Bhante Sathi has a mission: to share the benefits of meditation with the entire world. That’s what led the Buddhist monk to open the Chaska Mindfulness Center. “I wanted to create a neutral place, without cultural barriers,” he says. “I know that there is a need for this type of place locally, because the benefits of meditation are universal.”
The center is less than a year old and already offers classes almost daily. Meditation, study, yoga and a book club are all on the schedule, and Bhante Sathi (Bhante is a title and term of respect used when addressing a Buddhist monk) hopes to continue to expand the offerings. Weekend-long retreats and, eventually, a retreat center are also part of his plans. “Everyone can practice meditation or mindfulness,” he says. “I want people to learn that you don’t have to give up your religion. We aren’t trying to make cultural changes in people, we just want to show them a healthier lifestyle.”
There is a great deal of published research extolling the benefits of a regular meditation practice.
Study results published last year by researchers at the University of California–Los Angeles School of Medicine showed that people who had practiced meditation regularly lost less gray matter in their brains as they aged. In other words, their brains stayed younger than non-meditating subjects in the control group.
A study published in the journal of the National Academies of Science in 2011 looked at how meditation quieted activity in what is called the default mode network. The default mode network (sometimes referred to as the “monkey mind”) is the part of the brain that kicks into action when your mind wanders through random thoughts. That kind of ruminating and worrying keeps us from being “in the moment,” and researchers say it is strongly associated with being less happy. Focused thinking and staying in the moment lead to happiness—habits supported by regular meditation practice.
The words “regular practice” are important to Bhante Sathi, who describes meditation as a mental workout. “I often tell people that meditation is like swimming,” he says. “No matter how many books you read about swimming, you can’t swim without jumping in the water. Meditation is something that you must jump into and do regularly to see the benefits.”
Practice and discipline are habits he hopes to help students at the center cultivate. He has already taught hundreds of people in the southwest metro area—including at workshops in Eden Prairie and Chanhassen. He looks forward to expanding the class offerings at the center in Chaska by training teachers from the community. To bring people in as students, lead them into a regular, healthy practice and then help them to become the teachers and guides for the next group of people will, he believes, help the center become a real presence in the community.
Bhante Sathi was born in Sri Lanka to parents who were not strictly religious, but he felt a calling to become a monk at a young age and was ordained as a novice monk in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism at age 19. After several years of further study, he was fully ordained and began to teach internationally. In 1999, he came to the United States, and in 2003 settled in Minnesota and became a U.S. citizen.
It was in Mankato that he founded the Triple Gem of the North organization, which acts as the parent organization that supports the Chaska Mindfulness Center. The organization also works to raise money to establish a retreat center for longer residential workshops and intensive trainings.
Meditation classes at the center are scheduled for 60 minutes. There is a teacher to guide the students through the process. The classes are free and open to the public, but the center is dependent on freewill donations to stay operational.
Bhante Sathi’s presence in the community is not just as a teacher and organizer. There is a residence above the center on Chestnut Street in Chaska where he lives when he is not traveling to teach around the country, so he is also a neighbor. And there is space in the residence for other monks to stay as they journey to teach and raise awareness about Buddhism and the benefits of meditation. Buddhist monks are part of a community, and Bhante Sathi says that monks from different traditions have no trouble studying and working together. It is customary in Buddhist religious practice for monks to be supported by their communities and to work with one another.
That is his hope for the future of Triple Gem of the North and the Chaska Mindfulness Center: A community of people who support each other moving toward a healthier and happier lifestyle while respecting and even honoring differences in culture and religious tradition.