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Smith welcomes new Buddhist meditation leader

A Report by Sofia Walker '11

Sensei Ryumon Baldoquin, a new addition to the Community Religious Advisers at Smith, leads the weekly Buddhist meditation on Mondays, as well as giving talks about Buddhism during certain lunches. Welcome!

When I asked Ryumon Baldoquin, the Zen priest who leads Buddhist meditation at Smith, why she came to the Pioneer Valley, she said, "Oh, good question." But her answer was better: "I fell in love." She and the Zen priest who used to lead meditation are still together, and teaching from their home.

Her whole attitude to her work is marked by love: her love of teaching, her love of meditation, and her love of spirituality as a whole. "I have always been a teacher," she said, and indeed she taught for 11 years before becoming a priest and changing her subject matter. "Although of course, from a Zen perspective, there is nothing to teach." She thinks of it more as assisting others on their spiritual path.

Ryumon has always been spiritual, although she grew up without any knowledge of Buddhism. Spiritism and Catholicism were the wells from which she drew wisdom. Zen came as a revelation. "The most amazing moment was just sitting and realizing that everything I think is made up. To me, that's really fun."

When she is not having Zen fun, Ryumon still likes to cultivate a sense of play. She enjoys spending time outdoors and reading, especially novels and biographies. She cited some of her favorite authors as Wally Lamb, Toni Morrison, and Cherrie Moraga.

In addition to her work at Smith, Ryumon runs Zen retreats, with her partner, from the school in their home, but she also serves as the contemplative life adviser at Hampshire, training students who want to follow similar paths. "To quote my teacher," she remarked, "everyone is on a spiritual path, whether they know it or not, because everyone is born, and everyone dies. We just need to figure out the in between."

Pondering what comes between birth and death might be one effect of the Monday night meditation. Ryumon also wants to create a sense of self-discovery and a connection to others that will help to meet the challenges and demands of the day to day. Before beginning meditation she asked students why they were there. Some answered that they were curious about meditation, some that it helped them focus when they needed to do work, and some that they were just in search of relaxation.

I certainly felt more relaxed after the meditation, which was broken into three blocks of sitting, walking, and sitting again, with a check-in in between. Although it was challenging to sit still for 20 minutes, after a while I found myself settling in and releasing my need to constantly be thinking or acting. This positive experience seemed to be shared by most of those in attendance -- afterwards several of them asked Ryumon where else in the community they could meditate. "I think it's so great that you all are exploring spiritual paths now, in your 20s," added Ryumon. "I didn't start until my late 30s. You're lucky to begin so early."