And Zen there was peace...

Belfast today, Aug 21, 2008

Belfast, Northern Ireland -- We're stressed out about the credit crunch and floods - but a Zen master is jetting in to bring peace to Ulster.

<< Zen master Paul Haller will teach the path to inner peace

West Belfast man Paul Haller, now one of the world's foremost Buddhist teachers, is travelling back to his home city to restore calm.

He left Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles and after travelling the world ended up in Thailand, where he spent six months meditating in a remote cave after being ordained a Buddhist monk.

He is now abbot at the San Francisco Zen Centre under the name Ryushin Zendo - 'Dragon Heart, Zen Way'.

Ryushin Paul will hold two public talks at Queen's University, Belfast, on Saturday open to enlightenment-seekers from across Northern Ireland.

It may be a different bunch than the buddhist is used to, as San Francisco has hordes of disciples converging at retreats in black robes as they strive to live in the moment.

They are only too eager to wake up to the oneness of the universe by getting up at dawn for gruelling sessions sitting lotus-style in the meditation hall, eating communal vegan meals in silence, and chanting.

Dr Paul Doran from the School of Law at Queen's, who helped organise the event, said: "Ryushin Hellar will explore the function of literature in relation to Zen and how poetry may convey meaning beyond words. He will also provide a unique insight into the role of Zen meditation in everyday life, in reducing stress, for example.

"Although associated with Buddhism, Zen techniques are compatible with other faiths and are often used by Christians, for example, who are seeking a mystical understanding of their faith."

From its postwar embrace by American hipsters, Zen Buddhism exploded in popularity in the 1970s, with hundreds of major Zen centers now operating around the country.

It gained more exposure when the high priest of gloom, Leonard Cohen, was ordained as a Zen buddhist monk.

The faith teaches that all human beings are Buddha, and that all they have to do to free themselves is look within.

Its essence is a desire to understand the meaning of life by freeing ourselves of logical thought and anxieties through meditation.

Ryushin Paul Haller's talks will take place at the Institute of Governance at Queen's, 63 University Road, Belfast on Saturday 23 August.

Although there is no entrance fee, the organisers still have some earthly concerns.

They have suggested a donation of £20 for one lesson or £30 for both, or, if unemployed, £10 for one talk or £15 for the two.

The talks are Meditation and Everyday Life: Stress Reduction and the Art of Mindful Living (10am-1pm) and The Zen of Poetry: Zen Meditation and the Poetics of Waking Up (2-5pm).