Enlightenment for Everyone
by Audrey Dimola
Published in Ins&Outs Magazine, Vol. II, Issue 2 – August 2008 (pg. 80)
For many of us, life can be unbearable sometimes – there’s no two ways about it. Between our own personal lives – work, family, friends, relationships – and the state of the world today – politically, economically, environmentally, and otherwise – each day becomes increasingly frustrating, worrisome, and overwhelming. Even despite our best efforts to retain a positive mindset, it seems we are always thrust back into the stress, pain, or negativity we have worked so hard to put past us. We struggle and fight on, trying everything we can to alleviate our burdens – yet it seems we are looking past what could be a progressive step towards the resolution of many of our daily problems: working with our own mind. Did you ever stop to consider that beginning with change from within could transform our entire lives in a more positive way? Those at the Chakrasambara Buddhist Center in Chelsea, and New Kadampa Buddhist centers throughout the New York area and the globe, would like to introduce this idea to you, because it is truly an idea that everyone and anyone can benefit from.
The Chakrasambara Buddhist Center (CBC) is a welcoming haven in a city that never stops moving – a haven that is open to everyone. Like the other spiritually affiliated branches and centers, CBC works with an extremely clear presentation of Dharma (Buddha’s teachings) in the form of New Kadampa Buddhism, a tradition that was founded by the Tibetan Buddhist Master, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, in order to make Buddhism more accessible for Westerners from all ethnic backgrounds. Through this tradition of Buddhism, anyone who is open to working towards living a more positive, fulfilling, and, of course, happier life can learn about and practice Buddha’s teachings. Geshe Kelsang’s student of twenty-six years, Kadam Morten Clausen, is the Resident Teacher at the Chakrasambara Buddhist Center, chosen by Geshe Kelsang himself when a person in New York City requested him to send a teacher to the area. Kadam Morten, who moved to New York when he was a year old, and lived here for eight years while his father worked in the city, returned to New York in 1994 after living in Denmark and Switzerland and attending university in England, where he met Geshe Kelsang.
CBC’s warm and eloquent Resident Teacher, who oversees the center and its many other branches, and also teaches at the Vajra Light Buddhist Center in White Plains, was drawn to Buddhism in his teenage years because of “the fact that it explains suffering in terms of our psychology, in terms of the mind.” As Kadam Morten reflects, “Buddha’s First Noble Truth was that ‘everyone suffers.’ My father had died when I was sixteen, so I had already encountered impermanence, and suffering.” Through New Kadampa Buddhism, Kadam Morten says, “I just found such a clear presentation, clear solutions, and an actual practice on how to make those solutions effective in your life.”
With Kadam Morten’s help, and the help of now countless other teachers and students, Geshe Kelsang’s goal of bringing New Kadampa Buddhism to help people in the West find peace and happiness has since been progressing wonderfully. In 1995, Kadam Morten moved into a residential center in Brooklyn with others interested in learning about his teacher’s tradition, and they made the move to a bright fifth floor loft space in Manhattan in 2001, with much success. “In my particular case,” Kadam Morten says, “it’s put me in a position where I can interact with the lives of now thousands of other people and have a very positive impact on their lives, and that’s something I feel very, very fortunate about.” CBC now has branches throughout the city, sister centers throughout all of the other boroughs and New Jersey, as well as the Kadampa Meditation Center New York (KMC-NY, www.kadampanewyork.org), located two hours outside the city, which is where people can go for peaceful weekend retreats, and is also the location of the beautiful national temple, the Kadampa World Peace Temple.
CBC offers three levels of programs based on the books of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (including Transform Your Life and How To Solve Our Human Problems, which Kadam Morten recommends for beginners). The General Program is open to everyone, and includes day and evening classes and classes on the weekends that, as Kadam Morten describes, “are basically introductory level classes where people can learn how to meditate, and they are given basic instruction in the Buddhist outlook on life and are taught very practical solutions for solving their daily problems.” In addition, there are regular day and weekend workshops and retreats, including the very open “Peace of Mind” introductory meditation retreats at KMC-NY. There are also programs for those who wish to study systemically, or train to become teachers themselves. “What I like is that there is a broad spectrum,” Kadam Morten says. “You’ll see all sorts [of people] because it’s not presented slanted towards any particular direction. It’s simply about knowing your own mind and learning how to transform it, and that’s true for everybody, equally.” He adds: “The thing about Buddhism that’s important to remember is that you’ll come to a class and you’ll learn a technique that you can immediately put into effect in your daily life.”
Also important to note is that weekly classes are not only offered at CBC in Chelsea – their web site, www.meditationinnewyork.org, will help you to find a class in your neighborhood at other centers or branches. As we all know, the sensory overload of living in New York City can play its own part in wearing you down, and as Kadam Morten mentioned, “Just to be able to go into your heart and find some peace there, it just becomes such a crucial tool to use throughout your day.” New Kadampa Buddhist programs also come with a sense of community: “What you have here is a group of people who are committed to working on themselves, kindness, helping others… So it’s a lovely place – not just here, but all the branches,” Kadam Morten says.
There’s an old saying that goes, “if nothing changes, nothing changes.” These days, “change” has become the buzzword, but in reality, as Kadam Morten noticed, “everyone’s quite cynical about change, and at some level feel we can’t really change the direction of the country, we can’t really change enough to stop the impending climate crisis – and in truth, people feel they can’t really change themselves.” In times like this, especially, Buddhism can come as a welcome alternative. “What Buddhism really teaches you is that you can investigate the nature of the mind and really come to understand who you are, and in so doing you can see that change is really possible, that you can bring about change in yourself,” Kadam Morten says. “And once you see that you can bring about change in yourself, then you recognize that changing everything is possible – it just depends on our outlook, it depends on our mind.”