Zendo club finds enlightenment in meditation, chants

Steven Harbaugh

Tim McCarthy, a soto-zen teacher, leads the Kent Zendo group every Sunday in the Student Center. McCarthy is also a philosophy professor at Lakeland Community College.

Credit: Steven Harbaugh

As sports bars were filled with cheering football fans for Sunday’s Super Bowl, about 15 members of Kent Zendo were meditating and chanting in the Student Center.

The group, which formed in Fall 2003, underwent a name change this semester — it was previously known as the Kent State Buddhist Group. The group recently began fliering the campus. Tim McCarthy, a soto-zen teacher who lives in Kent and a professor of philosophy at Lakeland Community College, leads the group each week in two hours of discussion, meditation and chanting. Lectures, movies and other events are also planned for the semester, McCarthy said.

Meetings and the membership are relaxed and informal, something that is typically uncommon in Buddhist groups. Unlike stringent traditional Buddhism, the group wears casual clothing during the service, discusses both spiritual matters and everyday topics and doesn’t always follow rigidly with Buddhist holidays.

“It’s not like we meet and Tim preaches to us,” said Brian Peshek, graduate student in philosophy and a member of the group since it began. “We come and discuss whatever, from our studies to science fiction films.”

Zen practice believes all are already enlightened and meditation and chanting help its followers gain access to the enlightenment at their core, Peshek said.

But the group does remove its shoes and sit on traditional pillows. They also chant the Heart Sutra, a traditional Tibetan Buddhist chant that is to Buddhists what scripture is to Christians, according to Peshek. The group also uses traditional Buddhist items that complement the chants, such as a statue with fish eyes. Zen believes fish symbolize enlightenment because they never close their eyes, not even to blink.

Many members of the group are also philosophy majors, something McCarthy attributes to the fact that philosophy majors usually read Zen teachings at some point in their college career that intrigue them in the practice.

“It’s so nice to be here,” Eireann Kyle, junior philosophy major, said to McCarthy as she was leaving her first meeting. “I was so happy to find this group.”

McCarthy does plan to make the group more concordant with Buddhist holidays and Buddhist teachings other than Zen, but right now, the group prefers Zen teachings.

“Some groups are very militaristic,” McCarthy said. “They’re philosophically open but insistent on forms. For Americans, and especially Americans, that doesn’t work out so well.”

The basis of Buddhism is ethical living, something McCarthy said is difficult for others to comprehend because they don’t believe in God.

“We have no imperative to save people’s souls,” he said. “We’re just here to offer a spiritual alternative and to help people mature their spirituality.”

Kent Zendo meets at 7 p.m. on Sundays in room 308 of the Kent Student Center.

Contact religion and culture reporter Steven Harbaugh at [email protected].