The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts April 13, 2007

Rybicki Brings Buddhism to Oberlin

The Oberlin campus is filled with examples of the awe and respect paid to Eastern thought and religion. Last week saw the screening of American director Edward A. Burger’s Amongst White Clouds, which centers on Burger’s own journey in China, exploring the Zen Buddhist tradition. Even Facebook boasts a following, with a group called “Om: Oberlin Meditators,” which meets weekly in Wilder for meditation sessions.

Yesterday marked the inception of a new course on Buddhism sponsored by the Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. Introduction to Buddhism, held Thursdays from 1:00-3:00 p.m. in Wilder 109 and taught by American Buddhist nun Ani Palmo Rybicki, is not a conventional college course.

While most Oberlin students are worrying about classes for next semester or picking up that second module course in horseback riding, those signing up for this course — there is a reduced fee of $135 for students — look to study meditation instruction and practice as well as to read the Dalai Lama’s How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life.

Rybicki, who gave a talk on compassion in daily life on Tuesday, also teaches five Buddhist-influenced classes in Cleveland that focus on mindful parenting, meditation and compassion. One of these courses is the introduction to Buddhism course that she will replicate here. That course was actually taught last year out of a community member’s house but was not sponsored by any College department or club.

Rybiciki, a Cleveland native, has studied in Thailand, Nepal and India, as well as under Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Tulku Pema Wangyal Rinpoche in France. After this tutelage, she spent three years in retreats, meditating and refining her practice. She emphasizes that there will be “no pushing involved,” as she is always concerned that people might think her ulterior motive is conversion. Far from it, Rybicki hopes that her class and its teachings will reach people of all faiths.

Community member Barbara Fuchsman, the commissioned lay leader in charge of the Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, stated that at present, nine OUUF members have signed up for the class. She says it is unfortunate that the timing allows for less college student participation but hopes that the course might be offered again if it goes well. The OUUF is comprised of many community members who are interested in the universalist aspect of spirituality that they find in the Fellowship.

The Unitarian Universalists have welcomed into their numbers a diversity of believers, including pagans, shamanic journey group members and atheists. This is the Fellowship’s first official association with Buddhism, but Fuchsman is very enthusiastic about the course and its usefulness. She noted that “meditation is helpful. Especially in this stressful time with students worrying about papers and exams. If you’re panicking, meditation can help to calm you.”

Students seem generally incognizant of the course’s inception. There used to be a fair number of students involved in the Liberal UU Voices on campus who also participated in OUFF activities, but the group has been disbanded for the year. Even religion majors and teachers in the religion department were unaware that this course was being taught.

Dylan Luers, sophomore and facilitator of the campus Zen meditation group said, “I think the course serves a beneficial purpose. It offers people the opportunity to explore values in a context unavailable in the past.”

Luers stressed the student body’s interest in Buddhism, but pointed out that because there is a lack of cultural history on campus there are fewer resources than would be optimal. With the advent of Rybicki’s Introduction to Buddhism, there is at least one more.


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