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Beginner’s Mind: Meditating on the Path of Life

Beginner’s Mind is a special project from BDG collecting insightful essays written by US college students who have attended experiential-learning courses related to Buddhism. Some of the authors identify as Buddhists, for others it is their first encounter with the Buddhadharma. All are sharing reflections and impressions on what they’ve learned, how it has impacted their lives, and how they might continue to engage with the teaching.

Farisha Sultan wrote this essay for her Buddhist Modernism course at the University of Southern California (USC), a private university in Los Angeles. Farisha is a senior double majoring in Religious Studies and Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. After graduation, she plans to conduct research for a year before attending medical school to become an ER physician.

Meditating on the Path of Life

Now that the semester is ending and I am completing this reflection essay, I wanted to take a look at my initial survey to see the growth that has occurred over the past 14 weeks. When asked initially why I selected this course and what I wanted to learn, I stated: “I selected this class as a course in order to learn more about Buddhism, as I have never learned about Buddhism in any context. As a religion major who is a Muslim and has some Hindu background, I have always been interested in taking courses that expose me to different viewpoints. I already have taken multiple courses on Judaism and Christianity, so when I saw this course being offered I knew that it was something new that I would want to explore at USC during my last semester.”

Aside from gaining academic knowledge about Buddhism, I have also gained insights into my daily practices and values in life. The meditation journal that is a part of our weekly activities has helped me to incorporate this practice into my everyday life. If I am being honest, I struggled to do any meditation outside of the 10 minutes we would do in class for the first 2 months of the semester. It was difficult for me to incorporate something into my life that I did not understand or recognize its importance. 

What changed for me was that this semester happened to overlap with the religious month of Ramadan. Through this month and its practices, I was able to incorporate daily meditation with my daily prayers. Because I had time carved out daily for praying that I was required to do, it was easy to continue this activity for a couple more minutes to include my daily meditation. Recently, I was able to combine prayer and meditation into one (as I viewed best fit my needs), and I definitely feel as if I am reaching a new stage of spiritual enlightenment. For this form of meditation/prayer, I reflect and feel grateful while focusing on my breathing. I know it will be difficult to carry this on after the month of Ramadan because I will be graduating and applying to medical school. However, I am hoping that the habits instilled in me this month will make me disciplined enough to continue. 

I also hope that this habit continues because with so much uncertainty in my life over the next couple of months, it is nice to take some time to simply reflect on my existence and remember the reasons why I am so appreciative of the life I have been given. It seems crazy to me that a couple of months ago I did not really know what meditating was or how to practice it, and this is something I figured out how to do (in the best way for me) and practice it almost daily. 

For my future interest in Buddhism, I would like to explore the topic of karma and the communalistic culture that Buddhism promotes. I would love to read more and research into how we can apply the positive aspects of this communalistic culture on individualistic societies such as the United States. Beyond the scope of the class and meditation, I hope to practice mindfulness and the concepts of Buddhism and health in my future life. I want to be able to care for my body and health the way that I should. I also want to practice mindfulness in order to become a more empathetic person.

I feel that future Buddhist Modernism courses should be carried out in a similar manner, but could include more hands-on activities and workshops in order to immerse the students in Buddhism. Instead of having weekly readings, other media forms such movies, TV shows, and news channels could be incorporated to give students a different perspective on the content being taught. In addition, I would have liked to have students ask more questions and have a sort of weekly Q&A session. This would be a couple of minutes of assigned time when students would have the opportunity to raise their questions on a certain topic and the entire class would try to answer the question for them. I believe that this would encourage a greater sharing of knowledge and active class participation. 

If I were to describe this course and my learning experience in one word, phrase, or sentence, then I would say that this course is: one in which I can truly focus on learning and not regurgitating information for the sake of a good grade. I felt that I was able to complete assignments and take my time in learning the valuable content, instead of feeling overwhelmed and pressured to learn everything discussed in class/readings for an exam that would determine my entire grade. I enjoyed and appreciated being able to take a class at USC where, above all, learning and experiences were valued. It made me appreciate being at USC and adding on a religion major my last year. Thank you for everything this semester!

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