Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Office of the Chaplain hosts Vesak with Buddhist monk Bhante Sathi

On Sunday, May 19, students and Northfield community members gathered in the Skinner Memorial Chapel for an evening of learning and meditation in the observance of Vesak, the commemoration of the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. The event was led by Bhante Sathi, the Guiding Teacher at the Triple Gem of the North Meditation Center, accompanied by another Buddhist monk. 

Sathi gave a short talk before leading a meditation session, where he began by describing the Buddha as a figure who was enlightened with the teachings to purify our minds. “You can have a peaceful mind or an unpeaceful, angry mind by surrounding yourself with those qualities”, he said. Sathi explained that the Buddhist practice is all about introducing and practicing qualities that bring peace and conquering qualities that take peace away. Vesak celebrates the birth, death and enlightenment of the Buddha, but the enlightenment is the most important event because according to Sathi, “without the enlightenment we do not have the teachings.”

The celebration of Vesak is observed by gathering in groups and practicing Buddhist teaching. This usually means meditation and deep self-reflection, but people also light lanterns and have festive gatherings in a manner that recognizes the spiritual roots of the holiday. Vesak is also a day for Buddhists to practice compassion, and to be mindful not to harm any living creature directly or indirectly. 

Sathi explained how in our lives, we are constantly upgrading things like our phones, computers and appliances to either add new features or correct some mistakes from the older version. “But how about you? How do you upgrade yourself?” he said. “It is the same method. But you need to know the current version of yourself…you should know why you are having challenges.” He emphasized that according to the Buddha, people can only upgrade themselves, and while other people can help them in different areas of their lives, each person is ultimately responsible for their own happiness. 

As his talk came to a close, Sathi allowed for participants to ask questions. Students asked a few questions, covering topics like avoiding perfectionism while practicing meditation and how to gain confidence while becoming serious in Buddhist practice. 

Sathi translated the meditation technique that he led as “loving friendliness and unconditional love”. He guided the attendees through the session, asking them to close their eyes and then to feel love for themselves, then their families, their friends and coworkers, all of the people in the world that they know and do not know and then every living creature on Earth. As he transitioned between subjects, he repeated the same mantra, “May we be well, happy, skillful and peaceful. May no harm come to us. May no difficulty come to us. May we be free of anger, may we be free of anxiety.”

After the meditation was over, Sathi explained the value of the two words, “Be well”. He said that these words help us guide our intentions and sets forth all of the love in our hearts. The kind of meditation that was practiced on Vesak helped everyone in attendance set intentions for themselves, those close to them, and all members of humanity that they know and do not know. 

As Sathi concluded the event, he asked if anyone had any challenges during meditation or if any questions had come up. One student had asked about how to manage anger in Buddhist practice. Sathi explained how when one person mistreats another, there is more anger than compassion in their heart. “Anger is contagious,” he said. “When you are angry at home, you see everyone raising their voices and arguing. When you have weak compassion, anger will dominate you. The skill of avoiding anger when being mistreated is hard to achieve, but is necessary for self improvement. “It is not difficult to treat others nicely if they treat you nicely. The difficult part is to treat others nicely when they are ill-treating you. That takes skill.” Sathi said. He explained that to be skillful is to “maintain who you are among the unhappy people.”

Reflecting back on anger is also important, because in the moment a person may not recognize that they are experiencing anger. Sathi said that feelings and emotions are beyond words, and to truly be in touch with emotions a person needs to practice self-reflection through meditation, because meditation is beyond words as well.

The final question was from a student about how to wrestle with memory while practicing self-reflection. “Our memory is an interpretation of our experience, we keep replacing and re-replacing our memory,” Sathi said. To demonstrate how a memory can change over years and years, Sathi told the attendees a story about a retired professor from Harvard. He explained that a professor was having a retirement party, and after thirty years of teaching he was able to gather all of his students from the first class he ever taught, who were freshmen at the time. The professor recounted the very first assignment that he gave the students, which was to write about how they felt about leaving home. He passed out pieces of paper and asked his now-adult students to think back to how they felt in that very first class and write about it. All of the graduates wrote about how scared they felt and how difficult it was to leave home. Then, the professor passed out all of the students’ original assignments from thirty years earlier, and every essay was about how happy they were to leave home, how they were finally free and were full of hopes and dreams for the future at Harvard. Sathi used this story to demonstrate how memories can change all of the time, and everyone present at an experience changes their memory in a different way.

“You have to come and live in the present moment, you cannot blame or praise yourself for your past, just enjoy the present as it is,” he said. After the questions were answered, Sathi and the other monk performed a chant of the attributes of the Buddha. Once the Vesak event was over, the participants gathered in the rear vestibule of the chapel for dinner from House of Curry.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Isaac Kofsky
Isaac Kofsky, Viewpoint Editor
Hi there! I’m Isaac (he/him) and I’m a first-year prospective religion or geology major. I’ve been described as “the chapel’s press liaison” and I love eating dinner at 4:45pm, reading non-fiction, wearing sweaters, and drinking two cups of black coffee at every meal. When I’m not in Carletonian pitch meetings or in religion class, you can normally find me doing homework in the chapel or drinking tea in the religion lounge.   Isaac Kofsky '27 was previously a Beat Writer.  

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *