Visiting the Buddhist Center of Indianapolis- Anthropology Project

Madelyn's Musings

My Road to Enlightenment; Meditating in the style of Tibetan Buddhists

Anthropology Internal Assessment

Mady Neal

October, 2015

I journeyed to the Buddhist Center of Indianapolis, in an attempt to study and observe the practices of meditation in the traditional Tibetan Buddhist style.  Meditation is, in their culture, essential to learning about your own mind and, in the long run, becoming enlightened, as Buddha himself preached thousands of years ago.  

Upon arrival at the Buddhist Center, I was initially concerned as the surroundings resembled little more than a red house, with chipped paint and overgrown vegetation surrounding it.  There was a sign out front, and a flag post with various colored flags (green, red, blue, white, yellow), which was the only indication that I was at the right location.  There was a small sign on the door, written in Tibetan and English that labeled the entrance to the facility.  

Albeit reluctantly, I walked inside and removed my shoes.  It smelled of incense and a long curtain covered the entryway to each room.  There were no doors.  The building itself seemed to be divided in half, and we were informed that a monk lived in one half, while the other served as the congregation center.  In the center of the building was a shrine room, with an alter covering an entire wall.  There were various statues of Buddha, varying in size and material (some were gold and some were copper) along with 5 large pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Along the alter there were about 14 bowls that were filled with water, which the informant (who also lead the meditation session) explained that filling the water bowls was part of the monk, named Geshe-la’s, daily ritual.  He told us that by filling up the water bowls, it was a symbolic act of compassion; he was giving his resources (the water) to the abstract needy (the bowls).  

Geshe-la, the monk who inhabited the center, joined the meditation once we had begun.  He wore the traditional red and orange robes.  His name ‘Geshe’ was actually a definition of his religious standing.  That specific name was reserved for those that had a high standing in their community, the equivalent of a PhD, in our society.  ‘La’ was a nickname that the regular attendees of the center had made for him.  

The wall was decorated with various tapestries, each depicting a different Buddha, who is specifically devoted to a different sense of compassion or awareness.  The Buddha that was painted entirely dark blue, was devoted to medicine and healing of the sick.  These Buddhas were different and seemingly less common than the Buddha we recognize, who was originally named Siddhartha Guatama, a human who, only after reaching enlightenment, became known as Buddha.  

Along the floor there was a circle of prayer cushions, including one where the leader sat.  When the meditation began, Doug, the informant, explained that there were two types of meditations; a concentration meditation where you focused entirely on your breathing, and the effects of those deep breaths on your body, or a guided meditation.  In this case, as I was a complete novice, Doug and the 5 other participants agreed that a guided meditation would be more appropriate.  In this case, the aim of this 30-minute meditation was a type of kindness and compassionate prayer.  Doug read the meditation or prayer out loud, in order to guide our thoughts and keep us focused.  Throughout the entire meditation, the critical prayer we were to mentally repeat was as follows:

“May I be well.  May I be happy.  May I be free of suffering.”

The prayer varied depending on the target, as we transitioned from focusing on ourselves, to a friend:

“May you be well.  May you be happy.  May you be free from suffering.”

Then we migrated to thinking of someone in our lives whom we thought of entirely neutrally, without positive or negative feelings, and lastly, someone who proved to be a challenge or source of conflict in our lives.  We finished the meditation with the following prayer:

“May we be well.  May we be happy.  May we be free from suffering.”     
It was suggested that the chant extend out to all living beings, in order to appreciate our own compassion that we put forth throughout the meditation.  Doug, Geshe-la, and the regular meditators fully believed in the power of meditation to increase their own contentment in life, and have been doing so for many, many years.

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