Pull up a chair and meditate

Buddhist monk to visit Juneau for class on practical meditation

Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Buddhist group in Alaska invites all stressed-out Juneau office workers and others to sit down and take a breather.

Kelsang Yonten, a Buddhist monk from Vancouver, British Columbia, will teach people how to meditate on Sunday at Centennial Hall. Yonten comes at the invitation of a grass-roots effort to encourage regular classes, known as Meditation in Alaska.

Followers say the practicality of Kadampa Buddhism is the reason the sect has been around for more than 1,000 years. You don't need to burn incense or bow to a shrine. You don't even have to be a Buddhist.

"It's very accessible to people with busy lives," Juneau lecture organizer Jodi Pirtle said.

According to her teacher, Yonten, if you can find a chair, then you can meditate. He prefers students spend more time concentrating on their minds, rather than a sore back.

Meditation class

When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Centennial Hall.

Cost: $25 with pre-registration by Friday, $30 at the door.

Free talk: 7-8:30 p.m. Monday at Centennial Hall.

To register or get more information: Call (360) 601-8081.

"If you try to sit in a position that is not comfortable, you spend more time thinking about the pain," he said, adding that one known master has regularly meditated from a chair for 25 years.

The techniques come in handy when a person faces deadlines or dealing with an angry spouse. Yonten said the breathing techniques and analyzing one's thought process can be the cerebral equivalent to an afternoon at the gym.

"It's medicine for the mind," Yonten explained.

The class will start by asking the question, "What is the mind?" Yonten said the philosophical quest is important when learning how to control thoughts and emotions.

"Our quality of life is a reflection of the quality of our minds," he said.

Yonten then teaches six steps used in meditation. Afterward, people feel refreshed, relaxed and rejuvenated, he said.

The teacher was introduced to meditation as a college student looking for "clear" answers to his questions. His degree in electrical engineering would help make people's lives more comfortable, but it didn't answer the question of why we are living, he said.

Now Yonten believes he knows the answer: "To discover this intimate connection we already have to life and all things around us."

Explaining this concept, he borrowed the metaphor of an ice cube thinking it is alone, until it melts into the sea and becomes part of the ocean.

Yonten has studied Buddhism for 10 years under the guidance of meditation master and author Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. They both belong to an international union of Kadampa Buddhist centers with 200 chapters in the United States.

"We don't impose ourselves on anyone," Yonten said, adding that the monks conduct teachings only by request.

Yonten also will lecture in Anchorage starting Thursday.

The session will include an effort to form study groups for those wanting to continue practicing. For those who have difficulty in sticking with routines, support groups often help, Yonten said.

"Not everyone needs to become Buddhists, but I believe everyone needs inner peace," he said.

Juneau has a growing community of Buddhists, with some 150 members on the roster at the Shambhala Center, a meditation class located above Heritage Coffee downtown.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com

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