I have admittedly led a pretty sheltered life in terms of interactions with people from other cultures. I am not a Buddhist and so I do not have any first-hand experiences with the religious practices associated with Buddhism. Before this course, and before my experience, I knew some things about Buddhism, but only as much as most people know. For example, I knew that Buddhism is primarily associated with Asian culture, that Buddhists tend towards nonviolence and that they hope to achieve inner peace by positive actions. Buddhists are stereotyped as the idea of the monk in robes with shaved heads, but that is only a very small faction of the people who believe in Buddhism. Also, I knew beforehand that Buddhists were associated with nature and that they had many specific customs which were specialized to their own religion. Now that I have attended this religious event and had an experience, I understand far more about Buddhism and actually intend to incorporate some of what I learned in my own life.

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For my religious event, I went to a meditation class at a Buddhist temple, Buddha Gate Monastery in Lafayette, California, which is approximately a 45 minute drive from my home. From doing a bit of research, I learned that this temple offers weekly classes to people which focus on teaching them to relax and to meditate. People are allowed to go to the temple even if they are not Buddhists themselves. All people are welcome to the temple so long as they come eager to learn, to participate, and to respect the practices and cultures of those at the temple. Buddhists have many different traditions and I was exposed to some when I went to the temple to meditate. What I learned was that Buddhists take meditation very seriously; it is not just about relaxing and stretching which many people associate with yoga. Rather it is about using that silence, peace, and relaxation to understand something more about yourself and the larger world around you.

At the temple, I immediately noticed the difference between my daily routine and the traditions and customs of the Buddhists. There were many rules such as the fact that I was not allowed to wear shoes. This, I know, is common in Asian cultures and Buddhism is practiced in great numbers in Asian countries. I do not know which culture took up the shedding of shoes first or if their connection is even related in any way. Taking off the shoes is a sign of respect, so I happily did that. There were other rules that I had to follow in the temple as well. I was not allowed to have a drink with me, not even water. This was very different because now most people are allowed to have water with them even if they are in a school classroom, but such a thing is not allowed in the temple.

Also, no paper or pens were permitted to be used which made it difficult for me to remember the details of my experience. I would have liked to have been able to take notes and am used to doing this on paper or on my cellular phone, but those were also not allowed in the temple. Phones had to be silenced or turned off completely out of respect for the Buddhist monks and their practices. One person in the class failed to do so and his phone started ringing. The monk was not angry but told the gentleman that since he did not wish to obey the monk’s request would he please leave to allow the rest of the group to meditate in silence. His attitude impressed me greatly. I have been in churches and classrooms where people’s phones have gone off and the person in charge got angry even though silence was not required. In the temple though where silence was asked for, the man was not at all angry; he just asked the phone ringer to leave the rest of us in peace.

There was one negative part to my experience in the temple, but that was because of a personal reaction. During the meditation class, the monks lit incense and the scents were wafted throughout the room. This incense was particularly powerful and it was a bit overpowering for me. I tend to be sensitive to scents, such as candles and perfume, and the incense made my eyes water. This made me feel uncomfortable, as did the position we were told to sit in. Each of the chairs used in the class was a steel, portable chair and it was evident that the chairs were quite old and very uncomfortable. There were more comfortable seats available on the floor with blankets and pillows which looked very nice, but unfortunately they were reserved for people who had called the temple ahead of time. Everyone else had to sit on the steel chairs like me. In the room, it was hot and sweaty because it was a warm day and there was no air conditioning in the temple. Also, the class was rather large; the monks themselves said there were more participants than usual. This also made me feel discomfort which took away from the positives of my experience. Due to the heat and perhaps the peacefulness of meditation, I actually wound up falling asleep in the class and very nearly fell out of my chair which I am glad I did not because that would not only have been highly embarrassing, but would have disrupted the rest of the class.

It was interesting nearly falling asleep actually because it showed me that I was very relaxed because of the meditation. Although I felt bad at first, I realized that it meant I had gotten into the meditation very earnestly. I felt no stress and was really able to think and reflect on myself. Usually I am a fairly stressed person and tend to react strongly to stressors. For the first time in a long time I felt completely relaxed and free of stress. Obviously, the experience did me a great deal of good and I believe I will consider incorporating meditation in my regular, everyday life.

