Video by | Mitchell Paquette ’16 and Olivia Wolff ’17

Every fall, a couple dozen Macalester students get up well before dawn and drive an hour south to a Buddhist temple. There they, along with their Introduction to Buddhism instructor Professor Erik Davis, attend a predawn ceremony at a Cambodian temple.

The ceremony is part of a 15-day celebration in which temple members feed hungry ghosts—ghosts who have returned to the places where they once lived—to seek gifts given by their descendants. If they find those gifts, they become angels and bless their descendants.

The Mac students take part in the entire ritual, ultimately feeding hungry ghosts rice balls along with the regular temple members.

Given the colors, chanting, and ideas behind this ritual, not to mention the somewhat eerie early morning aspect, most students are “rocked back on their heels” by the Buddhist temple experience, says Davis.

This field trip isn’t the only way in which Davis attempts to help his students better understand Buddhism. They also spend weekly class time meditating in the campus chapel. Some students have told Davis that the weekly meditation was truly transformative.

Davis doesn’t expect his students to become Buddhists. Instead, he hopes that by taking his course they will begin to learn “What religion is and does to you and how it makes other human beings.”

And there’s this benefit, says Davis: “You can learn so much about yourself by how other people do things.”

December 8 2015

Back to top