Mahakaruna Buddhist Meditation Center
I’m reminded every time I participate in a meditation group exactly how good meditation makes me feel. It’s an instantaneous improvement in my mood, but for some reason, I’ve never developed the discipline to sustain the practice. I tend to meditate when I’m troubled, but as soon as I reap the benefit and things get a little better in my life, I quit. This column being what it is, I should point out that every spiritual belief system I’ve encountered uses some form of meditation—either repetitive prayer (like the rosary for Catholics), or chants or singing or extended moments of silence.
Monday evening, I participated in a guided group meditation at the Mahakaruna Buddhist Meditation Center. It’s led by Ace Remas and held in an under-restoration house at 449 Marsh Ave. Remas is a resident teacher at the Mahakaruna Buddhist Meditation Center in Petaluma, Calif.
Remas began the evening with a few words about the leader of Northern California Kadampa Buddhism, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who wrote many of the books—if not all—this group uses. In particular, he talked about The New Meditation Handbook, which contains a sequence of 21 meditations (lamrim) that the group says will lead to enlightenment.
The austere second-floor room contained a radiator, wooden floors, linen colored walls, and maybe a dozen folding chairs. The smell of fresh paint filled the air. At the front of the room, next to the chair occupied primly by the white-haired and blue-eyed Remas, was a small shrine with a Buddha statue, a book, several flowers and candles and a statuette stupa. It had a base of gold and burgundy cloths and a backdrop of translucent blue. Some 12 people participated.
Now, while I’m no stranger to meditation, this group and its teachings were wholly new to me, and even though I furiously scribbled notes, I did not have a complete understanding of what Remas said. He talked about the purposes of Buddhist meditation—“to develop minds of love and compassion, according to Buddha”—and the disadvantages of “self-cherishing,” which he called the chief obstacle to our happiness.
“The person you’re concerned about doesn’t exist,” he said. “Stop thinking about yourself and think about others.” “It’s not impossible to love every creature instantly.” “If the mind has the power to create an impure world, it certainly has the ability to create a pure world.” He also discussed some visualization techniques, like picturing black smoke being inhaled and pure light going out. He said a reason for meditating is to imagine the mind working a certain way because the short intentional practice will eventually lead to the spontaneous state of being.
Those concepts led us to the topic of the night’s meditation: bodhichitta. Remas defined bodhichitta as “to become enlightened for the benefit of others,” and “to become like Buddha for others’ sake.” Essentially, instead of attempting to achieve inner peace for selfish reasons, the individual desires inner peace because that peace will enable the individual to help alleviate suffering and help others toward enlightenment.
After Remas’ short lecture, we recited/chanted, along with a CD player, from the pamphlet “Prayers for Meditation: Brief preparatory prayers for meditation,” before going into about a 40-minute meditation. Infrequently, Remas would interject a phrase to help us bring our minds back to the meditation on bodhichitta.
After the meditation, Remas asked for questions, and there was a brief, maybe 10-minute, discussion of some of the ideas that arose from the meditation. We ended with a short recitation out of the “Prayers for Meditation” book, and then the group folded and put away the chairs, put their money in the donation box—$10 requested, but nobody looked twice when I only had $4 in my pocket—and packed up the shrine.