Part 2: Theme — Meditation and Right Action in the Buddhist Religion

There are many religions throughout the world and each of the religions has its own meaning and history of how it was made up. Each one has unique beliefs and practices which characterize the religion as well as those who believe in that religion. Buddhism is a religion based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who lived about 25 centuries ago in what are now the country of Nepal and parts of northeastern India (Gethin 1998,-page 73). Originally, Siddhartha was a prince who gave up his title, his wealth, and his position to go out and find himself and to seek truth. During his quest he came upon a tree and sat under it, thinking until he eventually found inner peace, or nirvana as it is called by the Buddhists (Dhammananda 2002). A wealthy prince went on a journey for several years in search of truth and discovered it while sitting beneath a bodhi tree. He came to be called “the Buddha,” which means awakened one after establishing the religion, which many argue is more of a philosophy of life than an established religious order. The person now known as Buddha is the one who created this religion but intended it to be more a path to personal enlightenment. During his lifetime, he gave up all of his possessions and wealth and traveled around the eastern continent to help people in need. Buddha showed that everything that exists physically is unimportant; material goods are fleeting and people should not focus their lives on how to get these things. He had the power to encourage people to overcome their feelings of sadness and pain. Also, he made people’s lives full of meaning by allowing them to understand the deeper meanings of existence and by empowering them to determine their own path.

Buddhism is very popular in the modern society and is one of the most practiced religions in the world. Unlike most religions which expect acceptance of dogma without question, practitioners of Buddhism are encouraged to “think freely and wisely and work out their own salvation” (Dhammananda 2002,-page 36). Today, Buddhism is spread out through the propagation from an initially very small group to large populations because Buddhism’s followers continue to spread it out by building temples and schools to teach Buddha’s lessons to others. Buddhism is one of the most popular religions in the world, practiced mostly in Asia but found in almost all nations to some degree. Buddhism has spread out vastly; it currently has over 36 million followers and these members continue to spread their beliefs further. As religious scholar Gary Gach (2010) put it, “Millions today are learning Buddhist practice without reference to any religious tradition. We hear, instead, ‘relaxation response’’emotional intelligence’’mindfulness.’” It is perhaps the fastest growing religion in the world today, earning more and more followers each year who convert from other religions, such as Christianity or Islam.

In this period many people were living unhappily because of their low social class and Buddhism helped people who felt stuck in their problems and also helped them escape the sadness that they suffered. One of the other beliefs associated with Buddhism which made people more inclined to take part in it was the belief that humans are reborn after dying. Karma is the force which determines samsara, which is the cycle of rebirth (Harvey 1990,-page 40). In this life, they should do good things so that the person could have a better life after they are reborn, a process called sila; people who do bad things are reborn as lower beings while those who do good deeds are reborn as higher life forms (Manishini 2013). In countries like India and Vietnam where there is such a large number of people living in filth and poverty, the idea of reincarnation determined by virtue was one which was very appealing. By living a good life and concentrating on enlightenment and good works, a person could ensure that their next life would have far less hardship. Conversely, for people who were already wealthy, being a part of Buddhist culture showed them that if they continued on the wrong path, which would be focusing on things such as person greed and avarice for power or property, then they were dooming themselves to become a lower being, which would then lead them to better choices. Buddhism encourages people to have a peaceful life by focusing on meditation and inner peace. Buddhism can change and awaken one’s mind so that the person chooses a better way of life.

Those who practice Buddhism practice a type of prayer which is called meditation. It is an important skill that every follower needs to know how to do; meditation helps people calm their minds and allows the believers to feel peace and freedom from desires (Buddhist 2013). There are two distinct types of meditation: tranquility meditation (samatha) and insight meditation (vipassana). Samatha meditation is designed to still the mind and train it to concentrate. The person meditates on a kammatthana which is an object which matters more symbolically that actually. It can be a color, a phrase, a memory, or an emotion. The purpose of giving focus to the object is to detach from the external world to achieve a state of joy and tranquility in the consciousness, to suppress the mind’s need to reason or investigate, and to obtain self-possession and equanimity. Vipassana meditation is for realizing great truths and having epiphanies. One of the goals is to fully understand the impermanence of existence and therefore stop putting such great focus on the here and now. If existence is passing and this body that you invest is only temporary, then it is easier to forgo the desire for material possessions or wealth. Since they cannot be taken to the next stage of existence which is eternal as opposed to the present life, then they are not worth suffering over.

According to the Buddha, it is only through meditation that a person can reach nirvana, and this is done only by following the Noble Eightfold Path (Sucitto 2010,-page 87). These eight components, divided into three branches, of understanding and action which would help a person by putting out positive energy in both meditation and action. The first stage, wisdom, requires right view and right intention. Second is ethical conduct which refers to right speech, right action, and right livelihood. The final stage is concentration which involves right effort, right mindfulness, and finally right concentration. In each of these components, the importance was on focusing on right conduct, doing actions and thinking in ways which are right and therefore not harmful to other people.

