For the last seven years, Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede said he has felt an affinity for Geneseo that has kept him coming back and speaking about Zen Buddhism.
Kjolhede said this Geneseo attraction can only be described by karma, the Buddhist belief that “everything happens for a reason.” Kjolhede is from the Rochester Zen Center, one of the oldest centers in the United States, which started 50 years ago when Zen Buddhism first appeared in the U.S.
During his presentation in the Alice Austin Theatre on Tuesday Oct. 16, Kjolhede discussed the history behind Zen Buddhism and the importance of incorporating meditation into daily life. He explained that Zen Buddhism is one sect of Buddhism and that Zen is a Japanese concept that comes from the Chinese word chán, which means meditation.
“[Meditation] means to extend into one’s daily life, a mind of stabilized awareness,” Kjolhede said.
Kjolhede said awareness is the key word for meditation, and he discussed the two kinds of awareness that “mature meditation practice develops.”
The first kind, called focused attention, means that people direct their attention to one thing without letting their minds wander. The second kind of awareness, called panoramic, is when people direct their attention to one thing but can still be aware of things happening around them.
According to Kjolhede, Zen Buddhists believe the awareness that comes from meditation leads to enlightenment, which is the ultimate goal.
“Enlightenment reveals that reality can only be understood from two sides: conventional and unconventional,” he said.
The conventional side, Kjolhede said, is the “ordinary” side that we know, which consists of linear time concepts, while the unconventional side is beyond time and is focused in the “eternal now.” While the conventional side emphasizes the individual, the unconventional side makes everyone equal as one.
According to Zen Buddhism, striving to reach enlightenment opens people’s minds and changes the way they relate to their lives and the people around them.
“Meditation is the most important thing in the world,” Kjolhede said. “The way we misuse our minds changes our realities. [You’re] not going to get [a] full experience of life by having [your] mind scattered.”
Kjolhede added that meditation “makes the world a lot less stressful and a lot more happy,” and said the people in the packed theater should start making meditation a part of their daily lives.
“Meditation starts with sitting,” Kjolhede said, and he explained that it’s important to focus on steady breaths to keep the mind from becoming too scattered.
If you ever need a good stress reliever, follow Kjolhede’s practice and sit for 15 minutes, empty your mind and focus on breathing. Then, see what happens.