On a chilly winter day in downtown Davenport, a short walk up a flight of stairs reveals tidy rooms, highlighted by sunshine streaming through huge windows that face east.
A statue of Buddha is prominently located, leading to a Buddhist meditation room decorated in the traditional colors of deep green and dark red, with gold accents.
The Lamrim Kadampa Buddhist Center, established seven months ago in Davenport, is an urban oasis of light and spirituality. Led by Buddhist teacher Joe Gauthier, the center offers drop-in and scheduled classes, a meditation session on Sunday mornings, lessons on Buddhism and meditation methods, as well as in-depth, educational retreats.
The center was founded in 2005 as a nonprofit organization and as a member of the New Kadampa Tradition, part of the International Kadampa Buddhist Union. This tradition was brought from Tibet to the west by meditation master and Buddhist scholar, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
Davenport's center grew out of a similar facility in Iowa City. The purpose is to help followers to learn practical methods on how to solve their daily problems and live meaningful lives, according to information in a brochure available at the center.
Gauthier, a native of Boston, came to the Midwest after studying and practicing Buddhist meditation for more than 15 years with Gyatso. Before he arrived in Iowa, he studied and taught in locations including Great Britain, Taiwan and Holland as well as Madison, Wis.
He has several activities going on at the center, which is located on the floor above the Hawkeye Pawn Shop and is accessed through a door that faces Scott Street.
Weekly drop-in classes
Drop-in classes that focus on general meditation methods and an introduction to Buddhism are Mondays, 6:45-8 p.m. in Davenport, and Tuesdays, 6:45-8 p.m. at the Quad-City Botanical Center, Rock Island. Sunday mornings feature a simple meditation program from 11-11:45 a.m.
Special programs are on the weekends - such as the upcoming Feb. 4 course, "Death: Teachings for a Meaningful Life."
"We do offer a wide range," said Gauthier, who added that the local initiative started at the Botanical Center after a Quad-City resident wrote a letter to the Lamrim Kadampa Buddhist Center in Iowa City.
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Gauthier found himself driving to the Quad Cities each week to head up what are well-attended sessions in Rock Island. "We realized this would be a good location," he said. "It's worked out well."
The upcoming class that studies death - as a way to find more meaning in life - was a topic suggested to Gauthier. The classes usually attract a couple of dozen individuals, he said, expecting the Feb. 4 lesson to raise a "fair amount of interest."
Death is a mostly taboo subject in the American culture, Gauthier said. This class, in the short term, will give participants a sharper perspective on life.
"If you don't seize the essence of life, and don't appreciate the people around you, you can become complacent," he said. "But when you do a death meditation, it can be a big turning-point. Like a near-death experience is for some people."
One might think this type of class would be depressing, he added, but it actually makes most people happy because it demystifies the unknown.