Learning meditation, investigation and how to ask questions

Adam and Paul Haller on a meditation retreat
Adam and Paul Haller on a meditation retreat

“It’s about finding an even keel in life, where you’re not being thrown around by different passions and whims.”

So says Dundonald man Adam Murray of his experience of Buddhism, which he got his first taste of six or seven years ago.

The 25-year-old, who works as an administrator for a charity in Belfast and is also the party secretary for NI21, practises what is known as Soto Zen Buddhism, which has Japanese origins.

“My granny played the organ in church, and I remember always being dragged to her church at Christmas, but to be honest, aside from Sunday School when I was very little, I didn’t really have much of a religious upbringing,” says Adam, who is also gay.

“But at the same time, I went to a youth group that was run by a local Elim Church, and for one of my work placements at school I shadowed a minister at the Church of the Nazareene.

“It’s really funny because at the time, even though I didn’t really believe in God, I actually thought I could be a minister, because they seemed to do great work. I thought it was a nice job to do in my naive way.”

When he left school, Adam began volunteering for a charity where he encountered a man who was a Buddhist. It sparked his curiosity, and eventually, he found himself getting involved in meditation retreats run by west Belfast Buddhist Paul Heller.

“At first I was just curious about it, because when I went to secondary school the teacher had said that although we had to had to learn about world religions, she said she would feel like she was leading us down the wrong path and so she only taught us Christianity. When I met this man at the charity, it was my first time meeting someone who wasn’t a Christian or an atheist.”

Adam says that what initially appealed to him about Buddhism was the fact that rather than being “handed a set of doctrines and beliefs, or being told, ‘here is this one book, read it’, it was more about meditation and investigation, asking questions and just trying to find the stuff that works for you at the right time.”

He adds: “At the time, I was very depressed, I had just left school and had just come out as being gay, so for me that sort of non-judgement appealed to me, it seemed that being gay was not an issue in the slightest.”

In due course Adam spent time in the USA at the San Francisco Zen Center, and he says it was this experience which really intensified his beliefs. He also spent three months at a Buddhist monastery called the Tassajara Mountain Center.

He describes his preferred ‘format’ of Buddhism - Soto Zen - is quite a “slow and steady” interpretation of the faith system, as opposed, he says, to “pushing and pushing yourself for a moment of Enlightenment.”

Indeed, Adam says that even the concept of Enlightenment itself is one which is approached with a fairly laid back stance by Soyto Zen Buddhists.

“We don’t really talk about that that much - it’s like, ‘yeah, it’s there the whole enlightenment rebirth thing, that’s cool, it’s an interesting idea, but really it’s about how you live your life and how you relate to the world around you.’

“Buddhism is much about relating to things naturally without adding on an extra level of ego and perception and that sort of thing.”

He adds: “What Buddhism has done for me is help me see that even when things are not OK, that in itself can be OK. You can find some place inside you where things are good and things are OK. It’s about looking inwards; you spend a lot of time in meditation looking inwards and looking at your patterns of behaviour and thought and asking if they are healthy. It’s all about introspection.”