Center for Faith and Vocation

Dromtonpa Buddhism

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Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Center
(317) 374-5281
6018 N. Keystone Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46220
http://www.meditation-indianapolis.org
Email the Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Center

Institutional History/Information

Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Center was established in 1998 by Tom Mitchell, a professor at Indiana University. The center belongs to the New Kadampa Tradition - International Kadampa Buddhist Union which was founded by the Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Gyatso is internationally known as one of the foremost masters of meditation and teachers of Mahayana Buddhism. With spiritual communities in countries including the Unites States, Mexico and Canada, the New Kadampa Tradition is practiced worldwide with the goal of achieving world peace.

The mission of the Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Center is to share the dharma (Buddhist teachings) to the people of Central Indiana, allowing them to lead happier, more meaningful lives. Five different programs strive to achieve this goal. First, the general program is an introductory level class available to the public. By attending this program, one becomes familiar with the basics of Buddhism and its teachings. The second program involves chanted meditation. Lasting forty-five to ninety minutes, chanting meditation assists the participant in understanding the importance of meditation within the context of Buddhist traditions. This class is open to the community at large as an introduction to Buddhism as well. The last two adult programs are focused on the ultimate development of one's spirituality. Specifically, the foundation class is for followers that want to deepen their knowledge of the dharma. In this program, one studies not only the teachings of dharma, but also the history of Buddhism. This program is formatted much like that of an organized class. After completion of the foundation program, one may advance to the teacher training program. From a series of classes, one learns how to effectively teach dharma. Ultimately, one finishes the class as a dharma teacher. In addition to adult programs, the Buddhist Center also encourages kids to practice love and compassion through its Dharma for Kids program.

Demographics

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The age range of those who attend the regular program at Dromtonpa is broad, and includes people in their twenties right up to senior citizens. The occupations and economic status of those who attend varies as well, though most of those who attend are middle-aged Euro-Americans. On any given Thursday, around 15 people attend the regular program. All of them at the moment are converts to Buddhism.

Service Style

Located in the Historic Fountain Square Neighborhood, the Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Center holds a variety of services such as teaching programs and chanted meditations. The regular service, the general program, is held every Thursday evening beginning at 7 pm. Followers meet in the upstairs of the center which consists of two rooms. The first room is used primarily to store the practitioners' coats and shoes. It also contains shelves of important Buddhist texts, images of the Buddha, and a large framed photograph of the Center's established spiritual director, Gyatso. The General Program takes place in the second room. Seven or eight rows of red cushioned chairs line the small but elaborately decorated space. An aisle separates the seats and leads to a small platform where the teacher addresses the attendees. The service is initiated with the entrance of the teacher down this center aisle. When entering, the teacher bows three times to show respect to the Buddha. Subsequent to the teacher entrance, all those in attendance then sing a chant, accompanied by music and led by the teacher. Next, the teacher, seated on the central stage between multiple figures of the Buddha, guides a short meditation where one focuses on breathing. An hour long Dharma talk follows, which usually corresponds to one of Gyatso's books. The teacher opens the room to a short question-and-answer session afterwards, and then prompts the practitioners into a longer and more independent meditation (15-20 minutes). The general program concludes with a bow.

What To Expect

If first time visitors to the Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Center call ahead to inform the center of their visit, they can expect a warm, personal welcome and even a short tour of the building. Visitors should dress modestly, casually, and comfortable. Shoes must be removed before entering the service. Visitors should expect to participate in guided chanting and sit for extended periods of time either listening to the teacher or in meditation. Meditation can be done sitting in the chairs with feet flat on the floor or with feet tucked in lotus position. An informal question-and-answer session immediately follows the dharma talk in which the teacher may be addressed directly. One should freely articulate any questions at this time. The Dromtonpa Center believes that Buddha's teachings help people to have more fulfilling, peaceful lives. Therefore, they welcome those from other faiths.

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Biographies of People Associated with Dromtonpa

Biography of "Bruce Andrews," by Jasmine Khosravi and Rachel Magrdichian

Bruce Andrews, a local Buddhist, is the administrative director at the Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Center in Indianapolis. This center is a member of the New Kadampa Tradition- International Kadampa Buddhist Union, which was founded by the Buddhist Master, the Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is a Tibetan monk who envisioned spreading Buddhism to the West, making it more accessible to the Western world. Accordingly, Geshe Kelsang immediately started translating the Buddha's teachings into English when he arrived in the West. Although Bruce currently practices Vajrayana Buddhism, he explored several other religions before finding his place at the Dromtonpa Center.

