students launch new Buddhist group at Harvard | News

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Buddhist students on campus have a new place they can call home: Harvard Maarga.

Zehan Zhou ’22 and Suneragiri Liyanage ’24, co-chairs of Maarga, led the charge to revitalize a Buddhist space on campus beginning in October 2021. The organization received official recognition from the Undergraduate Council on the month last.

Zhou said he grew up in a Buddhist family and sought to engage more with his religious roots at Harvard, but found no such group during his first three years at college.

“There’s a Buddhist graduate student organization, but a lot of the stuff they were talking about, quite frankly, didn’t really fit my experiences,” he said.

Liyanage also grew up in a Buddhist family. He said his upbringing in Sri Lanka shaped what he wanted from a Buddhist group on campus.

“I was very disappointed to come here and say, ‘Okay, there are no Buddhists to talk to,'” he said.

Harvard Dharma, a Hindu student body, helped Zhou and Liyanage through the club registration process. Zhou said many traditions and beliefs shared across Hinduism and Buddhism allow for collaboration between the groups.

“With their generosity, we both share the same prayer space because most of the deities in Buddhism are the same deities as in Hinduism,” Zhou said.

Khin-Kyemon Aung ’14, a tutor at Dunster House, also provided guidance when Zhou and Liyanage started the organization.

“When I was a student, I would have loved to be part of an organization like this – to meet other people from all parts of the world to find in Buddhism a source of strength and a source of comfort,” said she declared.

Maarga held many events throughout the semester, despite campus Covid restrictions — including those centered on calligraphy, lantern-making and meditation. The group also plans to organize outdoor events in the future, including ice skating.

“We tried to make it more of a plus and less of a minus,” Liyanage said of the Covid restrictions.

Liyanage said the founders’ main vision is to “create a space for critical discussion.”

“The most important part is that we just want a space where we can share our education and where we can have a community meeting,” Zhou said.

—Rohan Rajeev can be contacted at [email protected]

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