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‘Buddhism for Peace’ searches for internal happiness

“Just as the great ocean has one taste, the taste of salt, so also this teaching and discipline has one taste, the taste of liberation.”

These are the words of a man named Siddhartha Gautama, the prince of an ancient kingdom in a region now known as Nepal. Today, he is known to more than 488 million people worldwide as the Buddha — the “Enlightened One."

Buddhism, an Eastern belief system commonly associated with bald-headed monks and jolly, heavyset statues, is commonly misunderstood in the West — in fact, Gautama was hardly as portly as he is depicted in modern culture.

Buddhism for Peace is an Iowa State club and an extension of Soka Gakkai International, a worldwide network for practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism and the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, a culmination of Buddha’s writings.

Yu Hui Lui and Gabriel Hicks, founders of Buddhism for Peace, are helping Iowa State students understand what Buddhism really is — and what it means to the people who practice it.

Lui was born into a Buddhist family but was never truly engaged in the organization of Buddhist religion. It wasn’t until he experienced Buddhist teachings at a university club that he found that the ideas found in Buddha’s teachings had a profound impact on his life, bringing him the clarity to overcome problems he was facing in his life.

Once shy and quiet, Lui is now a teaching assistant for a computer engineering class and the president of Buddhism For Peace, something he might not have done without the renewed sense of confidence he found in himself through Buddhism.

Hicks, born and raised in Des Moines, which is a predominately white, Christian area, was never into the sort of rigid, dogmatically structured faith that most churches in his area offered.

As a teenager, he struggled with many difficult personal obstacles, ultimately falling into drug and alcohol addiction. After a potentially lethal, unintentional overdose his first semester at Iowa State, he decided that he had to make some serious changes to the way he was living. It was during this dark time that he was invited to learn about Buddhism from a friend.

“Coming out of that, it’s like, I have nothing else to lose but my life,” Hicks said.

After experiencing the teachings of Buddhism, Hicks’ perspective on life changed drastically. Today, he is completely sober and is working to help others transform their own lives through Buddhism for Peace.

Lui and Hicks founded Buddhism for Peace in the fall of 2015 to help Iowa State students overcome their own obstacles and find the inner potential that they believe lies within all people, regardless of the mistakes they’ve made or insecurities they have. This is what the organization refers to as the “Human Revolution” — for people to change the way they view the world in order to bring about true happiness and peace in the world.

Buddhism for Peace takes a non-structured, casual approach to explore the practices and ideas of Nichiren Buddhism.

Although often considered a religion, those who study Buddhism, like Lui and Hicks, say it’s not quite like other faiths.

“Buddhism in general is a philosophy of how to live life,” Hicks said. “Our main goal is to transform our lives, to become happy and to help others to achieve happiness.”

Buddhism has a unique approach to this goal of “achieving happiness." While most people seek to improve their lives by looking for things outside of themselves like money, material things and acceptance from others, the Buddha taught that the only way to truly be content is to look inward — to let go of those other goals and become happy with oneself, regardless of the negative things in life.

“This Buddhism is not about praying for something else to happen in your life,” Lui said. “It’s actually trying to transform yourself, within you.”

Margaret Holmgren, associate professor of religious studies at Iowa State, studies with Buddhist masters and teaches the Religion 451 Buddhism class. She shared an analogy from Buddhist teachings that explains the concept of inner transformation:

“If you try to cover the whole world with leather in order to make it more comfortable to walk on, you will never succeed. However, it is very possible to achieve the same result by covering your own feet with leather.”

“Buddhism for Peace” refers not just to peace in the world around people — the ultimate goal is peace within people.

“You can’t choose what happens in your environment,” Hicks said. “But you can choose how you react. That’s what you own.”

Buddhism for Peace meets at 6 p.m. every Thursday in 0119 MacKay Hall.

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