Monk teaches patience, concepts
He wears a long robe, his head is shaved, and he listens to his iPod as he walks to class.
In some ways, venerable Dan Jian, Buddhist monk and psychology student at UH, is just a typical college student.
"I dress in traditional clothes, but I still live in reality," Dan said. "I use the Internet, I blog. I drive cars."
Dan began to explore Buddhism years ago in Taiwan while he was still in high school.
"When I was a teenager, I tried to seek religion," Dan said. "I felt more comfortable with Buddhism. I don’t think it’s a religion, it’s a lifestyle."
Dan studied Buddhism at a Buddhist institute in Taiwan, where he practiced meditation for four hours a day. He wanted to share his experience, and he moved to Texas six years ago to work at Jade Buddha Temple in southwest Houston, built in 1989.
"Houston is very multi-cultural. It’s interesting to learn about each other," Dan said.
Dan began studying psychology at UH three years ago because of the connection he sees between psychology and Buddhism.
"I think psychology is close to Buddhism," Dan said. "Psychology is trying to discover everybody’s psyche, so it’s close because in Buddhism we emphasize… (the) mind’s function."
Dan, a monk for 12 years, said that meditation, one of the basic concepts of Buddhism, is the way to change.
"If you want to change your thinking, it is difficult, but it is through meditation that it’s possible," Dan said.
It is this focus on meditation that prompted Dan to offer meditation classes through the UH Association of Buddhist Students this year. The classes started on Aug. 29 and are every Wednesday at noon in the UC Lone Star Room.
Dan said the club was established by two students last year, but began offering the classes this year.
"We teach the students to understand how to practice meditation," Dan said. "We try to use meditation to have change – to make society more stable, more peaceful. It’s a different concept for Americans."
One of the group’s founders, Grace Lin, graduated from UH last year and is using her degree in instructional technology to continue working at UH through grant-related projects.
"I helped start the organization. I believe it is extremely important to provide UH, a multicultural, multi-ethnicity university, (with) yet another spiritual option," Lin said.
Lin said that every student can benefit from learning meditation techniques.
"Everyone wants happiness and peace, but we struggle to find it or struggle to find a way to find it," Lin said. "Meditation is the practice that asks us to look inwards, examine our own emotions, and cultivate the moment-to-moment awareness of our true self, with the end goal to be the master of our own mind."
Music senior Ryan Donaghy sees the meditation classes as an opportunity for personal growth that also fit his busy schedule as a student.
"(It’s) a unique chance to practice on campus and meet other Buddhists," Donaghy said. "It’s a convenient way to practice meditation while on campus."
About 20 students attend the weekly classes, but Dan said that many have been asking for more available times for the classes.
"Many students would like to attend but cannot because it does not fit their class times," Dan said. "I would like to add more times, but right now it’s so busy with school."
In addition to teaching meditation classes and his own studies, Dan is busy trying to adjust to life in the United States.
"English is my second language. I’ve been learning it for three or four years, but it is difficult," Dan said. "I use my iPod to download English lessons."
Dan said he also uses technology, like his iPod, as a way to build relationships with young college students.
"They are always surprised to see that I have one, and they always check my music list," Dan said. "I use technology to maintain my mind and keep it young."
Despite his use of technology, Dan’s traditional way of dress still leads to others having some misconceptions about him.
"This summer, I went to California, and some kids asked me to show them some kung fu moves," he said. "I told them, ‘Don’t trust the movies.’"
However, Dan’s appearance can also be an advantage.
"It’s a symbol, and I think people respect that," Dan said. "One time I was driving too fast and a policeman pulled me over, but then he saw my robe, and I told him I was on my way to a funeral where everyone was waiting for me. He let me go without a ticket."
Although there are difficult moments, Dan enjoys his work and said he hopes to build friendships with students at UH and have a positive effect on their lives through the meditation classes.
"I have always loved working with children and younger people," he said. "When I was younger, I wanted someone to understand me."