Buddhism is one of the world religions, originated in India and based on the teachings of Buddha. According to the studies of the Pew Research Center, 6.9 percent of the world population in the year 2015 is Buddhist. Behind Jews, Buddhists live the longest.
Most of them live in China, where they are a minority. The countries, where Buddhism is the main religion are Bhutan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The vast majority of the world’s Buddhist population is located in the Asian-Pacific area.
(Left) Ayya Soma, (right) Bhante Suddhāso
Ayya Soma is a Buddhist nun, originally from Italy, living for more than ten years in New York City. She runs Buddhist Insights, a non-profit organization she co-founded with Bhante Suddhāso in 2016 to connect people with Buddhist monks and nuns.
The organization brings monks and nuns of all Buddhist traditions together to teach meditation and mindfulness all over New York, at art galleries and museums like the MoMa and the New York Botanical Garden; start-ups and companies like Google; farms and cemeteries; and at the Rockaway Summer House their retreat center by the beach.
How does your normal day look like?
Life as a Buddhist monk is petty ‘uneventful’! I wake up at dawn and start the day with morning practice, which typically includes chanting followed by an hour of sitting meditation. After this we have a small breakfast, do our cleaning chores, and eat lunch. I am currently following the Theravada precept of not eating after-noon, which is a practice aimed at shedding light upon our attachments towards food and practicing renunciation, aka the joy of missing out. This means the rest of my day is freed up from the burden of edible nourishment, and can focus on other types of foods for thought, which range from studying to creating the conditions for programs take place at Buddhist Insights. The day usually ends with sitting meditation and listening to a Dhamma talk.
What is the content of your workshops for companies like Google?
During our programs monks guide people through the tenets of Buddhist practice, with a focus on the practical elements of meditation and mindfulness, and on how to attain unconditional happiness.
How do you run the Rockaway Summer House and what is happening there?
Every weekend we offer contemplative retreats and sustainability programs centered on towards organic farming. All the programs are offered without a price-tag, and the organization runs entirely on donations thanks to the generosity of its attendees. We lead meditation and teach principles of Buddhism at the house. During breaks, attendees may walk to the ocean. In addition to meditation, the center also offers wellness workshops and surfing-themed programs.
How do the people in New York City see Buddhism? Is it a growing trend?
The majority of people who attend our events are relatively young, 20 to 40 years old, and fairly new to Buddhist practice. Most people identify as agnostic or atheist and/or do not identify with their birth religion. As Buddhism is not a theistic religion, nor a belief-system, but a body of knowledge that requires practice and study, it is accessible to a large variety of people from different walks of life and backgrounds.
Does an international network of Buddhists exist and do they support each other?
Contrarily to Catholicism, for example, where there is a central figure and organization that governs the church worldwide, in Buddhism there is no ‘Vatican’ or ‘pope’. In fact over the past 2500 years Buddhism has developed somewhat independently in most parts of Asia and in fact has taken outward forms that can appear radically different: from the chanting, to the robes the monastics wear, to the rituals, etc., it can sometimes look like an entirely different religion. This being said, in recent times, as we are turning into a more connected and globalized world, and Buddhism has spread and grown in the West, there are grassroots efforts of creating more connection and networking between traditions and monastics of different traditions.
Do you have something you want to add or share?
May all beings be happy and secure!