Buddhist profile: Seamus Flynn

Seamus Flynn sitting on a couch in the background. In the foreground is a sign with the words, "In my begging bowl, [new line] violets and daisies [new line] mixed together [new line] Let's make an offering  [new line] to the buddhas [new line] in the three [last word is not legible] [new line] Ryokan
Seamus Flynn
Seamus Flynn is comforted by the reminder that he exists.

As the world moves so quickly around him, the 15-year-old from Cyber Village Academy notices how easy it is to lose sight of a concept most take for granted. Flynn has practiced Zen Buddhism since he was born. His religion plays a substantial role in his view of the world and his everyday mindset. For instance, when he walks home from his bus stop, he practices mindful walking.

“I try to, at the very least, get my breath in rhythm with my steps. I also try to notice the sights and sounds around me. Every day it’s a little bit different,” Flynn said.

“I came up with this on my own, however, mindful walking is a common Buddhist thing. But it is how I decided to apply my practice to my daily routine.”

Buddhism enables Flynn to detach from the world around him through meditation and practice. Flynn practices at a Zen center called Clouds In Water, where his mother is an influential leader. His faith has helped him define the interconnection of the world and how he can play a better role in it. Flynn realizes he will be constantly working toward this goal for the rest of his life.

How do you identify your faith?

Some people think Buddhism isn’t really as much of a religion as it is a philosophy or worldview. But I consider it a religion. I feel like it is a view of the universe that I’m dedicated to. It’s dedicated to making peace in the world. That falls into a broader definition of religion rather than just, say between the relationship between you and your God.

What is your relationship with Buddhism?

I go (to Clouds In Water in St. Paul) every Sunday. And I think it helps me live my life. The main practices of modern Buddhism would be the practices of compassion and mindfulness. And Buddhism’s addressing of those principles can be very good for teens. We’re in a world that seems intent on throwing a whole bunch of things at us and driving us berserk.

Who have been some of your biggest faith influences?

I have to mention the whole community (at Clouds in Water). We’re very communal. But my mom has probably been my best teacher — because, well, she’s my mom and she’s a teacher here. She’s really taught me more than anyone.

What do you appreciate most about your faith?

I love interconnection. It’s always part of my philosophy in life. When I’m doing this (puts his hand on the table, moves it around) my fingers actually aren’t separate from the table. There are atoms and what not, other mumbo jumbo traveling between them. I try to think of those things because it reminds me of how much I interact with the universe. I’m causing these things, and things are affecting me. So I’m just one little piece of this gigantic web. I love that.

What are your most important traditions?

Rohatsu, definitely. It’s also called Buddha’s enlightenment day. The basic idea of it is that you spend the morning together with some kids twisting together paper to make flowers. Then we put them in trays and bowls. We bring them (into a zendo, meditation hall) where we have the usual morning service, and then we hand those out. Then we all get into a big circle and start walking around the zendo in two big circles while throwing flowers in the air and chanting (a Buddhist text). That happens once a year on Dec. 8.

What comforts you about Buddhism?

It reminds me that I exist. Sometimes it’s really easy to lose track of that. I think that it’s important to just stop and listen to the sounds while here. I think they’re doing something over at the Lafayette Bridge. Jackhammering has basically been going on the whole time since I got here. Outside it sounds chaotic, but in here, it sounds calming and almost muted. So I just like being aware of my life. Being peaceful.

What challenges you?

It’s hard sometimes, and even exhausting, to be present — like even right now. At times, it can even be painful. To really realize all of this. So, that’s a challenge that I face because I’m a person that thinks a lot. In some ways, it’s hard to practice with all of these thoughts. But I think a lot of people have that problem.

What are the biggest misconceptions?

Zen has different lineages, different branches, sort of like Christianity. And some of them are actually polytheistic (belief in multiple deities), but some people make the generalization that all Buddhism is part polytheistic. Christians or other monotheistic (one deity) religions assume that you can’t believe in Jesus or God just because you’re Buddhist, when actually that’s perfectly possible.

Do you relate to other teenagers differently because of Buddhism? Does “being present” affect your views on say, technology use?

Definitely. I don’t know how much that is my faith or just who I am as a person, but Buddhism fits who I am as a person well. Like, I don’t have a smartphone or anything … and I’m sometimes very annoyed when everybody’s just staring at their phone. In a crowded public space, I’m usually the only one who doesn’t have this electronic square in front of my eyes.

How do you define the role faith plays in your life?

I think Buddhism makes me a better person. It helps me live my life more peacefully and with more awareness. I realize what I affect and what is affecting me, and of course, I’ll be working on this my whole life. I’m just getting started. But I’ve heard from some people who have told me that they wished they would have started practicing (Buddhism) when they were 15.