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San Diego State’s Buddhist Fraternity, Sorority Aim To Bring Mindfulness To Mixers

Organizers hope to strike a balance between a monastery and ‘Animal House’

San Diego State University could be the first in the country with a Buddhist fraternity and sorority. They’ll be named Delta Beta Tau and Delta Beta Theta, which stand for Dharma Bum Temple.

When the Buddha attained enlightenment, he realized the Four Noble Truths that explain the human condition. The first truth he taught is that all life is suffering.

That rings true for San Diego State University sophomore Caitlynne Leary.

"Every single part of college is suffering," Leary said. "You’re stressed out all of the time."

Next, the Buddha taught that to end suffering you must end desire. Leary agrees.

"You have certain expectations for everything in your life, you want things, you want that boy to like you back, you want that new purse," she said. "But if you stop expecting so much out of everything you’re just so much happier."


Delta Beta Tau, Delta Beta Theta

Delta Beta Tau, Delta Beta Theta

A flier describing details behind the Buddhist fraternity and sorority at San Diego State University.

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Leary has been exploring Buddhism since she took a class on it last semester, and now is working with other students to open a Buddhist fraternity and sorority at SDSU. They would be the first in the country. Organizers have already chosen the letters, Delta Beta Tau for the fraternity and Delta Beta Theta for the sorority, which stand for Dharma Bum Temple.

You might think there would be a major clash between fraternities and Buddhism, but Leary said there’s a middle ground.

"We’re not monks or anything like that," she said. "We’re college students learning about the philosophies and teachings of the Buddha."

Jeff Zlotnik came up with the Buddhist fraternity and sorority idea and said the houses wouldn't prevent members from being normal college students.

"Being Buddhist doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t drink," he said. "Being Buddhist doesn’t mean you can’t have a social life."

Zlotnik holds meditation sessions at his store near campus, Buddha For You, and said SDSU students often join. He was in a fraternity in college and liked the idea of establishing fraternity and sorority houses because they are more permanent than college clubs or theme dorms.

He said members wouldn't have to be Buddhist. He envisions Delta Beta Tau and Delta Beta Theta having meditation rooms, along with house rules based on Buddhist teachings of compassion and equanimity.

But, he said, they'd also have normal Greek activities, including "date dashes and formals and parties, but hopefully with some mindful behavior and mindful activities and mindful action."

What would a mindful mixer look like?

"I’m not sure yet," Zlotnik said. "Come back to me in about two years and we’ll tell you that."

Photo caption: Jeff Zlotnik leads a meditation session at his College Area store, Buddha For...

Photo by Claire Trageser

Jeff Zlotnik leads a meditation session at his College Area store, Buddha For You, Sept. 12, 2015.

Last spring a Christian fraternity lost its recognition at California State University Stanislaus because it barred non-Christians from holding leadership roles. Zlotnik is expecting most of the Delta Beta Tau and Delta Beta Theta members won’t be Buddhist when they join.

"And when you’re done three, four, five years later you probably still won’t be Buddhist," he said. "You’ll just be a little bit happier, a little more peaceful, a little more compassionate, and hopefully spend more time taking care of others than you do yourself."

Blake King is the president of SDSU's Interfraternity Council, a governing body that oversees 13 campus fraternities. He said Delta Beta Tau wouldn't need to be a member of his council, but he expects the fraternity system will welcome them to campus.

"The idea of having a special niche like this, forming an organization out of it and trying to better the community, I think that's great," he said. "I'm going to support that 100 percent as much as I can."

SDSU already has an on campus meditation group called Aztec Dharma Bums, which would partner with the Buddhist fraternity and sorority, said its president Sarah Walsh. She said Buddhist teachings resonate with her because they alleviate stress and frustration in daily life.

"We tell ourself all these stories and then we get angry when they don’t happen," she said. "But we’re only one being in this whole universe and we’re making ourselves angry over these stories that we’re telling ourselves that aren’t real to anyone else. And that makes so much sense to me that I’m stressing myself over these things that I’m just creating."

Walsh said a sorority of sisters would remind her to be in the present moment, which is one aspect of the Buddha’s fourth Noble Truth: to end desire you must follow the Eightfold Path. It involves moral actions, thoughtful speech and mindfulness.

SDSU senior Matt Sheldon has been following this path for about a year.

"You don’t have to act instantaneously to things when they might be stressful or irritating, you can take a moment and react with love and compassion," he said.

Sheldon joined a different fraternity when he started college, but it was quickly kicked off campus. He said a Buddhist fraternity would provide a support system of like-minded brothers.

"I still have fun, I still go out and do things, but there’s plenty of times where it’s an early night and you get up and feel better the next day," he said. "So I’m not your typical drink and hit up Trujillo's for tacos."

Sheldon said he hopes students can learn to better handle college through Delta Beta Tau and Delta Beta Theta.

"I see people freaking out in classes and you just don’t have that rooted attachment that causes the stress and the anger and all the other issues that people wind up following a different path to take care of, you know?" he said. "Because you have that practice of meditation to center yourself."

He also hopes it will prepare students for the next steps on their paths.

Photo caption: San Diego State senior Matt Sheldon meditates at Buddha For You, Sept. 12, 2015.

Photo by Claire Trageser

San Diego State senior Matt Sheldon meditates at Buddha For You, Sept. 12, 2015.

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