SHASTI CHRISTOPHER ST. JOHN looks on as a group of students and teachers meditate at Shambhala Meditation Center this past Monday. St. John was recently appointed Shasti — a high honor for a Shambhala teacher — by Shambhala International.

SHASTI CHRISTOPHER ST. JOHN looks on as a group of students and teachers meditate at Shambhala Meditation Center this past Monday. St. John was recently appointed Shasti — a high honor for a Shambhala teacher — by Shambhala International.

BRUNSWICK

Shastri Christopher St. John looked on from the front of the room as his five students sat still and silent, their legs crossed and their minds free — for the moment, at least — of the daily hustle and bustle. The students looked to their teacher from time to time, but for the most part their eyes were closed, their instruction coming from within. Such is the custom when meditating at the Shambhala Meditation Center.

TEACHERS AND STUDENTS meditate at the Shambhala Meditation Center in Brunswick.

TEACHERS AND STUDENTS meditate at the Shambhala Meditation Center in Brunswick.

In addition to the Shambhala Meditation Center on Mason Street in Brunswick, there are also centers in Portland and Rockland, and more than 200 additional centers worldwide. All Shambhala meditations follow the teachings of Tibetan Buddhist monk Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

St. John, who leads teachings and meditation sessions at Brunswick’s center and was just bestowed the high honor of Shastri by Shambhala International, sees a correlation with hard times and the need to relax and meditate.

“There was a huge surge of interest in our programs a few weeks after 9/11,” said St. John, who has practiced Shambhala in Brunswick since 1986. “A group of people were disturbed by national and world events and felt like that was a good time to practice meditation. I can’t say for sure, but I sense another moment that people — regardless of what side of the election they were on — were surprised by what happened and know that big changes are coming with how we relate to the rest of the world. I think we’re beginning to sense an increase of people saying, ‘wow, what do we do now?’”

St. John said that his doors are open to anyone. Donations are encouraged after the first session, but there is no formal charge. Additionally, the public “just sit” session on Sundays allows folks to come in and sit in silence with others. St. John said that, in the last year, around 300 people came to meditate at least once, and over 200 returned for additional classes.

“The teachers who formulated or discovered these particular teachings emphasize that the phenomena and nature of humans is basically good,” said St. John. “That’s a somewhat provocative teaching in the current world, to actually believe and act on that premise.”

St. John said that at the heart of his teachings is the idea of “warriorship.”

“Warriorship not meaning building up an aggressive position toward the world, but the idea of remaining open to the suffering that exists in the world,” said St. John. “The key to being a warrior is finding ways to be in touch with our hearts. If we are sensitive and open to the world around us, we’ll know what to do.”

Jana Coffin, who has been a student of St. John’s for a year and has aspirations of teaching Shambhala one day, said the understanding of another’s plight is paramount to meditation, as well as to the ultimate goal of understanding oneself.

“The key to me is compassion, avoiding judgment,” said Coffin. “Understanding that each one of us is facing the world, and sometimes we don’t see that because of defense mechanisms people create out of pain and fear. We don’t have to love one another, but we can be compassionate.”

St. John said that Shambhala should be viewed as a “non-theistic religion.”

“It’s not atheistic — in other words, it doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in God or I do — but we are not necessarily praying to a deity,” St. John said. “You just have to have an open mind. It’s up to you to understand how to work those traditions together. There are plenty of Zen Catholics out there who practice meditation.”

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