Harvard Groups Discuss Nirvana

By JIHAE LEE, The Harvard Crimson, March 3, 2008

New York, USA -- The Harvard College Buddhist Community and Dharma, Harvard’s Hindu students association, came together for the first time this weekend in a two-part event to discuss the concepts of nirvana, the Buddhist term that describes perfect peace of mind, and moksha, the Hindu concept of self-realization and liberation from worldly existence.

One of the differences between the two concepts, according to Rohan V. Prasad ’10, the spokesman for Dharma, is that nirvana can be achieved instantaneously and in daily life, whereas moksha is more of an end-of-life aspiration.

“Both ideas are the ultimate goals for each religion,” Prasad said.

At the first part of the discussion on Friday afternoon, the dialogue was led by Aba Cecile McHardy, a former fellow at the Radcliffe Institute.

“I am a spiritual friend,” said McHardy, who holds open houses at her apartment on Mt. Auburn St. to teach people how to apply Buddhist practice to their daily lives. “I’m open not just to Buddhists.”

McHardy, who said she likes to be known as “The Friendly Dragon” since she doesn’t like to be identified, also led a game at the Friday session in which she encouraged participants to come up with different names for themselves for the rest of the discussion.

Mihiri U. Tillakaratne ’09, the president of the Buddhist group, said she enjoyed the second, more student-led discussion on Sunday because “the environment was very open and accepting.”

“I really felt that all of us were trying to understand the other’s religion,” Tillakaratne said. “We got a chance to not only talk about something very complicated and profound, but also talk about our own personal lives, especially as college students.”

Tillakaratne, a History concentrator who is currently training to become a Buddhist minister, said she hopes to be able to navigate between lay individuals and the monastic order in Buddhism.

“I really want to connect the East and the West,” she said.