Sharing a message of mindfulness in Washington D.C.
Americans have traveled to outer space and explored the moon, but Americans and all peoples can benefit from a journey towards inner space and the discovery of mindfulness, six Western Buddhist monks from Thailand told members of Congress, staff from the Smithsonian Institution and members of the public during a visit to Washington D.C. last week sponsored by the Royal Thai Embassy.
“American and Western societies have grown to be more objective and progressive and are able to travel to space. But Western society has encountered more obstacles reaching within the mind. This is an opportunity for Dharma talks to reach people and help them develop themselves,’’ American-born monk Ajahn Sumedho told three leading members of Congress and their staff.
Ajahn Sumedho has been described as a seminal figure in disseminating the teachings of Buddha in the West. Joining him on the visit were German-born Ajahn Viradhammo, who is the abbot of the Tisarana Monastery in Canada, Ajahn Pasanno of California, Ajahn Jayanto of New Hampshire, Ajahn Moshe of Thailand, and American Ajahn Asoko. Ajahn means respected teacher in the Thai language.
The Royal Thai Embassy believed the teachings on mindfulness, virtue and wisdom would be of universal benefit to all in attendance no matter their faiths. The Smithsonian Institution and the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW) were also co-hosts for a Dhamma talk in Washington.
At their first stop on Capitol Hill, the monks expounded on mindfulness, often described as a state of being truly aware, and engaged in discussions and brief meditations with Representatives Tony Cardenas (California), Tim Ryan (Ohio), and Thomas Suozzi(New York), along with aides and staff.
At the Smithsonian, Ajahn Pasanno lectured on mindfulness and the search for happiness. “It is not wrong to search for it but mindfulness is not about happiness, it is about awareness. Many people try to control their mind not to think when meditating. They focus only on their breath, which is too rigid. Peace is something we cannot control. The mind naturally cycles and all you should do is be aware of it and let it flow. Your mind will feel and then react. If you have the mindfulness, you will be aware the ‘choices’ before reacting or feeling,” he explained.
At each event, the monks held question and answer sessions. Americans attending asked many questions on a wide range of issues and about meditation and how to practice it.
Another aspect of mindfulness is being in fully in the present, explained Ajahn Sumedho. “Do not think about the result because it is not here yet. Do not think about the past because it cannot be changed. Stay with the present and consider its effects. When we understand it, we can be calm. Mindfulness relieves anxiety,’’ he said.