Subway Zen

Subway Zen

A new group called Buddhist Insights are aiming to change New York’s street rep from the hard, mean streets it is known for to areas of peace.

In article by Lion’s Roar publication, Buddhist Insights co-founder Giovanna Maselli says, “There’s this idea that you have to escape New York to find peace and quiet.” To challenge that idea, she and her co-founder, Buddhist monk Bhante Suddhaso, hold meditation classes in unconventional locations around the city. They call them “street retreats.”

“The street retreats started as a fun thing to do,” explains Maselli to Lion’s Roar. “But they got a lot of positive feedback. People realized that they could meditate anywhere.”

From building lobbies, to art galleries and even Union Square subway station, they are holding meditation classes.

What’s their goal?

Buddhist Insight’s mission is to actually connect New Yorkers to Buddhist monastics. Maselli said that when she tried to find a monastic teacher a few years ago, she couldn’t. She partnered with Suddhaso, a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism, to start the organization. 

In lieu of a dedicated space for their meditation classes, Maselli and Suddhaso started hosting weekly classes in what they called “the wilderness of New York City”: churches, art galleries, beaches, sidewalks, subway stations, parks, and basically anywhere else they could freely sit.

Maselli posted photos to Instagram, where each one garnered hundreds of likes. After less than a year, the Buddhist Insights account has more than 20,000 followers. When Buddhist Insights held its first class in January, promoting it on Instagram, fifty people showed up and another fifty put their names on the waiting list.

“It’s about establishing the attitude of meditating anywhere and making friends with your environment,” explains Suddhaso. “Often, when we’re meditating and there’s noise outside, we think, ‘Oh, I could meditate if not for that noise.’ The problem isn’t the noise. What’s disturbing your meditation is your attitude toward the noise. The noise is just noise. So, we’re establishing the attitude of focusing on the present moment and using it as your laboratory for investigating the mind. That’s something you can do anywhere, with any conditions.”