By Nathan J. Gallagher
Located in the foothills just outside of Ukiah, Calif., the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas played host to 60 Humboldt State University students over the weekend of Oct. 11-13 as part of a one-credit seminar.
This special course, offered through the religious studies department, provided students with a first hand look at the life of Buddhist monks and nuns at the beautiful northern California monastery.
Throughout the weekend HSU students took part in traditional Buddhist activities, including recitation ceremonies, silent meditation and Tai’ Chi.
Religious studies Professor William Herbrechtsmeier has facilitated the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas weekend seminar for over a decade, and believes that it offers a unique contrast to the way students typically live.
“The primary thing is that students get a direct experience of a spiritual pathway within the disciplined existence of a Buddhist monastery,” Herbrechsmeier said. “We live life in such a secular, make-money style, that we miss so much that the world has to offer with a radical reorientation of consciousness and purpose.”
As part of the disciplined experience, Humboldt State students woke at 3:30 a.m. each morning to prepare for the 4 a.m. morning recitation. This was followed by an hour of silent meditation before breakfast was served. But unlike breakfast at the J, the cooks City of Ten Thousand Buddhas served only what they harvested from their garden or had donated to them. And because Buddhists do not believe in killing any living creature, all meals were lacto-vegetarian.
Despite the lack of bacon and eggs , junior psychology student Kendra Hartsuyker found the seminar to be very rewarding.
“Visiting the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was an amazing experience,” Hartsuyker said. “The City’s ambiance was so serene, especially while getting up at 3:30 a.m. Getting the opportunity to experience another culture and religion was very eye opening and informative.”
Another striking contrast to most students’ normal lives was the separation of men and women. Male and female students were housed in dorms at opposite ends of the campus from each other, and discouraged from interacting with each other unless a third party was present. The only time in which the men and women convened was for recitations, meals and guest speakers.
This didn’t seem to bother Humboldt State sophomore Annika Ragsdale.
“I didn’t even really think about it to be honest,” Ragsdale said. “We all saw each other a few times a day, so it wasn’t like they were on a completely different planet or anything.”
According to its website, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas was established in 1974. Prior to that the land housed the Mendocino State Hospital. Now this spacious campus, which is approximately 700-acres, features fruit and nut orchards, a vegetarian restaurant that is open to the public and a plethora of wildlife.
“The peacocks were my favorite,” Hartsuyker said.
Humboldt State University students have the opportunity to explore these wonderful grounds each term, according to Professor Herbrechsmeier.
“CTTB weekend is offered every semester,” Herbrechsmeier said. “We encourage students to attend, (and it can be repeated) and to consider attending our other workshops. We offer exposure to Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other traditions. All of these workshops help to show students through direct exposure what life in religious communities can be like.”
When asked if she would consider attending a similar weekend seminar, HSU student Hartsuyker answered without hesitation.
“I would definitely go on another experiential weekend with the religious studies program.”