Former detective brings Buddhism to Mystic Heart

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

Before he was the abbot of a Zen Buddhist center, Michael O’Sullivan was a New York City detective for 20 years.

You read that right.

In fact, if it weren’t for an accident while he was on the job, O’Sullivan might not have discovered meditation at all.

“Ten or 12 years into the police department, I was involved in a minor accident, and I went to the hospital,” O’Sullivan said. “In the hospital, they said my blood pressure was a little high. The doctor said, ‘I’m going to have to give you a prescription before you leave here.’ After he left, the nurse said to me, ‘Don’t take the medicine. Learn how to meditate.’”

O’Sullivan was introduced to transcendental meditation. Intrigued, he wanted to learn more about the practice. He discovered the Chogye International Zen Center in New York, led by Korean Zen master Seung Sahn, and has practiced ever since.

These days, when he’s not at Chautauqua, O’Sullivan serves as the abbot of The Three Treasures Zen Center in Oneonta, N.Y. He oversees the center’s activities and teaches students.

O’Sullivan also is the president of the Greater Oneonta Interfaith Committee, which helps to coordinate and support fundraising activities for various religious groups.

He comes to the grounds as a part of the Mystic Heart Program, which supports programming to educate and practice religions outside of the Abrahamic canopy. Now in its 11th season, Mystic Heart promotes different spiritual practices from around the world each week. This week, O’Sullivan introduces Chautauquans to Zen Buddhism.

According to O’Sullivan, Zen Buddhism was the sect of Buddhism practiced originally by the Indian and Chinese elite.

“Everybody reaches for the same point: to wake up to this moment,” he said. “Other forms of Buddhism may … give you things to practice. But Zen Buddhism is black and white. … You learn to quiet the mind and to stimulate your inner love and compassion.”

Each morning, meditation participants will receive accessible instruction for the benefit of first-timers and repeat visitors alike.

“(Each session consists of) basic meditation instruction that they can take away with them and practice,” O’Sullivan said. “They can ask questions; it will be a clear, simple practice.”

The Tuesday and Thursday afternoon lecture sessions O’Sullivan will lead are both called “Zen: The Hidden Truth, Who Are You Really?” His goal is to demystify Zen Buddhism for Chautauquans.

“We’re going to try to answer some of the age-old questions, like, ‘What am I? Beyond name and beyond form, what am I?’ and how meditation is going to lead us to the truth, away from suffering, and what is this truth, and what we need to do to wake up to the delusions that influence every moment of our life, and how we can live a life full of love and compassion,” he said.

Subagh Singh Khalsa, the founder and co-director of Mystic Heart, said, “(O’Sullivan) is totally down-to-earth and yet completely devoted to this path of kindness and compassion.”

He added that many Chautauquans eagerly await O’Sullivan’s return in the summer.

“He’s really popular,” Subagh said.

Mystic Heart offers morning meditation at the Main Gate Welcome Center Monday through Friday from 7:15 a.m. to 8 a.m. The meditation seminars are from 12:30 p.m. to 1:55 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Hall of Missions. Wednesday night sessions are from 7:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. in the Main Gate Welcome Center Conference Room.

Gate passes are required for events held in the Main Gate Welcome Center. There is no charge, but any donations benefit the Fund for the Exploration of World Religions and Spiritual Practices, an endowment dedicated to supporting the Mystic Heart  Program and other programs like it. Chautauquans of all ages, traditions and levels of experience are welcome.