Rochester Zen Center abbot inspires with talk on Buddhism

The peaceful teachings of Eastern philosophy came to light on Tuesday, Nov. 13, as Zen master Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede gave a lecture on Zen Buddhism in Brodie 210.

Kjolhede is the abbot of the Rochester Zen Center, the second largest center in the United States. His teacher, Roshi Philip Kapleau, founded the Zen Center in 1966, and 20 years later, Kjolhede was formally installed as his successor. He has committed his life to the center and has worked there for 35 years.

Kjolhede, who holds a B.A. in psychology from the University of Michigan, was drawn to Buddhism after spending a Saturday night in a Detroit jail. He said this represented the most profound turning point in his life.

"Nothing happened to me that night; I didn't get beat up or anything," Kjolhede said. "That night was the night from hell though. There were two convicted murderers, a heroin addict who was screaming and throwing up all night, seven other prisoners and myself in one cell, and at that point I knew that I needed to change my life."

At the time, Kjolhede started reading The Three Pillars of Zen, written by Kapleau, who would later become his teacher. He went to the Zen center for an introductory workshop at the age of 20, became an ordained Buddhist priest in 1976, and proceeded to travel with Kapleau. After completing 12 years of training, he spent a year in pilgrimage through China, India, Japan, Taiwan and Tibet. Upon returning, he became the abbot of the Zen center.

"Zen means meditation in Japanese," Kjolhede said. "We stress the importance of the mind in terms of change. Additionally, we stress the importance of being fully involved with every moment of your life. When we are fully engaged in what we are doing, we are a lot more satisfied with our lives."

He stressed that people often multi-task or think about many different things while engaged in a single task. According to Kjolhede, such "splitting of the mind" causes a great deal of dissatisfaction and inner turmoil. To be at peace with one's life, he said, an individual needs to fully focus on each task they do without letting their mind wander. Meditation clears the mind.

There are seven monk retreats throughout the year, about one every two months, and they are intensive meditation retreats.

"At times people have to sit and meditate for 10 hours at a time," Kjolhede said. "This can get very painful since they are not allowed to move for blocks of time. However, after an hour of simply focusing on their breathing instead of the pain, the pain itself goes away and is no longer felt. It is the ability to focus their mind and not think about the pain."

His talk was very informative and offered insight to the lifestyle of Zen Buddhism. "I thought that this was really interesting," junior Shamiran Warda stated. "I learned a lot about the topic that I didn't know and I really enjoyed the lecture."