Juneau Buddhists clean house to bring in New Year

Posted: Monday, February 26, 2001

Friday was housecleaning day for many in the Juneau Buddhist community.

Cleaning house has a spiritual significance and a practical aspect for practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. Saturday marked the beginning of the new year in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The end of the old year is signified by a day when practitioners clean house, literally and figuratively.

"It's a time to resolve old issues and set the stage for renewal in the new year," said Buddhist practitioner Nancy Simpson, who also serves as director of the Juneau Shambhala Meditation Center.

The entire meditation room at the center was emptied and cleaned Friday afternoon even the ceiling was vacuumed. Every item in the room was cleaned before being replaced.

Shambhala students and Buddhist practitioners meditate at the center, which also contains a library and a meeting room. Shambhala training is a nonreligious practice drawn from Buddhism. Simpson said the center, downtown in the Emporium Mall, offers a secular approach to meditation and mind training. It can help people reduce anxiety and stress, develop their creativity and better understand themselves.

A dozen cushions line the floor of the meditation room, which houses a Buddhist shrine and a Shambhala shrine. Bowls of water, incense and a large, polished crystal ball adorn the Buddhist shrine. Pictures of teachers hang above.

Practitioner Susan Chapman said the water is symbolic of simplicity and purity. The crystal is symbolic of the nature of awareness, that the mind is fundamentally pure and able to reflect everything. The pictures of teachers serve as inspiration.

The objects on the Shambhala shrine lack religious significance. Instead of water, bowls contain chocolate, a vial of perfume, a silk ribbon and a small mirror, representing the power of the senses.

"The first Shambhala level is called 'The Art of Being Human,'" Chapman said. "There's something fundamentally good about life, about being in a body, about the sunshine and the rain. After all is said and done, everything is fundamentally trustworthy, your eyes and ears and mind."

Meditation is a central component of Buddhism and Shambhala training. Susan's husband, Jerry Chapman, is also a Buddhist teacher and one of the founders of the Juneau center. Now in his early 50s, he grew up in Juneau and began practicing Buddhism as a teen-ager. He said his grandmother introduced him to meditation at a very young age. Among other things, meditation serves as a way to examine Buddhist teachings on a personal level.

"Buddhism really emphasizes that - take what we say, sit on the cushion and see if it's true for you," he said.

Simpson said that was an aspect of the practice that spoke to her.

"One of the things that drew me to Buddhism is they teach you to question everything," she said. "It's your own experience that gives you the trust in the teaching. They point you in the direction of coming to the truth."

There are about 250,000 Buddhist practitioners in the United States and about 350 million worldwide. Chapman said about 150 people are on the Juneau Shambhala Center's mailing list, a mix of Buddhist practitioners and Shambhala students. There are also a few local practitioners of Zen and Theraveda, related branches of Buddhism.

"There is a growing interest in the U.S. and in South America," he said.

One reason for that is Chgyam Trungpa, a Tibetan who came to the United States in 1970. He developed Shambhala training, which introduced many Americans to meditation and Tibetan Buddhism. Trungpa wrote dozens of books and founded what is now Naropa University in Boulder, Colo.

Susan Chapman studied with Trungpa for many years. She came to Juneau in 1987 where she met and married Jerry. Susan will be teaching an introductory Shambhala class in April, and said the center will offer a variety of other classes and retreats this spring. Most are free. Simpson said these upcoming months offer a great opportunity to study with these experienced teachers.

"For people who are curious about Eastern thinking, they are wellstudied," she said.

Riley Woodford can be reached at rileyw@juneauempire.com.

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