The room was quiet as the smell of incense filled the air. Students and community members sat on cushions all around the room breathing in good thoughts through their right nostril and exhaling negative thoughts from their left. A man sat in the front swaddled in a maroon and gold garment. Before encouraging the audience to begin their meditation, he and his companion chanted a prayer. As the sound of their prayer died away, the audience, still seated, departed from their calm surroundings and tried to focus on a single point as their teacher had taught them.
But their teacher is not an ordinary teacher. He is Arjia Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk and one of the highest lamas to have left Tibet, moving the U.S. in 1998.
On Monday evening, Iron Tree Blooming (ITB) meditation society and the Better Together living and learning community hosted Rinpoche as he taught the Elon community the art of single-point meditation. When he explained this type of meditation, Rinpoche said the universe is made up of earth, fire, water and wind, and in a similar way, the body is made up of these same four elements.
“Four elements have to be balanced, so if four elements lose balance, we feel uncomfortable or even sick, physically or mentally,” Rinpoche said. “Lose the balance will cause problems, so try to keep the balance. Beside the naturally sleep or rest is meditation, controlling our five senses.”
Rinpoche, who spoke on the convocation panel Tuesday about his perspective on interfaith issues, also entertained questions from the audience about the Buddhist faith. He discussed the principles of how enlightenment may be achieved, although he said that those who have achieved it often never recognized it themselves.
“No matter what kind of feedback you have, you have to give the love to the people, to your enemy,” he said.
Rinpoche presented Barbara Gordan, adviser of ITB, Kelly Foran, ITB president, and Mason Sklut and Immanuel Bryant, co-presidents of Better Together, with khatas, which are Tibetan scarves that are traditionally given as a sign of compassion. Foran said he was surprised when Rinpoche offered them scarves shortly before ITB and Better Together presented one to him.
“Usually you give them,” Foran said. “The purpose is to give thanks and respect and gratitude, so it was kind of surprising because I was giving it to thank him for coming out and being willing to talk to us. That just shows what type of person he is, giving us gratitude for just hosting him. That’s a really powerful thing. So I was very excited, almost at a loss for words.”
Morgan Sanderson and Philip Gurley, freshmen members of ITB, were similarly excited about the event. Gurley said attending the meditation was a unique experience he and Sanderson couldn’t pass up.
“It’s not every day that everyone gets to meet a great teacher of Buddhism,” Sanderson said.
Foran said listening to Rinpoche lead meditation was an illuminating experience because of his own role in leading ITB’s meditations.
“I meditate every day, but I don’t study it, and I don’t practice that lifestyle every second of my life,” Foran said. “So being able to just sit and be in awe basically and have him teach us… It’s funny because it’s just the opposite side, you know? Instead of me having to talk, I can just sit and listen. I wish I could have that every time.”