O’Sullivan to lead Mystic Heart in Zen Buddhist tradition

Mary Desmond | Staff Writer

Michael O’Sullivan stumbled into Zen Buddhism through a sprained ankle. While he was in a New York City emergency room having his twisted joint tended to, a doctor discovered that O’Sullivan had high blood pressure. When the doctor left the room to write a prescription, the attending nurse turned to O’Sullivan and said “Don’t take the medicine, learn how to meditate.”

O’Sullivan will lead the Mystic Heart Program during Week Nine. He will lead the daily morning meditation sessions and the semiweekly afternoon seminars on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He said it will be his fourth time facilitating the Mystic Heart Program.

The Mystic Heart Program is a Department of Religion initiative, now completing its 12th season at the Institution; it was founded by Subagh Singh Khalsa. The focus of the program is to share meditation techniques drawn from different world religions and wisdom traditions. This season, those traditions have included Buddha Dharma, Sikh Dharma, Yoga, Kabbalah, Zen Buddhism, centering prayer and Sufism.

“It’s a wonderful group and its goal, I think, and this is how I perceive it — is to help everybody understand other faiths and to somehow maybe incorporate some of that other faith into their own faith,” O’Sullivan said. “There are so many similarities in all religions and the Mystic Heart Program helps them see that link clearly.”

Since his afternoon in the emergency room, O’Sullivan has been practicing Zen Buddhism for more than 25 years. He is the founder and abbot of the The Three Treasures Zen Center in Oneonta, N.Y.

O’Sullivan is a senior Dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen. The school practices a Korean form of Zen Buddhism.

“Which is basically meditation and Koan practice,” O’Sullivan said.

“Koans are a teaching tool which are stories given to you by a Zen master or an authorized teacher in a school, and they are questions to help you see your true self,” he said.

When O’Sullivan first began practicing Zen Buddhism, he was intimidated by the questions the Zen master would ask. He told the master that sometimes he didn’t want to sit, because he was worried he did not have the answer to the question. The Zen master replied that by going, he showed character.

“So, I just sucked it up and kept going,” O’Sullivan said.

“The more I got into it, the better I felt, and the clearer I became and the more compassionate I became,” he said.

In addition to increased compassion, the practice of Zen Buddhism helps people see clearly and define a clear path that they want to follow, O’Sullivan said.

During the morning meditation sessions at the Main Gate Welcome Center, O’Sullivan will give a meditation instruction and then lead two 25-minute sitting periods. In between the sitting periods there will be a portion of walking meditation. The morning session will close with a reading from a Buddhist text, O’Sullivan said. Attendees can sit on a mat or a chair.

“Someone can come that’s a beginner, and someone can come that’s a long-term practitioner, and they would both feel comfortable,” O’Sullivan said. “No matter what religious persuasion they come from, they will feel comfortable meditating.”

The Week Nine seminar themes will be “Moral Conduct and Buddhist Ethics” on Tuesday and “Man-made Morals and Customs Do Not Form Buddhist Ethics” on Thursday.

Daily morning meditation is from 7:15 to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday in the Main Gate Welcome Center Conference Room. The meditation seminar, which will include practice and discussion, is from 12:30 to 1:55 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday in the Hall of Missions. A centering prayer session will be held Thursday in the Welcome Center from 7:15 to 7:45 p.m.

Gate passes are required to attend the morning meditation session. All sessions are welcome to people of any spiritual or religious belief. Donations are accepted at all sessions.