Religious Background: As a child, Bruce was not raised with any particular religious tradition. At the age of 16, he started practicing Catholicism and was a confirmed Catholic until he was 21 years old. He then began to study Baha'i. Baha'i is a movement which emerged from the Islamic context, and was founded by a Persian nobleman, Baha'u'llah, in the mid-nineteenth century.

Next on his journey, Bruce studied Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, which is different from the form of Buddhism he currently practices. Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists have three requisites. The first is faith (absolute trust and confidence in the teachings). The second is a morning and evening practice that entails chanting. And the third is studying the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin. Bruce emphasized that he found nothing wrong with this practice but he found that Vajrayana Practices suited his temperament better. After dabbling in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism for a while, Bruce switched gears and practiced Paganism before returning to of the form of Buddhism he now practices: Vajrayana Buddhism.

Attraction to Buddhist Teachings: Bruce was drawn to Buddhism for a plethora of reasons. One of the main emphases of Vajrayana Buddhism is compassion. Another aspect of Buddhist teachings that Bruce found appealing is its views about "sin". According to Buddhist teachings, Bruce said, there should be no sense of guilt because we all naturally transgress. Another important factor, and possibly the factor that sealed the deal, for Bruce, was the fact that his homosexuality was not a problem for local Buddhists. As a gay man, Bruce wanted to be a part of a religion that would validate him as a person. Geshe Kelsang, the spiritual head of the Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Center, does not regard homosexuality as misconduct. His teachings do not treat gays and lesbians as inferior in any way. Scott said that he experienced more acceptance of his sexual orientation in Buddhism than he had in either Catholicism or the Baha'i faith.

Another element of Buddhist that attracted Bruce to the faith is that Buddhists need not believe in a god or goddess. This quality sets Buddhism apart from several other religions. In god-centered religions, such as Catholicism, the absolute is something to believe in or worship. The absolute in Buddhism is something that you experience--enlightenment. Important Teachings and Practice: For Bruce, compassion is one of the most important of all Buddhist teachings. According to Bruce, the Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso describes compassion as a practice. First, one must visualize compassion, and then one must demonstrate it. One should begin by viewing all sentient beings as one's mother and therefore by showing compassion toward all forms of life. Showing compassion distracts one from one's own suffering and self-clinging nature.

Bruce also spoke about the nature of suffering, as he understands it. Anything that disturbs one's peace of mind, he said, is suffering. Every sentient being, whether human or animal, has at least one thing in common, and that is that they do not want to suffer. Every sentient being suffers because of their self-clinging nature. Self-clinging nature is the tendency to view one's needs and wants as more important thanks everyone else's needs and wants. The only way to alleviate one's suffering is to overcome one's self-clinging nature and rid oneself of all attachments.

Bruce has been practicing at the Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Center for the past three years, where he attends Buddhist services at least once a week. But attending services is only a fraction of his religious practice. Vajrayana Buddhists are encouraged to use the Buddha's teachings as a means to convert their everyday activities into something of utility along the path to enlightenment.

Biography of "Susan Pitts" by Peter Soldato, Kimberly Trubiro, and David Unger

Religious diversity often hides in the most ordinary of places, sometimes revealing itself only to those who truly seek to discover it. At the Dromtonpa Kadampa Buddhist Temple in Indianapolis, a committed group of diverse individuals make up the congregation. Here, men and women of assorted ages are encouraged to learn, teach, and grow from the each other in a religion not widely practiced in the Midwest. Susan is one such member. With her all-American background, Susan's transition to the practice of Buddhism has been one aided greatly by the other members of Dromtonpa.

Susan was born into a Catholic family. She grew up attending church and leading the life of an everyday Christian. When she entered her early twenties, she discovered that her life was lacking in spirituality, and she had not yet found something to truly believe in. Susan found Buddhism through a friend who invited her to join in a general drop-in class. Susan was drawn to the relaxed atmosphere, as well as the values that were taught and practiced and, after several more visits to the temple, decided to make the transition to Buddhism for herself. She has now been practicing at Dromtonpa for four years, but considers herself a student with a lot yet to learn about the religion.

