Eastern Kentucky University Student chosen to visit Buddhist retreat

By LEXI WALTERS, The Eastern Progress, April 16, 2014

Kentucky, USA -- An Eastern Kentucky University student will spend a month in Taiwan at the Fo Guang Buddhist Monastic Retreat, thanks to her selection as one of 50 student winners worldwide. The monastery covers all aspects of the trip, aside from the flight.

<< Reagan Coburn, from Eastern Kentucky University, will be spending her retreat here at Fo Guang Shan Monastery, Kaohshiung, Taiwan

Reagan Coburn, a philosophy and psychology junior from Paintsville, got this opportunity through a scholarly list called H Buddhism. Abraham Velez, associate professor of philosophy and religion, said he receives emails from the scholars who monitor the list about books and new programs. When he noticed the opportunity to live for a month at the Fo Guang Buddhist Monastery in Kaohsiung, Taiwan he forwarded the email to all his students.

Velez said Coburn was the only one to apply and he helped her out with a letter of recommendation.

When Coburn found out she was accepted, she said she cried.

“I was very excited and grateful about the whole thing,” Coburn said. “I was a little shocked and couldn’t believe it was happening.”

Although Coburn herself is not a Buddhist, she said she has read many books about the religion and has an interest in meditation.

“I am no meditation expert or Zen master, but I do meditate when it is convenient or necessary to do so,” Coburn said. “It’s something that is hard to force yourself to do. In fact, forcing yourself to do it is kind of counteractive to the purpose of doing it. I meditate anywhere from none at all to a few times a week, and for about 45 minutes each time. The experience of meditating leaves me with the most fulfilling sense of emptiness, you could say…a sort of paradox. I feel clear and peaceful.”

Coburn said the trip does not count for any particular course credit.

“I’m doing this for myself,” Coburn said. “I once read that the best way to help others is to continue work on yourself, and I hope for this experience to be an opportunity for bettering my mind, body, and spirit.”

Coburn said she believed the trip would go a long way toward furthering her career goals to serve as a “philosophical counselor,” which combines traditional psychotherapy with discussions of life’s deeper meanings, based on the beliefs of the client.

“It’s going to be a crucial learning experience in my life,” Coburn said.

To prepare for the trip, Coburn said she does not have to do much, aside from getting her plane tickets, packing and receiving the necessary vaccinations.

“Other than that I’ll probably spend a lot of time reading travel tips online,” Coburn said.

Coburn has, however, begun preparations for the dietary adjustments she may have to make abroad; ones that some people could find problematic.

“At the monastery everyone is lacto-ovo vegetarian (meaning the only animal products they eat are dairy and eggs) and I will eat accordingly,” Coburn said. “I read that if one even brings meat into the monastery they will be asked to leave. This doesn’t bother me much. I have been eating vegetarian a few days a week. I love vegetables. They have been my favorite food group for years… That and dairy.”

While on her 28-day trip, from June 26 to July 24, Coburn will experience the culture in a variety of ways.

She said the trip is split into four sections. When they arrive, there will be two weeks to get accustomed to their surroundings, participate in Buddhist study classes and experience the religion and culture first-hand. Then there is a seven-day retreat, which Coburn said she is particularly excited about, where they will spend time in zen meditation, or silent and mindfulness meditation. They will then spend four days at an international conference, the International Youth Seminar on Life and Chán, where all the students will have a chance to meet. To wrap up the trip, they will spend three days touring the “treasure island” of Taiwan Formosa, along the way staying at various monasteries.

Although excited about the trip, Coburn said she does have one concern.

“I’m nervous about the flight, but I know that when I get there it will be great,” Coburn said.