Buddhist Chaplain joins Spiritual staff

by Beacon Staff • February 13, 2008

When she was ordained under the Buddhist faith, she was given the name Samayadevi, translating in Sanskrit to "luminous one of the vow or bond.,Until last summer, Samayadevi Luterman was known to family and friends as Leonie, a name passed down to the women in her family from her great-grandmother.

When she was ordained under the Buddhist faith, she was given the name Samayadevi, translating in Sanskrit to "luminous one of the vow or bond."

After a reception at the Center for Spiritual Life last week, Luterman became Emerson's first Buddhist Chaplain.

She will be volunteering her time for questions and discussions on Buddhism, leading services and helping students network with others of similar denominations.

"I want to offer meditation and create an inviting way for all to practice," Luterman said. "But I am really going to be influenced by what students request."

After students expressed an interest in the religion, Rabbi Al Axelrad, chair for the Center of Spiritual Life, decided the center needed someone with Buddhist expertise.

"Buddhism has become very en vogue and westerners have found it to be exotic and interesting," Axelrad said. "I have seen about 25-30 students in the last couple years requesting a group be made on campus."

Buddhism began about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, also known as Buddha, left his home to explore and observe suffering. He was enlightened by his expedition and began traveling India teaching his beliefs.

Buddhists follow the philosophy to lead a moral life, be aware of thoughts and actions and develop wisdom and understanding.

Axelrad was introduced to Luterman last November by her husband David Luterman, a Professor Emeritus of communication disorders at Emerson.

"I was so impressed with her in our first meeting. She just sparkled," Axelrad said. "We are without a budget and she offered to serve as a laborer of love."

Luterman began practicing the religion in 1999 when she stumbled upon a service in New Hampshire that caught her interest.

She now serves as a council member and editor of the newsletter for the Aryaloka Buddhist Center, the same facility she discovered in the '90s.

"I wasn't looking for anything, but when I heard it, that was it," Luterman said. "It resonated so powerfully in me that I became a vegetarian on the spot and began studying."

Luterman was ordained eight years later.

"College years are a great time for students to explore and research religion and spirituality," Axelrad said. "Samayadevi is wise and extremely sensitive and has offered her knowledge of Buddhism to the Emerson community."

Next week, she will be traveling to India to study under the Dalai Lama for 16 days, attending translated teachings and meditations.

"I think the Buddhist component was missing from the Spiritual Center and this is a really great chance for the Emerson community to have," said Lily Jeong, a freshman audio major who said she practices Buddhism. "It is hard when your religion is the minority and now there is someone on campus we can go and talk to."

For other students, a Buddhist Chaplain could serve as a closer outlet to practice their devotion.

Katie Lannigan, a broadcast journalism major, said she occasionally travels to Arlington to a Buddhist place of worship to meditate.

"This will be a good resource for people to have discussions or pray and practice," the sophomore said. "It is an exciting step for Emerson and it will open the Buddhist community to anyone who is interested."

Junior Benjamin Buday said he does not practice Buddhism but would be interested in the prospect of more denomination representation on campus.

"I don't feel there is a large religious or spiritual demographic in the student body here," said the print journalism major. "I think this could be encouraging for people who are looking for some sort of guidance and haven't found it through conventional religions."

Luterman aims to be on campus once a week, starting Wednesdays after spring break, and will be joining the Chaplains of the Protestant and Catholic faiths and a Hillel adviser.

"The chaplain is not only for Buddhist people but for anyone who is interested in the religion," Jeong said. "This will be a great opportunity for anyone who is looking for something different than their religion."