DePaul Buddhism group offers escape, stress relief

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As DePaul students gear up for finals season, they are often encouraged to relax amid the craziness of studying and completing final projects. But there’s a certain group on campus, however, that is literally putting that advice into action: the DePaul University Buddhism and Meditation Association.

The organization was founded last year by junior Melanie Kulatilake, who noticed that despite the university’s much-touted diversity, there was no club for Buddhists like herself. She joked that there wasn’t even a yoga club at the time.

“I noticed there was all different kind of faith groups on campus, but there was no Buddhist one,” Kulatilake said. “So I was thinking I associate myself as Buddhist, and I know other people might, so I said, ‘why don’t we create a group that helps people associate with Buddhism and meditation?’

With some help from University Ministry, the Jewish Life Center and university administration among others, the group got off the ground.

Now in its second year, the group meets every week and often goes on field trips to Buddhist temples in order to learn more about the culture. And despite the relative newness, Kulatilake said the organization has been very popular, with attendance averaging around 15 people per meeting, many of whom are not practicing Buddhists. Kulatilake touted this as a possible reason the club has been a hit.

“We have people who come in who are Buddhist and classify themselves as that. We also have people who come who possibly want to become Buddhists and then we have people who come because they want to practice the lifestyle. So everyone’s welcome,” Kulatilake said.
During their meetings, the group forms a circle and typically begins by going around and discussing how their week was in a few words.

Then, Kulatilake leads the group in prayer in the darkened room, followed by silent meditation.

After that, the group discusses the prayer and how they feel, and then Kulatilake shares a lesson from Buddhism that many may not be familiar with.

“They like the meditation because it kind of centers them,” Kulatilake said. “And they find relaxation and I think the readings help them relate to their own lives and kind of rethink the way they’re thinking, which is essentially what Buddhism is, about seeing clearly. So I think it makes them kind of develop their mind and understand themselves a little better.”

Freshman Jonathan Zei, a double major in international studies and Arabic, described the club as much-needed therapy.

“I’ve been coming since the first meeting this year,” Zei said. “I’ve studied meditation and Buddhism for a little bit and it’s helped me a lot with a lot of anxiety and ADHD and things I deal with. It’s good therapy – it helps me figure out different parts of myself.”

For Hannah Radeke, a double major in English and art history, the club gives her “something to work on for the week and it’s always relaxing.”

“I’m becoming better at being kind to everyone, like the love and kindness we were talking about tonight. I think that’s really influenced me,” she said.

Part of last week’s message was wishing one’s enemies well and understanding that everyone in life suffers, no matter what side one is on.

“We always have those conversations. Both within the Buddhist group and my interfaith group. It’s always a discussion,” Kulatilake said.

“There’s so much chaos going on in the world, like we don’t understand different religions and different faiths. And I think every religion teaches that you should try to understand people who are different. It’s just the way its interpreted is different, but all faiths essentially have that.”

Kulatilake hopes that the group will add to the dialogue on campus among the religious groups on how to address conflict in the world, much of which is centered on religion. She is looking to work more with the multi-cultural center to coordinate events.

But for now, Kulatilake and members of the club will look for inner peace as they deal with the daily stresses of life.

“I spend hours and hours every day thinking about business management, accounting, business principles – it gets a little dry,” said finance major Chris Cosegelia. “Taking a step back with a little spirituality is a healthy option in life.”

The group meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Student Center room 102.