Living Buddhists breed balance

By Ashley Hopkins, The Breeze, April 26, 2007

Harrisonburg, VA (USA) -- When freshman Anne Dreyfuss is stressed after a busy week at school she doesn’t just relax — she meditates.

Dreyfuss is a member of Living Buddhism, a campus group that intends to educate and enlighten members of the James Madison University (JMU) community on the teachings of Buddhism. Through meetings, held every Sunday at 7:30 p.m., the group aims to show students how they can use Buddhist teachings in their everyday life.

“It’s a time where I can be quiet and reflect on what’s happened last week and what’s coming up next week,” said Dreyfuss. “I get a chance to reflect and recharge.”

At these meetings, anywhere from two to six members gather to meditate. Junior Tina Christopoulos, co-president of the group, sounds a bell to begin meditation, and the group sits in inner reflection for around a half-hour.

“The club isn’t really focused on Buddhism,” freshman Anne Dreyfuss said. “It’s more focused on meditation.  Part of Buddhism is a hope for reaching a state of profound understanding, which can be achieved through meditation. One part of the noble eightfold path is disciplined and focused meditation.”

Sometimes, after sitting meditation is complete, the group will engage in a walking meditation, focusing and reflecting on their movements.

“It’s all about inner peace,” Dreyfuss said. “We try to achieve this within our bodies.”

Because Buddhism is based on principles of compassion for others, members of Living Buddhism participate in community service events.  In the past they have brought speakers to campus to present on various Buddhist topics and have held fundraisers to help support bringing monks to campus.

“We have given money to a group of Tibetan monks that came here two or three years ago who did a puja (devotional practice) for world peace,” senior Matt Hepburn, co-president of the organization, said.

There are currently four or five core members, Dreyfuss said, and the group hopes to gain more interest. People of all backgrounds and levels of exposure to Buddhism and meditation are welcome to attend meetings.

Hepburn also wants to pull in more active members.

“It kind of was disappointing to me because people wouldn’t show up to the meetings,” he said. “People are more interested in appearing to be a part of the club and less interested in practicing.”

Hepburn added that he thought the group needed to become more active as well.  As meditation is something that improves with practice, he wants to expand weekly meetings to daily meetings.

“If the club did meet everyday it would be an enormous benefit to people,” he said.

Dreyfuss added that while the group aims to expand their membership, each member gains something different from their experience in the organization.

“Individually, I think that every member has their own mental goal,” she said.

Alumnus Chris McCoy (‘06), who was involved in the organization while at JMU, used Living Buddhism to become more attuned to the surroundings in his day to day life.

“I’ll tell you this,” he said, “Practice Zen meditation for a few years and you’ll pick up on a lot more vibes.”