Buddhist monastery in Redding hosts beginner meditation classes

By Christopher Burns, The Redding Pilot, June 16, 2016

Redding, CT (USA) -- Last Wednesday, this reporter took a trip to Do Ngak Kunphen Ling (or as it is more commonly known, the Tibetan Buddhist Center for Universal Peace) in Redding to try out one of their introductory meditation classes.

As someone who knows virtually nothing about the Buddhist faith and their teachings aside from what I learned in a high school-level Asian Studies course, I had no idea what to expect but was eager to learn.

I pulled into the area and was immediately greeted with a series of Tibetan prayer flags strung up in an archway above me. A short gravel driveway led from the parking lot past a small pond and a beautiful view to the front door, painted bright red to make it stand out from the otherwise white building.

Upon entering, I happened upon a shoe rack practically overflowing with participants’ footwear, and after adding my own to the collection, I was led through a narrow hallway to the room where ‘it all happens.’

Before me sat a large collection of people seated in chairs and curled up on cushions, led by one of the monks in reciting a before-meditation prayer.

(Okay, I may have been a few minutes late).

The wall farthest from me was covered in intricate tapestries framing a vibrant and all-around-beautiful altar.

Scanning the room, I found an open cushion near the front and sat myself down, attempting to follow along with the recitation.
The art of meditation

The monk teaching the class was Lobsang Sherab. He had been leading these meditation classes for quite some time now, and I could understand why. He had a voice so soothing it could make ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) vloggers rethink their line of work, and he made the class easy to follow and engaging to the students, who varied widely in age.

After the recitation and a brief introduction, Sherab began going over the steps needed to attain the full effects of meditation.

The most important of these steps is to focus on your breathing. He pointed out that for beginners, the best way to achieve this is to count each complete breath in cycles of ten, not necessarily altering the breathing pattern, but being fully aware of it.

I applied each step to the best of my ability and proceeded to join the class in ten minutes of placement meditation.

As the time passed, I began to notice things I hadn’t before — the oddly calming sound of the other participants breathing, the distant chirp of a wide array of birds and bugs outside, the rhythmic ticking of a clock in the back of the room, the increasingly irritating itch on my lower thigh.

Although I was instructed not to forcefully alter my breathing pattern, I noticed that over time, it gradually slowed on its own to the point where each breath would span over several seconds (I know because I timed myself with the ticking of the before-mentioned clock).

When the harmonious chime of a Tibetan singing bowl rung by a little girl sitting in the front row instructed us that the ten minutes were up, I found myself feeling a lot calmer and looser than I had in awhile.
A surprise lesson on the Buddhist faith

The second half of the class ran a little differently than normal. Instead of just being an introductory class that teaches the basics of meditation and how to apply it to everyday life, we also delved into certain Buddhist teachings and what they mean to us as individuals.

“Today’s class was not exemplary of what most classes look like,” Sherab said.

The main reason for this is this particular class was Sherab’s last. He plans to go on a personal trip to finish his training as a monk, and as a result, will no longer be able to teach the class.

“[The class] was kind of a ‘going-away present’ for the people who have been coming here for a long time,” Sherab said.

The teachings he gave focused around two centralized concepts, compassion and ignorance, which are the two main extremes within the Buddhist faith.

Sherab described compassion as “the desire to take from others what they don’t want — their suffering.” He explained that true compassion involves a feeling of closeness to others, “a certain respect and affection that is not based on others’ attitude toward us.”

Inversely, he went on to explain that ignorance is “the basis of all mental afflictions.” One must open their mind to new possibilities and realize that they might not know everything about the world that they think they do. This gives them the chance to look at certain aspects of their life with a new perspective.

“We have to be willing to let go of our beliefs at least temporarily in order to let our minds explore,” Sherab said.
Meeting the members

After the session was over, one of the attendees, Redding resident John Simpson, got up to say a few kind words to Sherab. He thanked him for teaching his classes for so long and for helping each person get through the hardships of their lives through it.

Simpson has been a member of DNKL for for 8 years, and has been attending Sherab’s classes for a long time.

“He gives really concrete examples of how to get through things,” he said in an interview after the session. “One thing I like about the class is it really makes you look at things beyond what they seem or you perceive them as.”

Simpson also mentioned that a lot of the examples Sherab uses in his lessons are taken from his own life, bringing the teachings to a personal level and making them easier to fully understand.

Next, I had the pleasure of speaking with the Resident Teacher of DNKL, Geshi Dhargey. He has been a monk since he was 10, and has been a member of DNKL since 2006.

He told me a little about a typical day at the monastery. “We focus on how we can help others by following Buddha’s advice,” he said.

He pointed out that the main purpose of their classes is to make people happy, not to convert others. That is why their introductory classes are usually more secular.

“All of our main teachings come directly from Buddha, the source,” Dhargey said. “We tend to focus more on teachings, meditation and social work than on prayer.”

Along with the classes they offer throughout the week, DNKL holds other events like holy and social days, Buddhism 101, and monthly retreats. They also travel to various locations to help spread their teachings to all who wish to hear.

If you are interested in becoming involved with DNKL, whether it be simply taking an introductory class as I did or even becoming a member yourself, you can check out their website at http://www.dnkldharma.org/ or contact them at info@dnkldharma.org.