Buddhism in the Valley

contemplating the local meditation scene

Amanda Schaefer, photos by Jesse Johnson

Eau Claire’s Buddhist Sangha meets every Tuesday at Yoga Center of Eau Claire for meditation and dharma discussions.

Breathe in (whoo), breathe out (whee) … clear your mind of all …Crap, I hope I remembered to turn my cell phone off.

I’m definitely a novice when it comes to meditation. But there are people in the Chippewa Valley who practice Buddhism regularly and with much more focus.

It’s hard to define what a Buddhist is. There are many different kinds of Buddhism, and various levels of practice. The schools aren’t as rigidly discrete as sects of other religions. Rather, they flow and influence each other. But there are basic precepts that Buddhists follow. They include the detachment from the illusory temporal world, enlightenment through meditation, and compassion for all living things. These, among other teachings attributed to Buddha, are collectively called “dharma,” and a group of Buddhists is called a “sangha.” In Eau Claire, there is a Buddhist sangha that meets every Tuesday night at the Eau Claire Yoga Center on Water Street for meditation and dharma discussions.

The group was started around 15 years ago by Rita Gross, who taught religious studies at UW-Eau Claire at the time. The group includes members of various ages and backgrounds, as well as different Buddhist perspectives. “We all have our own personal Buddhist ‘heroes’ who inspire us – the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hahn, for instance,” said member Buckley Lot Cloud. The sangha provides a space for practitioners who follow all types of Buddhism to practice and discuss the dharma.

But just what is “practice?” For the Eau Claire Buddhist Sangha, practice includes a mixture of zazen (sitting meditation) and walking meditation, where the group slowly and mindfully walks around the room, breathing evenly with each step. There is a meditation leader who explains how to meditate to any newcomers, and rings a bell (a small brass bowl) to signal the beginning, middle, and end of the meditation. The group then listens to a dharma talk (recorded or from a guest speaker) and discusses it. Outside of their Tuesday night meetings, the group keeps in touch via e-mail and holds various Buddhism-related events and meetings, priding itself on bringing religious diversity to the Chippewa Valley.

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