Join our Editor, Grace Xanthos, on a joyful visit to the local Buddhist Center…
You know how things can suddenly fall into place all at once? Well, that happened for me recently. You see, the Coachella Valley has always struck me as a spiritual place, but I’ve never been able to find a meditation center— even though I’ve had my eyes open. Then I recognized that a good friend of mine had a new glow to him, as if a light had been switched on inside. So I asked him if he had found something new in his life. He told me that, in fact, he had. He had been attending classes in meditation at the Dharmachakra Buddhist Center (DBC) in Palm Springs.
“There’s a Buddhist Center in Palm Springs?” I blurted out. Sure enough, there is. And it offers classes in Cathedral City and Palm Desert too. Who knew? Well, as it turns out, lots of people know. And what delightful people they are.
I had a chance to visit with two of the founders of the Center recently, Saundra Young and Ray Potter. Saundra is the Resident Teacher, and her husband, Ray, is the Center’s Assistant Administrative Director. The DBC is a member of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), which was introduced in England in the 1970’s by the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. He has continued to develop the tradition for Westerners, and the movement has spread around the world.
There are several Kadampa Centers in Los Angeles and one in San Diego, which started sending a teacher to the Coachella Valley in 2004. But when Saundra and Ray arrived from Princeton, New Jersey, in 2007, the DBC was foundering. And they didn’t want to see it die. “One of the reasons we wanted to move to the Palm Springs area is that there was an NKT Center here,” says Saundra. “When it looked like the Center was going to disappear, we were determined
to keep it going.”
It took a while for the center in San Diego to recognize that their branch in the Valley was suffering—and that the solution was close at hand. “Ray and I had helped to found an NKT Center in Princeton, and I had taught a weekly class there. So I was ready to teach,” says Saundra, her voice rising with enthusiasm. “All they had to do was ask me!”
In the summer of 2008, Saundra was asked to teach, at last, and started offering a class every Tuesday night at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert. “There was pent-up demand for classes in meditation and Buddhist thought,” adds Ray. “We opened the doors the day after Labor Day and were stunned by the number of people who came in. Many of them told us that they had been looking for classes here for years.”
After several moves, the Center relocated to its present lovely space on Sunrise Way. New students continue to walk through the doors: “Nearly every class we offer has at least one new student each week,” Saundra reports. And she adds, in a very Buddhist way, “We have plenty of space for more students. We’re really committed to helping everyone learn how to be happy all the time.”
I can say from my own experience that it is a lot easier to learn to meditate and to practice new meditation techniques when you have a teacher and are surrounded by like-minded people. “There’s a lot of positive energy generated in our classes,” says Saundra. “And people respond to that.”
Some of the classes are simply about meditation, but most include some of Buddha’s teachings, called dharma. “All of our teachings have a very simple goal,” according to Saundra. “Just like Buddha himself, 2600 years ago, we’re trying to help people feel happier in their everyday lives. And Buddha had some very good ideas that are still helping people today.”
Meditation is one of those ideas. “Buddha didn’t invent meditation,” Saundra notes, “but he experienced its potential for calming a busy mind, for helping our minds to settle down.” For Buddhists, a calm mind is a happy mind, and vice versa.
Meditation seems to be in the news all the time. Everyone from medical doctors to alternative medicine practitioners are recommending it. Meditating, especially when you combine it with Buddha’s teachings, Saundra says, can “reduce stress, anger, anxiety, depression, and other negative states of mind.” It can also boost creativity and help practitioners enjoy better focus and concentration.
Ray describes Buddhist philosophy as a “psychology of mind” and adds “we’re not offering what people think of as religious teachings. We’re helping people use the potential of their own minds to break their bad habits and give up behaviors that aren’t helping them.” That’s what allows people to get happier, sometimes immediately. “One of things I love most about teaching dharma and meditation classes,” Saundra recounts, “is seeing how a light comes on in students’ eyes when they recognize that there are simple ways that they can make positive changes in their lives and minds.”
The DBC is a very welcoming place. With students from 18 to 80 years old, it is brimming with good vibes. You are likely to be greeted with an offer as soon as you walk in the door: “Would you like a hug?” Whether your answer is yes or no, you can’t help but be drawn in by the warmth and enthusiasm of the group. Many students report that their reaction to their first class was “Why didn’t I find this place sooner? It’s just what I was looking for!” All of the classes offer accessible teachings that can be applied easily to everyday living. “That’s the job of all of our teachers in all of our classes,” notes Saundra. “We make ancient teachings modern. We want people to feel better as quickly as possible.” And, she adds, when you feel happier, you’re nicer to the people around you, like your family and co-workers. “That’s how Buddhists believe the world changes for the better, one happy mind at a time.”
I know that’s what I want, so I’m going to drop into a few classes myself. All of the classes are drop-in, some are free, most cost a very reasonable $10 per class.
Oh, and hugs are free. Any place where the motto is, “We’re ready to help everyone be happy all the time,” is my kind of place! a Dharmachakra Buddhist
Center is located at:
1445 N Sunrise Way #104, Palm Springs,
(800) 988-3396, or visit the website for more