Being Buddhist at UW-Madison

By Kathryn Weenig, The Daily Cardinal, October 4, 2010

Madison, Wisconsin (USA) -- For practicing Buddhists, learning entails more than attending university classes and completing assignments.

Laiman Mai, a Buddhist who received her Ph.D. from UW-Madison and has lectured at the UW-Madison Buddhism Study Group during the past 25 years, distinguishes the knowledge of her religion from the knowledge of her degree.

"Buddhist wisdom is very different from getting a Ph.D.," Mai said. "You have to see things as they are, especially the mind."

Buddhists seek understanding of the mind through the practice of meditation. Mai explains this outcome as humbling and educating.

"If you meditate a lot, you will know the pattern of your mind," Mai said. "When you understand the pattern of your mind, you will not believe yourself that much. You will be less self-righteous and more objective."

UW research studies have found the benefits of meditation include increased concentration.

Kelvin Khor, a UW-Madison junior and chair of the UW-Madison Buddhism Study Group, said meditation helps him focus on his schoolwork and disconnect from its demands.

"It really improves my concentration in the aspect that I can be most signally focused on my studies," Khor said. "It also helps me to see challenges as mere obstacles, in that I learn to be detached and not so obsessive."

Because mental discipline is so important in Buddhism, the religion forbids altering the mind through drugs and alcohol. Khor said the party culture at UW-Madison sometimes clashes with Buddhist practice and creates a challenge for Buddhist students.

"Since UW-Madison is a party school, it can possibly be a conflict, because Buddhism doesn't emphasize enjoying yourself to the fullest, but aims for self-restraint, especially from sensual pleasures," he said.

Khor said he wishes the presence of Buddhist students was further recognized on campus.

"In the UW-Madison campus, there are only two Buddhist societies," he said. "I've met people at the Student Organization Fair who are surprised we exist."

Buddhist and meditation centers of varying traditions are located throughout Madison. Mai said the aim of these centers and the purpose of Buddhism is to achieve a higher understanding and quality of living.

"I think the ultimate goal is enlightenment," said Mai. "But I think most people really try to meditate and understand their issues and live peaceful and happy lives."