Ryan Singer, a Chicagoan active at the city’s Diamond Way Buddhist Center, at 4722 N. Malden St., talks about his path to Buddhism and the religion as a whole.
For someone who has no knowledge about Buddhism, can you describe the religion in a few sentences?
Everyone wants to be happy, but they look for happiness in things that don't last. According to Buddhism, we have the potential to experience everything as meaningful and timelessly joyful, but we don't notice this because of our mental habits. Buddhism offers meditation methods to change these habits, so we spend less energy chasing after temporary feelings and become increasingly able to be spontaneous and effortless in the here and now. With these methods we can let go of personal ups and downs and become pillars of stability for our surroundings.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I'm an interface designer and product manager at a software company headquartered in Chicago. I was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1983, and moved to Chicago about 11 years ago.
How did you come to know about Buddhism? Were you born in the religion?
No, I was raised Catholic. I was always attracted to Buddhism. In my late teens I became very interested in the mind and consciousness. I explored a lot of Western philosophy, but nothing was satisfactory until I eventually found some books about Tibetan Buddhism.
How does Buddhism make you feel?
Very thankful. The feeling of growing and becoming more capable over time is a gift.
Can you elaborate?
The more you develop your mind, the more situations you can handle. It's a slow process but one definitely becomes more able to choose the right thoughts, words and actions to improve the situations they are in.
How many years have you been a practicing Buddhist?
What branch of Buddhism do you practice? Can you explain why you chose that specific branch?
I practice Diamond Way Buddhism, which belongs to the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. There are a wide variety of Buddhist schools, which appeal to different personality types. I felt at home with the Kagyu way of explaining things, I liked the people, and especially liked the emphasis on meditation. Some schools are more scholarly while the Kagyu approach, which means "orally transmitted," emphasizes a learn-by-swimming process between teacher and student.
How did you come to be involved with Diamond Way?
I read a book by the Tibetan master Kalu Rinpoche that described the meditation practices of the Karma Kagyu lineage. I was very attracted and understood I needed to find a teacher to learn them. Shortly afterward I saw a poster advertising a lecture by Lama Ole Nydahl, a Danish master from the same Tibetan lineage. I was impressed by Lama Ole and started meditating at the Diamond Way Buddhist Center of Chicago.
Do you have a specific position with Diamond Way?
The entire organization, 650 centers worldwide, is run by the volunteer effort of friends and idealists. In addition, Lama Ole asks some of his students to teach. I started giving lectures in the Midwest and later traveled occasionally to guide weekend courses in different centers in the U.S. There are about 30 Diamond Way teachers in North America and about 300 worldwide.
Where should people go if they would like to learn more about Buddhism?
The best is to visit a center and see how it fits. You can hear what they teach and try a meditation. If the experienced ones show a way of behaving or a state of mind that is attractive, then you have the possibility to use the methods and develop that yourself. Our Diamond Way center in Chicago hosts public guided meditations with short introductory talks, so it's easy to visit and see what we're doing.
In your opinion, what is the meaning of life?
Life is meaningful when we are free and share happiness with others.
Buddhists in Myanmar have been in the news recently for their mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims. What are your thoughts on this topic?
Unlike the Muslims, Buddhists have no doctrine of intolerance against unbelievers. I would see it as a political and tribal situation and explain it on that level.
Portions of the interview have been edited.