The primary contact for the conference was Maurice Hoover. As far as planning of the conference most of it was already completed when we arrived, after we were informed as to where the various sessions would take place, all that was required was to help direct people and attend the lectures, which was quite interesting and very helpful. We also assisted in setting up chairs and other minor logistical issues. At the end we did help clean up and we left at around 5:30.
The name of the conference where our service project took place was called "Equanimity: Maintaining Balance." The conference itself gave me much insight into the nature of Buddhism at least as it is practiced in the United States. Our classroom preparation on Buddhism gave me some familiarity with some of the terms they used, such as the sangha and the types of meditation. I was also aware, through my previous classroom experience, the deference paid to the leaders of the conference. In this reflection paper I will try to explain what I learned during this service project not only about Buddhism as a religion, but the way in which religion is understood and practiced and I hope to explain what I learned about myself as well.
One thing I immediately learned is how different religions adjust to the culture in which they are practiced. For example one of the speakers the Venerable Bhante Kassapa Bhikkhu engages in a number of practices such as Sunday Services, and youth ministry. He is also the Chaplain to Buddhist inmates at a federal corrections facility in Texas. Furthermore, in the description of Kassapa they refer at one point to his close collaboration with an abbot. All of these practices and institutions are primarily Western in character, the abbot is a position within a Christian church and many of the other elements are also Christian in nature. This blending of religious practices is a common feature of religions, and in fact most religions undergo some level of syncretism. What is interesting in this case, is how seamlessly the blending of various practices seemed to be. One might expect that certain religions, especially ones that derive from a completely different tradition to be resistant to these kinds of formal structures from other religious traditions. However, they have managed to do so and still recognize the authenticity of their traditions.
The central concept during the panel discussion was about Equanimity. The Pali term for this is called Upekkha. Upekkha or Equanimity is very important concept in Buddhism for both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions. It is one of the Four Enlightened States and serves as a stepping stone to reach nirvana or sati. It is a part of the spiritual development process and is often considered the last-identified. In English equanimity refers to one's ability to be undisturbed mentally during periods of stress or trouble. This is not unrelated to the way upekkha is understood in Buddhism. It is important to note and as was emphasized during the panel