Over the weekend I went to a dhamma talk at The Buddhist Dhamma Meditation Society.
I had never been to a dhamma talk before, so I had no idea what to expect. My friend Michael goes to this center often, so has a good relationship with the resident monk, Bhante. When we arrived, we were introduced to Bhante and had a nice conversation with him. I told him a little bit about my Capstone Project, and he seemed really interested in learning more. Our conversation was cut short because he had to prepare for the talk.
There were about 60 of us at the centre, and we sat on meditation cushions in front of a beautiful statue of the buddha. The session started with the sangha chanting in Pali, and then we passed 9 flower offerings through the sangha up to the statue at the front of the room. This simple gesture was beautiful and powerful. I loved that each of these offerings touched the hands of the people in the room.
After the chanting and offerings were made, we meditated for about 20 minutes. It was a powerful experience to meditate in a room with 60 other people; I had never had that experience before and I look forward to doing it again.
After the meditation, Bhante shared how several westerners influenced the spread of Buddhism in the 19th century. I learned a lot, and thought it was interesting that this was the theme of the talk on the day I showed up.
At the end of the talk, Bhante invited the sangha to discuss the talk. Several people shared their ideas, asked questions, debated about issues raised. Never have I visited a religious institution where ideas were open to debate rather than merely shared. I really liked this.
Bhante and I had an opportunity to talk for a few minutes after the session ended. He told me that he is currently writing a book about empathy and was really interested in learning more about my research. We had a wonderful (and fruitful) discussion in which he brought up the following points: 1. empathy is an inate human quality; it’s what makes a human a human. 2. the capacity for empathy may get clouded as a person grows older, and it’s important to remind people of this capacity. 3. empathy runs a fine line with sentimentality and it is mire valuable to stay on the empathy side of the line than the other.
I am looking forward to attending another dhamma talk and speaking with Bhante again. He told me I was welcome any time, and I believed it.