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Lions Roar : March 2019
When I meditate, my breathing becomes strained and uncomfortable. I know the breath is important in Buddhist meditation. Am I doing it wrong? You can’t breathe wrong. Generally, Buddhist meditation is not a yogic prac- tice in which you’re supposed to breathe in a particular way (although this can be the case in certain advanced meditations). In mindfulness practice, the breath is often used as the focal point or object of concentration. Because it’s a practice of nonjudgmental awareness, you’re simply aware of the breath as it is, without trying to change it. In fact, trying to control your breath in some subtle way might be the reason you’re experiencing discomfort. It’s the para- dox we find throughout Buddhism: the best way to get what you want is often to let go of trying to get it (and not trying not to try, to make it even more dif- ficult). Having said all that, doing a bit of yoga before you start meditating, or beginning your session with a few intentional deep, slow breaths, might help you get naturally to the deep and calm breathing that leads to—and reflects— a peaceful, aware mind. I sometimes see Buddhists with strings of beads around their necks or wrists. What are they for? For some, malas, or Buddhist prayer beads, are simply a fashion accessory. For others, they’re a tool. They’re primarily used to count mantra recitations, prostrations, or breaths during meditation, allowing practi- tioners to focus on the practice itself rather than on counting. In certain Buddhist sects in Japan, prayer beads are also rubbed together to create a grinding sound that’s considered purifying. Malas are made in a variety of styles. Malas of 108 beads are common, as are malas of fifty-four or twenty-seven beads. (Fifty-four is 108 divided by two and twenty-seven is 108 divided by four.) The beads themselves are often made of seeds or wood. Other materials include crystal, shell, plastic, and even human bone. Sometimes the material determines how the mala is used. For example, gold beads are considered appropriate for reciting mantras aimed at increasing something, be it merit or knowledge. Malas may incorporate tassels or talismans. And they may just look cool. ♦ WHO? WHAT? WHERE? Tell us what you’d like to know about Buddhism and meditation at firstname.lastname@example.org NAROPA UNIVERSITY FOUNDED BY THE LATE Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa, Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, is a leader in contemplative education. Named after an eleventh-century Indian yogi and scholar, the Buddhist- inspired university offers undergraduate and master’s programs combining Western scholarship and Eastern contemplative practice. Its motto is “Transform Yourself. Transform the World.” Naropa opened its doors in 1974 with a series of sum- mer programs taught by renowned cultural, spiritual, and intellectual figures such as Allen Ginsberg, John Cage, Anne Waldman, Ram Dass, Diane di Prima, and Gregory Bateson. Organizers expected a turnout of fewer than two hundred, but more than 1,300 people attended the formal opening ceremony. Trungpa Rinpoche gave the opening address, saying that Naropa would be a place “where East meets West, and sparks will fly.” Accredited in 1986, Naropa University now has nearly a thousand students. It offers programs in the arts, education, psychology, environmental studies, and religious studies. Each summer, more than sixty guest faculty teach at the the Jack Kerouac School of Dis- embodied Poetics, Naropa’s internationally renowned writing program founded by Ginsberg and Waldman. In order to marry scholarship and contemplation, each of Naropa’s programs provides students with opportunities to incorporate mindfulness into their education. For example, students in the contempla- tive psychotherapy degree spend two weeks on retreat each semester and engage in at least five hours of meditation per week. Naropa students can also embark on gap-year programs in India or South America, or apply for semester-long study abroad programs in Bhutan. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2019 33 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE