Offering a Buddhism for everyone

By SHERYL KAY, Source: St Petersburg Times, July 7, 2006, Published on the Buddhist Channel, Aug 3, 2006

A Lutz practitioner brings the ancient faith's tenets and beliefs to those seeking greater peace.

LUTZ, Florida (USA) -- In a quiet lakefront back yard, a small group learns and meditates with the sweet smell of incense wafting through the air.

Every Wednesday evening for the past 20 years, Dr. Lucjan Shila has led a sangha, a Buddhist meditation group, in Lutz. Buddhist tenets are shared, chanting is heard, meditations are experienced.

Shila, 55, a natural medicine practitioner, was raised in the Catholic Church, but says he had great difficulty accepting things on blind faith.

"You know, it was that blessed-are-those-that-don't-see-but-still-believe traditional education," Shila said. "It wasn't that I was a doubter. I just felt compelled for myself to know it was so."

When he was 12, Shila picked up his first books on Buddhism and found a sacred system based on acquiring spiritual experiences for oneself. For the first time a theological path made perfect sense to him, and it stayed with him until he left home at 17 and joined a Buddhist retreat in New York.

Buddhism is an ancient set of philosophies and life practices that originated 2,500 years ago with Siddhartha Gautama, the son of a king in Lumbini, India. After many years of meditation, contemplation, and often existing under very austere self-imposed living conditions, Siddhartha eventually reached a state of enlightenment, wherein he became "the Buddha," the awakened one.

For the next 40 years, the Buddha taught thousands of followers those tenets that became a part of his being while meditating, such as compassion and moral actions. He told them to not simply accept his visions of truth, but rather to go and experience his teachings for themselves.

Over the centuries many versions of Buddhism have evolved. Shila learned and now practices a form called Vajrayana, and within that, a rare system called Dzogchen.

"It's an entirely nonsectarian way of practicing Buddhism," Shila said. "It's not that it's a departure, but it dispenses with a lot of the ritual and cultural elements and directly approaches the core issues of Buddhism."

Shila noted that two general forms of Buddhism are practiced worldwide: the monastic form, where practitioners live together in retreats and monasteries away from secular society, and the nonmonastic form, where believers live integrated into everyday society. Shila and the other members of the Lutz sangha fall into the latter group, and Shila said it is that form of Buddhism that is in fact more difficult to practice.

"It's difficult to maintain the purity of your ethics while engaged in daily life, so that's why a lot of people go to monasteries" he said. "In many occupations you can do it. You just need to be clean and honest in what you do."

John Geders, a business consultant from Brandon, had attended many meditation and chanting services at other Buddhist temples in the past. But because of the language barrier, he often could not experience the full impact of the service.

At Shila's meditation and teaching group, Geders, 58, made an instant and transforming connection.

"It's really turned me around," he said.

Before he was able to employ the Buddhist concept of compassion for all, Geders said he was often angry, which then led to depression. Now, he said, he sees the world with more "loving kindness and joy," which has brought him closer to family and friends.

Geders said he also has benefited enormously from the actual meditations that go on during the sangha, as well as those he does alone at home.

"I feel very settled now, peaceful," he said. "It's just this calm inside."

Meditation, Shila said, is a fundamental ingredient in the Buddhist concept of experiencing intrinsic awareness. When meditating, the practitioner is narrowing the mind's attention to a very focused point.

"We practice meditation to train the mind to do what we want it to do, even when there are distractions," he said.

Shila's sanghas are open to the public, and while donations are welcome, there is no charge to attend. For more information, see the sangha's Web page at