By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
CHANGE YOUR MIND, change the world.
This is the radical thought of Buddhism--regarded by some as a religion and by others as a philosophy--and the message is finding its way to a growing number of young adults in Dallas who are searching for peace during a time of upheaval.
At an Oak Cliff Buddhist center, some of its youngest members believe the best way to effect positive change is to strike at the enemy within. They eschew arms and guerrilla tactics. They take their seat on the floor and wrestle with their thoughts and urges in a very private theater of war.
Elizabeth Turner sits on the sofa at the Karma Thegsum Choling, a Tibetan Buddhist center in Oak Cliff. She spins a prayer wheel and recites the mantra: Om mani padme hum. Every night before bed, the 18-year-old says, she prays for those who have died on both sides of the war in Iraq.
She says she doesn't like to watch the evening news with its body counts and fear-mongering.
"Everybody's worried about terrorism--when's the next hit, what's next, who's next, where and how," she says in a rush and then covers her ears as if to block the words. "More people keep dying in war, and more are signing up. They're risking their lives for us--which is cool--but they shouldn't have to face death."
Buddhism, with its emphasis on getting hold of disruptive thoughts and feelings through meditation, has given her a way to remain calm despite having a family member stationed in Iraq.
"It takes practice," she says with a studious air, pushing the pair of glasses up on her nose. A smile breaks: "But everything takes practice."
On any given Sunday, a dozen or so spiritual shoppers under the age of 30 stop in for a lesson on meditation and to hear the weekly teaching given by the spiritual head of the center, the charming and charismatic Venerable Lama Dudjom Dorjee.
Lama Dudjom, a meditation master and refugee from the Chinese communist invasion of Tibet, was sent to teach dharma--basic principles--to Westerners under the direct orders of the 16th Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu school of Buddhism who died in 1981. The lineage is currently led by the 17th Karmapa, now 19.
The shrine room holds about 40 students who sit on samadhi cushions, legs crossed, and face the robed teacher who leads them into meditation and a talk on a selected topic. The room is a dazzling display of color with thangkas--Buddhist iconography painted on cloth--and images of the previous Karmapas.
In his office, Lama Dudjom says he is not in a position to take political sides or even speculate about national motivation. But he does know when thoughts go sideways. Acts of aggression are essentially the same. The reasons may vary, but their roots are lodged in the same ground: ignorance, hatred and desire. So, he reasons, if a person conquers the three poisons, society benefits.
"All human beings need to deal with their own mind," he says. By doing so, "we learn how we can clean up our own mess. Then the whole world will be in a better situation. Our society will change into a more enlightened society when there is no more anger, no jealousy, no hatred towards anybody--and that means yourself, too--no more blaming."
"Buddha's message is entirely timeless," says the center's director, Larry Keenan. "Buddha addressed the universality of suffering. And there is a lot of suffering in the world. The more you look, the more you find."
The idea that people can change the quality of their lives by thinking sounds easy, but when it comes to decisions that go beyond, say, changing your mind from onion rings to fries or choosing not to drop-kick some idiot in an Escalade through the goal posts of hell, things fall apart.
It gets a little complicated with war, for instance. A little tricky to think positive thoughts when people intentionally slam planes into buildings. It's hard to find that peaceful place when masked men are sawing through a young man's neck.
For Gerardo Mulas, who teaches yoga at the center, the temptation is to react to violence with violence. But, he says, that only perpetuates the problem.
"In today's world, turning the other cheek doesn't seem to work," Mulas, 30, says. "I'm not saying you should respond with aggression, but you should have the knowledge and tools to prevent a situation from worsening."
That starts by vowing not to kill, says 17-year-old dharma student Nathan Springer.
"Congress will tell you that war is inevitable or that it's a last resort," he says. "Bullshit. Nothing ever justifies taking another person's life. You cannot kill; you cannot sacrifice people for an idea."
Springer, an entering senior at Woodrow Wilson High School, was raised Buddhist but only began to seriously practice it two years ago as a way to manage his rage and bouts of depression as well as cope with his father's illness.
In lay terms, Springer says when something pisses him off, the challenge is to watch his mind and not react--like when the neighbor let his dog crap on the lawn.