By Sara Luebke
After a minute of silent meditation, practicing Buddhists, community members, and Loyola University Chicago students explored how contemporary Buddhist thought plays a vital role in social ethics.
Tranquility permeated the room when the rin gong chimed, signally the end of meditation, and Taigen Dan Leighton and Jack Lawlor took the floor. Taigen Leighton, an adjunct Asian studies professor at Loyola, and Lawlor, a practicing attorney, and Dharma teacher, provided a brief history of Buddhism, from its 2500-year-old origins in Nepal, before launching the underlying principle of their forum, that of self-improvement in all beings to ameliorate issues of peace and the environment.
Taigen Leighton and Lawlor spoke to an attentive audience of about 40 people in lobby of the Crown Center for the Humanities. Loyola Campus Ministry as well as the departments for theology, Asian studies, and sociology sponsored the forum that was organized by the Chicago Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and Loyola University’s Peace studies program.
The program is in conjunction with the Thursday visit by the Dalai Lama to Loyola.
The forum evolved into a discussion on contemporary topics, focusing greatly on the importance of non-violent protest, whereupon they emphasized that non-violence does not signify passivity. They strongly urged students to protest current social issues by participating in the Occupy movement and becoming mindful so as to not be deceived.
Lawlor introduced the Buddhist principle of interconnectedness, explaining it as “a reflection of many other realities and senses.” He illustrated how it is significantly intertwined with environmental destruction and our need and responsibility of healing it. He then likened it to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima a year ago, where the radiation pollution that devastated Japan will have enduring affects on the world as a whole for years to come.
“Tough times like this are the best times to be alive, though” Lawlor said, providing the audience with inspiration amidst bleak topics. “Everything we do will make a difference.”
The discussion then returned to Taigen Leighton where he encouraged the audience to become engaged spiritually.
“This doesn’t really mean to fix the problem,” Lieghton said, “first we have to bring mindfulness practices into our daily lives.”
“Bring these ideas back down to earth,” Lawlor said. “Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what’s the point in seeing?”
The discussion wrapped up with reciting ‘the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings” and a question and answer session.
While inspiring and enlightening, some audience members were not as impressed as they had hoped.
“I feel like everything they [Leighton and Lawlor] said has already been said,” said Maxx McGathy, 21, a senior English and philosophy major. “I wish they would have incorporated deeper Buddhist philosophy into the discussion.”
Overall though, attendees interested in Buddhism were moved by the discussion, and considering the Dalai Lama’s upcoming visit, their curiosity was further piqued. “Since the Dalai Lama is coming, I want to get into the Buddhist mood, “ said Siddharth Jain, a religious studies major. “Generally the discussion was profound, and I’m very draw to his teachings.”