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Unconventional Buddhist makes meditation relatable

Dressed in a suit and purple tie, atypical Buddhist practitioner and teacher Lodro Rinzler came to Winnick Chapel at Brown/RISD Hillel Thursday evening as part of a 24-city tour for his new book, "The Buddha Walks Into a Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation."

"I actually haven't read it myself, but I hear it's good," Rinzler joked. He received many laughs throughout the presentation, which was hosted by the Brown Meditation Community.

The 29-year-old Rinzler, who comes from the tradition of Shambhala Buddhism, began meditating at age 11 and lived in a monastery at age 17. In college, he created Wesleyan University's Buddhist House, a dorm for 18 students who practice meditation. He now writes and teaches two meditation classes a week in New York City.

Rinzler's book is about "how to integrate Buddhism into a college student's life" and life in general, said Noah Elbot '14, one of the nine BMC leaders. College is a time for "figuring out who you are," he said, and "meditation can give another perspective to that."

Rinzler may be more "relatable" to students than the "more traditional Zen master," Elbot said. He is also a living example of someone who has made a living through Buddhism — college students typically do not consider a career in religion, Elbot said.

BMC thought that Rinzler might appeal to younger people who are seeking to take up meditation without changing their whole lifestyle, said Evan Winget '12, another BMC leader.

Rinzler led a brief session of meditation, read aloud from his book and briefly spoke about himself and his thoughts on meditation. At one point, he asked the audience, "What do you guys want to talk about tonight?"

Audience members asked questions ranging from meditation technique to the relationship between meditation and drugs, drinking and sex. 

Rinzler said he believes it is the intention behind one's actions that is most important. Engaging in behaviors such as drinking, then looking to see if these acts are "escapes" or "ways to connect with others" allows one to see which to "cultivate" or "cut out" of one's life, he said.

"Any meditation is good meditation," he said.

Buddha was able to recognize the "potency of the moment" through meditation just as other people can do, Rinzler said. He said that one must interpret Buddhist teachings in a way that "meshes with our reality." For him, especially during college, Buddhism was a "gradual process" of finding a balance in engaging with the atmosphere around him, he said.

For those facing a difficult time meditating or suffering laziness, Rinzler recommended reminding oneself of the intention behind meditation. He urged students to consider practicing with a group and to "just sit" and practice discipline. Discipline is "often perceived in a negative way" but actually has a "sense of virtue," he said.

This generation has been raised to think in terms of being "whatever you want to be," yet this thinking pattern needs to be changed to "who," not "what" one wants to be, Rinzler said. Understanding the "who" part of the question is better than approaching life mindlessly, he said. "Mindfulness is bringing yourself fully to something," he said.

Rizler has learned about Buddhism and life from previous teachers and trial and error. "Mistakes are very valuable on this path," he said.

"It's great to have someone closer to our age" to address college students, said Halsey Niles '12.

But Winget, who comes from the more traditional Theravada school of Buddhism, wanted to raise his hand to disagree with Rinzler several times during the discussion, he told The Herald. "I don't think you can as mindfully take a shot as you can follow a breath," he said.

There are two "complementary movements" in America related to Buddhism, said Willoughby Britton, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior. One movement — which includes Rinzler — favors "popularizing" Buddhism, while the more "conservative" movement focuses on more traditional Buddhism, Britton said.

Britton does research on meditation and studies traditional Buddhist texts, she said. As someone heavily involved in contemplative studies at the University, Britton was "amazed" at the turnout of about 50 people, about 70 percent of whom she did not recognize, she said.

"I'm just here to learn something about something I know nothing about," said Sarah Parker '15.

Audience members, whom Rinzler addressed as "broke college students," were welcome to pay $10, not the normal $15, for the book.

BMC gathers Monday through Saturday in Manning Chapel to meditate. The nondenominational community is primarily made up of graduate and undergraduate students and sometimes staff and faculty. BMC also awards scholarships to students for meditation retreats, organizes potlucks, has worked once with the women's squash team on visualization and meditation and arranges for guests like Rinzler to come speak.


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