He’s been a practicing Buddhist for more than six years, as well as a student, confidant and musician. Matt Doyle, a senior biology major, with a concentration in biotechnology and molecular biology says he’s never felt unwelcome by any member of the college because of his faith.
When choosing a college, Doyle says, Cabrini, a college steeped in Catholic tradition, “didn’t influence his decision to come here in any way.”
With more than 2 million adherents in the U.S., Buddhism’s newfound popularity is booming, especially among college students. Teaching centers and sanghas (communities of people who practice together) are spreading here as American-born leaders reframe the belief’s ancient principles in contemporary Western terms.
“College students are aged 18-22, which (psychologically and neurologically speaking) is a time of trying to figure out who they are and what they believe. I believe that as we are exposed to a variety of people, cultures and faiths, our receptiveness to believing other things that aren’t so familiar grows,” Doyle said.
Buddhism focuses around the understanding that there is suffering in this world and this life, and that it is a result of how we live our lives by indulging in unwholesome things. Buddha’s first and best-known teaching, “The Four Noble Truth,” outlines the cause of suffering and the means for eliminating it. All subsequent teachings merely expand and elaborate upon these fundamental truths. Buddhism has so much emphasis on the individual’s betterment and realization of the issues that plague humanity.
“I don’t believe in any specific God,” Doyle said, “but do believe there is some kind of higher power that acts as a force in the living energy in everything.”
Although born in West Chester, Doyle grew up in Blossburg, Pa. He had been attending a Methodist church, but wasn’t a believer in Christianity. “I was raised Catholic but quickly broke away from it.”
Doyle works a seasonal job between semesters at an industrial roofing company in Blossburg. He picked up a few things from his boss, but learned most of Buddha’s teachings on his own. “Other than that, I don’t know of anyone close to me that is a Buddhist.”
For Doyle, it’s not hard to be a Buddhist on campus, but being a full time student does make it difficult to effectively practice on a day-to-day basis. “There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished.”
Doyle provided a brief explanation of the four noble truths:
“There is suffering, the cause of suffering is craving, this craving can be ended – and by extension so can the suffering, the way to end suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path. What this all means is essentially that we experience some kinds of dissatisfaction, pain, or ignorance in life and that they are a result of the way we live our lives through wanting materialistic things, physical pleasure, or acting in selfish ways. In order to achieve cessation of this suffering, we must change the ways in which we think, act, talk, and look at every aspect of life. Buddhism’s goal is to provide an explanation and path to achieving this.”
There are two major branches of Buddhism (Theravada – known as The School of the Elders and Mahayana known as The Great Vehicle). Doyle falls more into line with the Theravada school, but says, “ I consider myself what could be termed ‘cafeteria Buddhism,’ in that I look at several schools of thought and practice/believe in a collection of those. Much of my outlook on life from a Buddhist perspective is derived from Zen Buddhism.”
For Matt, “living as a Buddhist at Cabrini isn’t much different than most students’ lives, except I don’t attend church services or follow some religious events like Lent.”
For students here at Cabrini who are interested in exploring or learning about the beliefs of the Buddhist movement, the internet is a great resource to look up both the basics and complexities of Buddhism. The greater Philadelphia area has a growing Buddhist population and sanghas, where monks, nuns, and novices are available to talk to of all levels of knowledge and experience.