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The rest of Susan's family is still practicing Catholicism, although they have lapsed into less active practice in recent years. Susan is open to her family's beliefs and understands them because she practiced them for so long, but said she chooses to follow the path that best suits her spiritual needs. As for her family, they try to accept her new religion, even if that acceptance comes from not talking about it very often. "My dad has an especially hard time with it," Susan said, "But he tries to stay out of it as long as he can see that what I am doing makes me happy." She added, somewhat casually, that it does not really bother her that her Catholic family probably thinks she is doomed in the afterlife. In her opinion, she can lead a better and more spiritually productive life as a Buddhist than she ever could as a Catholic.

As Susan made clear, her life as a Buddhist is truly a journey. Although her life has not become free of trouble since her decision to practice Buddhism, her new religious tradition has allowed her to take both the good and the bad in stride. In the manner of Buddhist teaching, Susan did not come to Buddhism hoping to completely eliminate her struggles. For her, the most important aspect of her Buddhist practice is not to eliminate all suffering, but to become more mindful and aware of her reactions to it.

Susan is very respectful and accepting of other religions. As she notes, just because Buddhism is the religion that is most suited for her personality, she cannot claim that it is the best suited for all people. Her belief is that people all have different dispositions and for this reason all should choose the best religion to "match" these varying personalities. This idea can be best summed up in a great quote of Susan's: "You don't have to be Buddhist to make spiritual progress."

Because of this openness towards people of all religions, Susan has found it best not to proselytize for her Buddhist faith. Even when she notices someone showing an interest in Buddhism, she prefers not to push or force them into practice. Telling them that they could come by the center whenever they want is the most pushing she does- and, as she notes, she does this without being attached to the response in any way. For Susan, Buddhism is a journey that one chooses to begin. Without wanting to begin that journey, one will likely not succeed spiritually. It is for this reason that she refrains from actively attempting to bring others into Buddhism.

Not only does Susan accept the idea that all religions have spiritual benefits, she does not shy away from improving her own Buddhist spirituality through other religions. When she goes home to visit her Catholic family, Susan frequently attends a Catholic mass. Since becoming a Buddhist, she has learned to cherish even the Catholic mass as she never did before. In the Catholic mass, she recognizes many opportunities to advance spiritually- opportunities that she recognizes through her spiritual journey in Buddhism. It is obvious that Susan accepts the idea of others succeeding spiritually in religious settings besides Buddhism, she seems to say that Buddhists themselves can learn much about their own spiritual journeys through other religious traditions.

As a part of her dedication to Buddhism, Susan is involved with many practices within the Buddhism tradition. She participates both locally at her Indianapolis Buddhist center, as well as globally at international Buddhist conventions. At the core of all these practices are her central beliefs. She described her central beliefs as, "Being mindful, understanding where my motivation is. Not prejudging people, accepting them for who they are and maintaining a constant level of concentration".

These central beliefs are helpful in understanding her two most important practices within the Buddhism tradition; "Dharma for Kids" and "international festivals". Dharma for Kids is a program that she has started at the Dromtonpa Buddhist Center. It is a program, "similar to Sunday School" in that it seeks to teach young children (ages 5-12) some of the central beliefs of the Buddhist tradition. At the once-a-week hour long session she goes over Buddhist stories, teaches the children mantras, meditates, and lastly has time for arts and crafts. Susan describes that the class is meant to be fun and informative and is a way that young children can begin on their own Buddhist path.

Susan's other main practice and passion within the Buddhist tradition is international Buddhist festivals. During her still recent journey in Buddhism she has traveled across the globe to many different festivals. Her two favorite festivals are held in England and Singapore. She attends the festival in England every year and it lasts nearly two weeks. She mentioned that festivals generally last from 5 days - 2 weeks and are a time when one can receive special blessings, focus more on one's Buddhist journey, and meet other prominent Buddhist figures in the world.

Through detailing Susan's major practices one gets a sense of her dedication and commitment to the Buddhist tradition. She is a mindful person, with a warm heart, which perhaps is suitable since her favorite Buddha is the Compassion Buddha. Amongst all other practices she tries to spend at least some time every day meditating. She prefers group meditation at the Dromtonpa Center, but also has a solo meditation place in her home.

Susan's Buddhist faith is truly a journey. When talking to Susan about this journey, one thing becomes clear: it has truly changed her for the better. In this way, we come to learn just what Buddhists mean when they say that different people make spiritual progress using different religious traditions or methods. For Susan, her spiritual progress has been greatest through the practice of her Buddhist.