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Gaia House speaker says Buddhism not just a religion

A sense of enlightenment was found Sunday afternoon at Gaia House-Interfaith Center, as a special guest gave some insight into the peaceful world of Buddhist meditation.

More than 60 people filled the seats Sunday at Gaia House to hear the words of Chang Hwa, director of Chan Meditation Center in New York, as she spoke on the basic principles and methods of meditation and finding happiness from a Buddhist's perspective.

"I found that the meditation is very useful and can help a lot of people," Chang said. "You can explore that you are not really just who you are, but you are more than that."

Originally from Taiwan, Chang is a resident monastic at the New York meditation center, which is a home for practicing Buddhists and an educational center for anyone looking to learn about the philosophies and practices of Buddhism. As part of the center's outreach, Chang has spoken at various Buddhist establishments throughout the country.

Chang's presentation, "The Art of Letting Go from a Buddhist Point of View," included discussion of the problems and fears many people face in today's society and how Buddhist teachings allow spiritual peace through the detachment from worry and stress.

Part of the focus of Chang's speech centered on the point that while Buddhism is in some forms a religion, for many practitioners it serves solely as a philosophy and method of peace attainment. There are Jewish Buddhists and Christian Buddhists, she said.

"When we say it's a religion, it is because there are certain kinds of worship," she said. "But when we talk about practice, we are just asking about a truth, about a reality, and that's not a religion at all."

Before her presentation, Chang performed a blessing on Gaia House's new Sunyata Center, a meditation room and library that opened in September. Katherine Frith, president of Sunyata Center Organization, said the space is for everyone, no matter their religious background.

"I think that's what this is about," Frith said. "We're not trying to convert people; we're only trying to open up the wisdom and the philosophy of Buddhism to the community."

Chang said she was impressed with the amount of interest in Buddhism she has seen in Carbondale during her visit. According to Gaia House Director Hugh Muldoon, a growing Buddhist community has been taking advantage of the resources the center offers.

"The talk today was just an indication of the kind of wisdom, the practical wisdom that we all benefit from hearing," Muldoon said. "We can all take advantage of it, regardless of our particular religious beliefs."

(By Tom Barker from thesouthern.com/shared by Venerable Chang Hwa)

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