Cultural Crossroads

Becca Costanzo, Journalism Student

Discovering new and diverse cultures seems hardly plausible when you live in little Bethel, Connecticut. But that is just what the students in Mr. Owen’s comparative religions class did this past Tuesday, May 17. A bus filled with 37 students and five teachers braved the rainy weather and left Bethel High School bright and early to travel to Carmel, New York to visit the Chuang Yen Buddhist Monastery and later the Hindusamaj Temple. Students and adults alike were impressed with the two places of worship and the new information that the guides had to teach.

“Buddha did not make religion. As a matter of fact, Jesus Christ did not make religion… We did,” says Amolok, the speaker at the Monastery. The Buddhist teacher’s simple statement and other words of wisdom were delivered just before a ten-minute meditation exercise. The group was told to pull their soaking wet legs together into lotus position and focus on breathing in and out without distraction. It was a foreign experience for some but a gratifying one for others.

Senior Ben Ryan says, “I went there [the Monastery] last year and it was just something that I wanted to do again because it is a great opportunity to go and experience new things.”
Similarly, senior student Beth Dineen thought that the trip was “interesting because of the advice that was given on living your life and finding understanding through religion even if it may not be your own religion.”

The second stop on the trip was to the Hindusamaj Temple were students had a small tour of the individual shrines to Hindu gods. Once again students were exposed to some incredible words of wisdom and explanations. For example, Sushumna Iruvanti, the guide at the Temple, said, “Ganesha teaches us the difference between hearing and truly listening, because listening is the only way to understanding…That is why he has the ears of the elephant.”

Mr. Iruvanti was able to give the students information that they did not read out of a textbook. He even clarified that the Hindu religion is similar to other religions in its monotheistic belief. Even though the Hindu people worship many gods, they are all forms of one true god that hold meaning for different types of people in India and other Hindu practicing countries.

Beth Dineen says, “It was nice to learn about the religion and how it applies to Indian culture as a whole.”

This was not the first time BHS students were exposed to religions outside of the classroom. In April, a large group of students spent some time at the Do Ngak Kumphen Ling Meditation Center just outside of Putnam Park in Redding. There they learned more about monks and meditation in the Buddhist religion which they applied to their experiences on this trip to the Monastery.

Comparative Religions teacher Mr. Owen says, “It is great to get these kids to see something that they will probably never see again in their lifetime.” The trip was truly symbolic of bridging the gap between diverse cultures.

“I appreciate that the school is open enough to allow these kinds of field trips and exploration into religion,” says Ben Ryan. Hopefully, the school will always be able to provide such exciting opportunities to its future students. Ben phrases it perfectly when he says that “This comparative religions class helps you learn more about yourself.”