If the ancient traditions aren’t for you, or if the city's new meditation centers are a little pricey, fear not. You can now find modern Buddism classes throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey, thanks to the New Kadampa Tradition, a global organization that was started by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, in England, in 1991.
In the New York area, “We’re always operating,” said Julian Corvin, Education Program Coordinator, “because everybody needs meditation.”
No more getting up at 5:45am. Gyatso wanted to make meditation, and the teachings that go along with it, readily accessible to 21st century living. With on-going classes, sky-lit atrium wired for Wi-Fi, Dharma library, bookstore, and self-serve cafe, the center makes finding "the stillness within" easier.
On a recent Wednesday evening, I took a class, with senior teacher Steve Krantz, called Developing The Habit of Meditation, which included a 25-minute guided meditation that incorporated three different techniques—"nostril breathing," "clarity of mind," and "abiding at the heart"—followed by a dharma talk on karma, and then five more minutes of guided meditation.
Students sat in chairs or on cushions. Pitchers of water were set up around the room along with Ricola cough drops, an added bonus on this dry, December night.
With nostril breathing, the instruction was to pay particular attention to the cooling sensation on the inhale and the warmth of the exhale. “All breathing meditations are preliminary practices to pacify or calm the mind,” Krantz said. “We can use the practice of breathing in clear light, the nature of peace, and exhaling dark smoke. We can also combine the breathing meditation with a mantra. We focus on one meditation for a couple of weeks and then work with another. The purpose is to allow the student to find a practice they are most comfortable with.”
After focusing on the breath, the next meditation was "clarity of mind." “This is very effective for beginners because we use our distractions to bring us back to the object of meditation clarity. Normally distractions take us away from the object, so this technique is very rare and helpful,” said Krantz.
"Abiding at the heart" was the third technique. “We are training in moving the mind from the head, where we are constantly talking to ourselves, to our mind at the heart. The heart is where transformation or change takes place. We bring Buddha to our crown and invite him into our heart so that we can mix our ordinary mind with an enlightened mind like mixing water with water. This takes place in our imagination and helps us develop a relationship with enlightenment.”
In the meditation room, museum-quality gold statues encased in glass provide the backdrop to the teacher. Some statues represent real people, such as Buddha Shakyamuni and Je Tsongkhapa, the father of this tradition, with his two disciples. Other statues are goddesses and gods—Tara, the female Buddha of compassion, Prajnaparamita, the female Buddha of wisdom, and Manjushri, the Buddha of wisdom.
While each teacher may infuse his or her own personality and wit to their classes, the teachings are the same—the paths to liberation and enlightenment from a traditional view with a modern flavor. “He (Geshe Kelsang) is teaching modern Buddhism so that it has practical benefits for modern people. Lam rim, a Tibetan term for the stages to the path of enlightenment is the basic foundation teaching. We also learn lojong, training the mind, teachings, and tantra teachings. All teachings are about compassion and wisdom,” Krantz explained.
So the Wednesday evening dharma talk on karma— though interpreted through a Brooklyn accent and light humor—would be the same teachings taught by Joseph Giacona in Williamsburg another day. “The goal is to transmit the teaching of Geshe Kelsang,” said Krantz. And as the website says, “the New Kadampa Tradition encourages people from all ethnic backgrounds to adopt the wisdom and compassion of Buddha and put it into practice in a way that suits their particular culture.”
“Geshe Kelsang describes the teachings as a joyful path. They are very relaxing and fun," Krantz said. "As you go deeper and deeper into the teachings, joy will naturally develop in your heart and mind. You just need to practice slowly, and the joy will come.”
General program classes are $15, and $10 for 60-minute classes. To learn more, click here.