The focus is on right, as opposed to the adjectives good or bad which are not taken into account in the Buddhist religion. What constitutes good and bad is never given in detail. Instead, each person is supposed to look within to determine if their behavior is good or bad (Carus 1909). The determination of these terms is based on the ways in which their thoughts or actions impact other people. Bad things would be anything which harms a person, including the self while something good would be action or thought which aids or benefits a person, including the self. Indeed, every person who practices Buddhism seeks enlightenment so they too can become a Buddha. “Every single human being has the ultimate potential to attain the supreme goal of Buddhahood if he or she has the determination and will to do so” (Dhammananda 2002,-page 54). In no other religion that exists today can practitioners hope to achieve or even dare to suggest that they might achieve the same status as their leader. This places followers on equal footing with their religious icon.

Meditation is one of the tenets of Buddhist beliefs. There are two explicitly stated purposes for meditation according to Buddhist practices. The first purpose is in transforming the mind. Each person looks within the self to find out what is wrong in their life. They are to look inside and see the causes of their unhappiness and understand that it is through their own action that they can make their lives happier. The second purpose of meditation is to explore the mind and through this organ try to understand the mysteries of the universe (Wallace 2007,-page 81). To meditate, a person was to go to a quiet, restful environment, preferably in nature and to assume a specific position which was designed to relax the body to the best degree. This would allow for the mind to escape from the confines of the physical form and reach a higher plain of consciousness.

Other intentions for meditation are developing mindfulness, developing better concentration skills, obtaining supramundane powers which are the powers of knowing or obtaining higher knowledge, feeling tranquility and peace, and gaining insight (Thanissaro 1994). Mindfulness is a vague term, but it means that the person is aware of themselves including their body, their inner feelings, their state of mind, and also aware of the physical world around them and the objects that surround them (Goldstein 2003,-page 92). Walking mindfulness is one form of meditation practiced by Buddhist monks. The person needs to find a quiet place to walk, relax, and attempt to focus the mind on the sensations of walking such as the feeling of the foot against the ground and the sound of breathing. The idea is to lose yourself in walking and if the to anything besides the movements, then the walker is to stop, breathe, and start again (Buddhist 2013). The other form of meditation, which more people tend to practice, is sitting meditation. The focus of the mind is given solely to the acts of breathing. Focus on the muscles required to intake breath and then release it and the rise and fall of the abdomen only. If other thoughts invade the mind, they are to be recognized and then set aside, and the person meditating is then to refocus on their breathing. Finally there is mindfulness in everyday activities wherein the person will take the skills they have honed in walking and sitting meditation so that they could live more wholly in the present moment and experience everything in their life in a more present and full manner. At least this is what Buddhists believed.

Being aware of the body means focusing breathing, using specific sanctions postures, comprehending, and also reflecting on the parts of the body that you do not like. Only by recognizing these aspects can the person realize that the defects in the body do not matter and then let them go. Dislike or negative attitudes toward the individual self is a major hindrance towards ever achieving nirvana. According to the teachings of the Buddha, it was only through the practice of deep meditation could these things be gained. However, meditation could not be sporadic; the individual would have to dedicate regular time in their life to meditation, often accompanied by physical action, yoga.

Western culture is embracing Buddhism in part because of immigration of Asian peoples into western nations, like the United States. The other part has to do with the fact that Buddhism is a fluid religion rather than a stagnant one. Gary Gach (2010) wrote, “At whatever shore the boat of the Dharma has docked, the teachings mingle with the local culture.” By this he infers that Buddhism melds with the national culture at hand. Every Buddhist person alters the definition of the belief system and wherever those people happen to be from, they will infuse their beliefs with the rest of their culture.

Works Cited

Carus, Paul (1909). The Gospel of Buddha: Compiled from Ancient Records.

Dhammananda, K.S. (2002). What Buddhists believe. Buddhist Missionary Society of Malaysia.

Gach, G. (2010). To be continued: an editorial introduction to the future of Buddhism.


Gethin, R. (1998). Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford UP: Oxford, England.

Goldstein, J. (2003). One Dharma: the Emerging Western Buddhism. Harper Collins: New York,


Harvey, P. (1990). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge UP: Cambridge, England.

Manishini, D. & Colett, A. (2013). Kamma in context: the mahakammavibhangasutta and the culakammavibhangasutta. Western Buddhist Review. 4.

Sucitto, A. (2010). Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary on the Buddha’s First Teaching.


Thanissaro, B. (1994). Upakkilesa Samyutta: Defilements. Access to Insight. Retrieved from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn27/sn27.001-010.than.html