ARUN RATH, HOST:
The country's first Buddhist fraternity and sorority are being set up at San Diego State University. How do you square a tradition of serenity and compassion with a culture more associated with hazing and beer bongs? Claire Trageser from member station KPBS reports the organizers say it's all about striking a balance.
CLAIRE TRAGESER, BYLINE: 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.
CAITLYNNE LEARY: Every single part of college is suffering.
TRAGESER: San Diego State University sophomore Caitlynne Leary plans to pledge the Buddhist sorority. The second truth the Buddha taught is that suffering is caused by desire.
LEARY: You want that boy to like you back. You want that new purse.
TRAGESER: Next, the Buddha taught that to end suffering, you must end desire.
LEARY: If you stop expecting so much out of everything, you're just so much happier.
TRAGESER: Leary's been exploring Buddhism since she took a class on it last semester. Now she's working with other students to establish a Buddhist fraternity - Delta Beta Tau - and sorority - Delta Beta Theta.
LEARY: We're not monks or anything like that. Like, we're college students learning about the philosophies and the teachings of the Buddha.
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JEFF ZLOTNIK: Start with taking three deep breaths, slowly.
TRAGESER: Since the fraternity and sorority houses aren't set up yet, students currently gather for meditation on Saturday mornings near campus. They sit cross-legged in a dimly-lit room with a statue of the Buddha facing them.
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TRAGESER: Pledges won't have to pass any kind of Buddhist tests and likely won't have been raised Buddhist, although this is Southern California so you never know. Organizer Jeff Zlotnik says they'll have regular meditation and house rules based on Buddhist teachings of compassion, but also normal Greek activities.
ZLOTNIK: Date dashes and formals and parties, but hopefully with some mindful behavior and mindful activities and mindful action.
TRAGESER: And what would a mindful mixer look like?
ZLOTNIK: A mindful mixer look like - I'm not sure yet. Come back to me in about two years, and we'll tell you that.
TRAGESER: The school's Interfraternity Council wasn't surprised by the Buddhist idea. President Blake King is eager to see it happen.
BLAKE KING: It's kind of in line with things. I mean, organizations - like, Greek organizations are usually values-based. And you intermingle them, it provides for just an overall benefit, kind of a better-than-the-sum-of-our-parts type of deal.
TRAGESER: There have been Buddhist dorms at schools like Wesleyan University in Connecticut, but no official Greek organizations. Senior Matt Sheldon wanted something more than a Buddhist club that might wane as students graduated or lost interest.
MATT SHELDON: More of a brotherhood based on like-ideals and based on practices that are constructive.
TRAGESER: Sheldon originally pledged a fraternity that was kicked off campus for partying and underage drinking. Now, he recognizes the Buddha's Fourth Noble Truth - to end desire, you must follow the Eightfold Path. That involves moral actions, thoughtful speech and mindfulness - being present in the current moment.
SHELDON: I see people freaking out in classes, and you just don't have that rooted detachment that causes the stress and the anger and all the other issues because you have that practice of meditation to center yourself.
TRAGESER: He hopes, through the fraternity and sorority, students at San Diego State can learn to better handle college and prepare for the next steps on their own paths. For NPR News, I'm Claire Trageser in San Diego.
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