A dive into Buddhism

Tim Loftus expands on past and modern Buddhist traditions

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Teaching religious and cultural diversity at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) is both important and essential, which is why the WorldViews program aims to increase religious literacy and introduce people to the cultural diversity in their community. Originally called the “First Friday” program, the WorldViews series continues that program with a few changes in scheduling and formatting.

On Oct. 18, WorldViews had a guest speaker talk about his faith and religion: Buddhism. Tim Loftus, a follower of Tibetan Buddhism, was recommended by Khurram Hussain, Ph.D., professor of religious studies at Lehigh University, Ph.D., and a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding. 

The event took place in the Seegers Union Event Space, with the talk conducted in an interview format. Loftus was asked questions and queries about his faith, the challenges he’s faced and how he was introduced to Tibetan Buddhism. He talked about how he was introduced to Tibetan Buddhism in college by one of his professors. He was fascinated by the concept and began to read more about Buddhism and even found a meditation center to attend regularly. He then converted completely to Tibetan Buddhism, completed a Masters of divinity, and later served as a chaplain within the University of Pennsylvania health system. More recently he has been getting into the academic side of religion and Buddhism.

Loftus also spoke about the common misconceptions people have of Buddhism. He explained how Buddhism not only impacts the individual, but also the greater community saying, “Buddhism can be a source of compassionate action and social change, it doesn’t have to be pop-psychology or just a self-help movement, it can also inform positive change in the world.”

Buddhism is a quiet practice; however it is a practice for both oneself and the community and anyone can learn the teachings of The Buddha. He also mentioned how Buddhism is not about living in the future, but living in the present. This particularly resonated with Alex Konzelmann ‘26, who said, “I was really interested in the aspect of not thinking about the future as much and living in the present. I think that aspect should be involved in other religions as well to get rid of the materialistic views that most people have and also expand our minds on what we can do at any given moment. It was really fun and engaging as well. This program is really great for increasing religious literacy and practicing pluralism.”

Loftus continued to modern Buddhism, or Anglo-transnational Buddhism. Buddhism has evolved over the years, and contemporary Buddhism, especially in Western countries, is much different than what it might be in traditional settings. He gave an anecdote about his own religious community which is primarily based in North America. They do a lot of conscious thinking about how they practice and study. They have certain methods on how to filter out what is essential, as a lot of the texts they study from are translated to English, and are updated for modern use. Office of Communications Online Content Editor Sarah Wojcik, a practitioner of Buddhism, stated, “I thought that it was very interesting and informative. I’ve been exploring Zen Buddhism, and so I was very curious to hear the perspective from a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner.” 

Loftus further talked about differences between the American originated Buddhist groups and those traditionally from India or Tibet, and said, “The Buddhist world in America has been this far divided.” Traditional Tibetan teachers from India often did two events when they came to America, one being for the largely white followers who were middle to upper class and highly educated, and the other being for the Himalayan natives, which had many other experiences and cultural differences. The practice has always been divided between white people having their own Dharmas, or duties in Buddhism, and immigrant communities from Asia having their own Buddhist practice.

The interview came to an end and audience members were encouraged to ask questions. People were avidly asking questions, whether it was about Buddhism or Loftus himself. Matan Kogen ‘23 commented “I thought it was great. I didn’t know much about Buddhism going into it. I took a class freshman year but that’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge, and I thought they did a really good job making it easy to understand and relatable to someone who hasn’t had much experience with the religious tradition.”

Professor of Religion Studies and Director of the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding William Gruen, Ph.D., said, “Whether you’re religious or not, understanding religious and cultural diversity is important for all of us because it influences the way that people in our world operate. What we’re doing is not about indoctrination or theology, it’s about human interactions and understanding of cultural differences, and that’s all of our jobs.” He further stated, “If students or anybody from the campus community wants to be involved with what we’re doing, there are opportunities for research and internships, and they should reach out to us. We are really eager to have as many students involved in the Institute!”

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