Junior studies abroad at ‘Buddha boot camp’
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As a Buddhist, learning how to meditate had been a lifelong dream for Cyprien Bullock. That dream became a reality last year when the English junior traveled to India to live in a monastery alongside
“I kept that dream in my head, and then when the opportunity to study abroad came along, I said, that’s a great chance to try and go to India,” Bullock said.
Traditional study abroad destinations did not interest him, so Bullock took matters into his own hands to find the right one. He found a Buddhist Studies program running out of Antioch University in Minnesota, which allowed him to live, study and meditate in Bodh Gaya
“Bodh Gaya is kind of like Mecca for Muslims or Jerusalem for Christians. It’s the holy site, so Buddhists across the world go there to pay their respects. It’s a very special place for Buddhists,” Bullock said.
The program had a very strict schedule, with the day starting with a 6 a.m. meditation and ending at 5:30 p.m. with another.
“Monastic life is very regimented, it’s like the army. A lot of people call this Buddha bootcamp,”
The students were able to experience several different types of meditation over the course of three months: Burmese vipassana, Japanese zen and a combination of two types of Tibetan meditation.
“They are three very different kinds of meditation, three very different cultures, three very different practices, so there was a huge variety,” Bullock said.
Removing himself from the American way of life and adjusting to life in the monastery was initially difficult for Bullock.
“You don’t realize it, but when you remove yourself from the mainstream culture of the States and you go to this no alcohol, no smoking, clean, rigid environment just to meditate, you feel like an addict. It was like rehab for a lot of people. Being away from all that, it really forces you to face yourself, face your emotions and face your negative thinking patterns,” Bullock said.
Being away from home during the 2016 presidential election was trying for Bullock and the other Americans in the program, he said.
“It was weird being there during the election. We all meditated more during the election process, because it was a very stressful time,” Bullock said.
There are elements of Buddhism that Bullock believes could help with the difficulties of America’s current political climate.
“Buddhists believe in non-dualism. This is a huge thing in the States, this binary of red or blue, Democrat or Republican, this or that, yes or no,” Bullock said.
“If you listen to Trump’s rhetoric, he oversimplifies these very complicated issues into the forces of evil and the good guys, and ‘America first’ and the others. It’s really dangerous for the mind. But I love how in Buddhism there’s no binary, there’s no this or that, there’s no me or you. We are the same energy, we’re the same elements. Buddhism collapses the barriers between right and wrong, between yes and no,” Bullock said.
Bullock said the program was a transformative experience, and he believes he has returned to the United States a different person. He hopes to use his experience to make the Loyola community a more compassionate place.
“A big part of the program for me was trying to get back in touch with my emotions and be more sensitive. The whole program is supposed to develop your compassion, for others and for yourself,” Bullock said.
Still, Bullock said he doesn’t want to force his Buddhism on anyone.
“I’m trying not to shove it down people’s throats; I’m just trying to be a nice person, to be compassionate to other people and to be a kind presence on campus, because a big part of Buddhism, or any spiritual practice or religious order, is community,” Bullock said.