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Enlightenment through education

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO, Colorado
Statue representing the portrait of Buddha in meditation. Copy space.
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For many, Buddhism is a mystery. To those on the outside, the religion’s origins, customs, practices and teachings may seem more like an ancient cult or fantastic scene in an old martial arts movie than a thriving belief system. The stereotypical images of peaceful monks and ornate temples and statues that come to mind may not be too far from the truth, but, like any religion, it’s much more complex than that. That is why Denver-based education organization Active Minds is partnering with the Vail Symposium to illuminate this often misunderstood religion and its role in modern society.

“Our goal is to talk about the origins of the religion and where it fits into the story of the world today,” said John Henderson, co-founder and principle instructor of Active Minds of Denver.

Henderson encourages everyone from practicing Buddhists to those who may only have limited understanding of the religion to participate in the free seminar, hoping that it will propel a greater awareness of the topic for all who attend.

Some of the topics up for discussion will be the history of Buddhism, how geographical regions determine practices, and the political impacts the religion has had and continues to have around the globe. The class is not meant to be a lesson in the theology of Buddhism, but rather a discourse on the geo-political ramifications of it, Henderson said. And because Henderson’s wife is a practicing Buddhist, he has seen first-hand the impact that the religion can have on one’s life.

“Even though I myself am not a practicing Buddhist, I sleep with one,” Henderson said.

Dani Janklow, marketing and development director of the Vail Symposium, said that Henderson’s non-Buddhist status and the fact that he’s not a theologian will allow for a neutral perspective on the topic.

“It’s extremely objective and I think, perhaps because of that, more enlightening for non-Buddhists and practicing Buddhists alike,” Janklow said.

Considering Buddhism’s growing foothold in Colorado and the world over (there are an estimated 350 million followers and it’s the sixth largest religion) there is probably no better time to examine the religion and the role it plays in the physical and spiritual realms of our planet. The current powder-keg situation in China and Tibet might be placing the magnifying glass on an area of the world that many Westerners know little to nothing about, another topic that Henderson said he would touch on during his presentation. Henderson points out that like other religious figures in history like Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist’s spiritual leader, is now inspiring a new generation of freedom fighters using non-violent means. The peaceful and independent nature of the religion are just two reasons why Henderson believes so many Americans are at least incorporating aspects of it into their lives.

Because Buddhism is growing in local communities and getting more air time on the evening news, Henderson said its relevance is at an all-time high.

“I hope people who come walk away feeling a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the religion and where it fits into political stories,” Henderson said.

If Henderson is correct, we can expect to see Buddhism continue to take further root throughout the world and inspire future generations to practice its peaceful ways.

“You might call it ironic or just call it what it is, but in an information age the story of Buddhists peacefully protesting … has a very powerful impact upon the world. I do think it will continue to be a powerful force,” Henderson said.

And for those worried they might be going to a Buddhist church service or getting involved with a cult, don’t worry.

“We’re not here to convert nor are we here to prevent conversion,” Henderson said.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.


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