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SU students contemplate peace at Buddhist altar

Shenandoah University freshman Sarah Peck, 18, sits inside Goodson Chapel as she meditates around the six-part Buddhist altar in Tibetan tradition that the class constructed. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

A Shenandoah University student sits quietly beside the Buddhist altar. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Kim Walter

WINCHESTER -- Amidst the energy, excitement and stress that surrounds Shenandoah University's campus, about 20 students were able to find one room where they could relax, meditate and contemplate peace.

As part of the first-year seminar class World Views in Art: The Indian Subcontinent, students took on the assignment of installing a six-part Buddhist altar. Last week, the altar was placed outside Sarah's Glen, but was moved inside Goodson's chapel on Wednesday due to weather.

The altar consists of Buddha heads, photographs, essays, dried fruit, flowers and other creative student contributions. At the center of the altar sits a Buddha statue fabricated by hand in India, and a miniature stupa.

The project is the first of its kind not only for the university, but also for Geraldine Kiefer, associate professor of art history and art. She said she prefers projects that are hands-on and give students a better understanding of whatever culture or theme they're studying.

Her main inspiration for the altar was a public art project called "Ten Thousand Ripples." Kiefer said 100 Buddha sculptures were placed in 10 Chicago neighborhoods in order to bring people together and promote peace.

Kiefer said the university project is meant to elicit comments, meditations and ideas from passersby and other classes that stop by the altar and contribute. Several students performed calming music during the relaxing class period.

Students and staff members are encouraged to write down any thoughts or sketches in a notebook at the altar. The notebook would serve as "a record of ideas," according to Kiefer.

"What can we do to promote and bring about peace in our world?" Kiefer asked those in attendance at the altar recently.

Although the students and faculty members represent a variety of backgrounds and religions, Kiefer said the Buddhist mindset can be appreciated by all, especially when the theme and end goal is peace.

Even though it took some time for students to "buy in" to meditation, Kiefer said she felt that their personal contributions to the project made it easier and more important to participate.

"Our goal of world peace is a high one," she said. "But this project is their own, and the message is so profound and calming. It is a universal feeling and philosophy that should be incorporated more into our teaching."

Jaylen Street, 18, is a freshman basketball player in the class. He admitted that the class was unlike any other he'd had before -- especially the focus on relaxation and letting go of the technology and distractions in every day life.

"During meditation, we don't have our phones on, aren't checking our computers," he said Wednesday. "That was tough at first, honestly. I wasn't so used to being disconnected."

Street said he was moved by the "Ten Thousand Ripples" project, and found it interesting that "one little statue could have that kind of impact on so many different people."

Looking around the chapel, he said it was obvious that his friends and classmates were in deep thought.

"We've all got something on our mind," Street said. "This project gave us a chance to think through some things. I wouldn't mind trying meditation again."

The entire project will be installed in the Brandt Student Center during FYS Display Day on Nov. 11. This installation will provide time and space for visitors to inscribe their thoughts in the sketchbooks. Buddhist chants will be playing and silence will be urged.

Questions or comments about the project may be directed to Kiefer at gkiefer@su.edu.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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