a life
of meditation and study. While attempting to achieve enlightenment, and
therefore nirvana, a Buddhist must first come to eradicate his sense of self,
effectively destroying his ego. By doing this, "durkha," (pain and suffering),
end and one can be at peace and harmony with the world and all who reside in it.
A practice that helps monks achieve this enlightened state is meditation. By
clearing the mind of mundane clutter and distractions, a monk can become in tune
with his inner being and body, which results in a greater understanding of the
barriers that need to collapse before nirvana can be achieved. This practice of
meditation was the Buddhist practice that I participated in, with the intent on
a greater understanding of what being a Buddhist means. This exercise taught me
the inherent difficulty in calming the mind, along with the negative effects
outside influences like other people have on the practice.
The first place I attempted to meditate was outside my dorm next to a
tree. This proved to be a comfortable place, yet full of distractions. I have
meditated before in my martial arts classes, yet it was difficult calming my
mind. While concentrating on my breathing, I was easily distracted by outside
occurrences such as leaves falling and people walking by. The more I attempted
to shut out the outside world, the more my mind focused on the little things
around me. I gained immediate appreciation of the Buddhist monk\'s ability to
shirk the outside world and focus on his inner self. When I had meditated before
in my dojo, it was as a group and in silence. This greatly helped the exercise
and I can see why this is the modus operandi at most temples.
The second place I attempted to meditate was in the basement of Reid
Hall. I hoped that the familiar surroundings would calm the mind easier and
allow me to concentrate on clearing my mind. While not an ideal setting, it was
better than outside. As I concentrated on my breathing and felt myself unwind, I
was able to tune into the sound of the dryers in the distance and this white
noise helped me focus on my spirit and not anything happening around me. I
imagined myself first as earth, then air, striving to feel these elements inside
of me. However, friends from the hall soon entered the basement and inquired
about what I was doing. This broke my concentration, snapping my mind back into
the present. I was unable to achieve that sense of oneness again, as people came
down to play Ping-Pong, making the exercise virtually worthless. I had come
closer than the first time, yet had a long way to go.
My third attempt at imitating a Buddhist monk while meditating took
place in my room, while my roommates were gone. I sat cross-legged (the lotus
position was impossible for me) on the floor and once again concentrated on the
air flowing through my body. I found that just like the dryers in the basement,
I was able to concentrate better with classical music on very softly. I guess,
for me, the incessant noise of society makes white noise better for
concentrating than absolute silence. This time, I quickly sunk into a sense of
calm, all my thoughts of school fading away. I imagined myself a monk in the
Chin Shan temple, striving for enlightenment. Just to add another level to the
activity (by this time is was fairly boring) I attempted to decipher the Zen
Buddhist koan "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" This proved utterly
impossible in the half-hour time period I was meditating, yet it gave me a feel
for what a Buddhist monk does and helped focus my errant mind, preventing it
from wandering. By far, the last time I meditated was the most successful. There
were no major advances, everything was a measure of degree. Yet sitting for a
half-hour cross-legged was no longer extremely uncomfortable, focusing the
breathing and mind was easier, and I felt at peace which was nice feeling in a
usually hectic college day. After trying to emulate the life of a Buddhist monk,
even for a total of an hour and a half, I have infinite more respect for these
men and women. I have always respected forms