‘Cultivating yourself and your life’: Buddhist students find small community at UC Berkeley

Related Posts

When campus senior Connor Killion first came to UC Berkeley from the Midwest, he was Catholic. When he returned home during a break in his sophomore year, he was a practicing Buddhist. Now, he is running the Buddhist Community at Berkeley organization.

While Buddhism is not one of the major religions represented on campus, Killion said he considers it to be a part of the culture of UC Berkeley itself. He added that his family was not surprised when he returned home practicing Buddhism along with his Catholic faith.

Buddhism, which is popular in many Asian countries, is a faith-based religion focused on addressing the suffering that comes with life and reaching Nirvana through four core truths. According to campus professor of Buddhist studies Mark Blum, it, however, is hard to determine what Buddhism as a whole is, more specifically than the four truths.

“There isn’t one Buddhism — there are many Buddhisms,” Blum said.

After the Buddha died, there was never a central control on the religion, according to Blum, which lead to many different factions and beliefs that varied greatly throughout the different regions where the religion is practiced. He added that the different “creeds” of Buddhism even vary in language.

Emely Giraldo, who is not a campus student but is a member of Killion’s club, said her Tibetan Buddhist father never celebrated any holidays, including any birthdays.

“Every day is just another day,” Giraldo said. “That sounds sadder than it is.”

Despite this, Blum said there are some holidays that multiple factions celebrate, including Vesak, which is the birth of Buddha, and the Bon Festival on July 15, which celebrates the lives of loved ones who have passed away.

Neither Killion nor Giraldo celebrates those holidays. For them, Buddhism is more about “cultivating” oneself.

Blum also added that Buddhism is not an “exclusive” religion, meaning that it allows its followers to practice other faiths. Killion said he still practices Catholicism along with Buddhism.

“At its core, (Buddhism) is basically just exploring if you let your conscience sink,” Killion said. “Buddhism is so simple.”

At the Buddhism Community at Berkeley club’s weekly meetings Wednesday nights, members begin with a 20-minute meditation session “to get everyone in the right frame of mind,” according to Killion. The meetings are open to everyone, regardless of what type of Buddhism they subscribe to or if they practice Buddhism at all.

Throughout the week, outside the meetings, however, Killion said he is focusing more on a new type of meditation where he can explore “an art that can be cultivated,” rather than the traditional mindfulness practices. He said he was inspired by a book and that yoga and slacklining are aspects of his spiritual practices.

“It’s all about learning how to move with the waves of life,” Killion said.

Killion said it is hard to determine exactly how many students on campus actively practice the faith because for many, it is more of a personal practice than a group activity, and everyone practices differently. He added that Buddhism itself is “not really that open or outward.”

“What you want in Buddhism is a teacher,” Killion said. “You want one teacher who is enlightened and a guide, but there is even skepticism in the Buddhist community on what Enlightenment is. It’s all experiential, and all you can do is focus on cultivating yourself and your life.”

Contact Katherine Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC