O’Sullivan to teach Zen Buddhism for Mystic Heart

An accident led Michael O’Sullivan to first discover Zen Buddhism. A literal accident.

After getting into a minor fender-bender 35 years ago, O’Sullivan went to the emergency room in order to document the accident. His blood pressure was too high, and the doctor wouldn’t let him leave without prescribing him something for it.

“When he left the cubicle to get the prescription, the nurse said don’t take the medicine — learn how to meditate,” O’Sullivan said. “So here I am.”       

Even though he was brought up as a Catholic, O’Sullivan now considers himself a Buddhist and sometimes meditates two or three times a day.

O’Sullivan will be the Week Three meditation leader for the Mystic Heart Program, a Department of Religion initiative aimed at exposing Chautauquans to various world religions and traditions. Representing the practice of Korean Zen Buddhism, O’Sullivan is a senior Dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen and founded the Three Treasures Zen Center in Oneonta, New York, and the Binghamton Zen Center Group in Binghamton, New York.

Buddhism has no right or wrong answers, but simply answers that feel appropriate in the given moment. O’Sullivan presents this situation: you see a deer run past as you’re walking through the woods. The deer runs south and a few moments later a hunter appears and asks if you saw a deer pass by.

There are two possible responses. If you say the deer ran north, you’re telling a lie, but it’s the right thing to do in that moment because you are saving the deer, O’Sullivan said. You could also be a fan of the sport and tell the man that the deer ran south, in which case you are possibly harming the deer but helping a fellow hunter.

O’Sullivan’s Tuesday seminar will be on “The Buddhist Concept of Interdependence,” and his Thursday seminar will be called “Who Is It That Needs Privacy?”

Usually, interconnectivity is referred to as cause and effect, O’Sullivan said, but it’s actually one big continuous cycle, with cause and effect being the same thing. The cause that causes the effect was originally caused by something else, and so forth.

To demonstrate this, O’Sullivan shared a game that he plays with his grandchildren. He will tell them to come up with as many interconnected elements as possible with foods on their dinner plate, such as an egg.

They think about where the chicken came from, the truck that delivered the eggs, the people who made the egg carton and the people who stacked the egg cartons in the store. The list goes on and on, all for a single egg.

His talk, he hopes, will help Chautauquans realize just how many people and things are interconnected in even the simplest of acts and objects. He then plans to relate that to everyday choices people make.

“If we do something good, we create a wave of goodness. When we do something negative, we create of wave of negativity,” he said. “We can see when we pay attention to the interconnectivity if what we’re doing is going to cause a wave of love and compassion or of negativity.”

When he addresses privacy, O’Sullivan will bring to attention how much of ourselves we’re giving up when do simple things, like sign up for a subscription or swipe a credit card. Does giving away this information make us feel uncomfortable? If so, why? These are questions and emotions he will raise and help people analyze.

Our idea of privacy differs from person to person, he said. We put ourselves in a personal bubble and all of our privacy issues take place within ourselves — within our bubble.

“Looking at a privacy issue is a good teaching in life,” O’Sullivan said. “To look at things in a different light and see our true selves, and how our emotions are so involved in it … Sometimes they don’t even realize what they’re trading off.”

People of any religious faith or tradition are welcome to attend the meditation sessions any day of the week, regardless of previous or no experience with meditation practices.

Morning meditation sessions are held weekdays from 7:15 to 8 a.m. at the Main Gate Welcome Center, and are open to anyone with a gate pass. More in-depth meditation seminars run from 12:30 to 1:55 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Hall of Missions, and silent meditations are held from 7:15 to 7:45 p.m. Thursdays in the Main Gate Welcome Center, again with a gate pass.