BYU students ‘Zen Mormons’ after retreat

For Mormon Times

Zach Elison and Brandon Habermeyer consider themselves Zen Mormons. This blend of theology and philosophy stemmed from their experience at a two-week-long Buddhist retreat.

“They have things to teach us,” Elison said. “Everything I love about Buddhism I find in my own religion, they just emphasize it differently.”

Habermeyer and Elison, both philosophy majors studying at Brigham Young University, got a tip from a world-religions professor at school about the retreat.

They spent two weeks in July under the towering Redwoods of Santa Cruz, Calif., learning and practicing some of the teachings of Buddhism.

“I’ve always held this really strong conviction that truth is not monopolized by any one particular group of people,” Habermeyer said. “I’m an explorer of truth wherever I can get it.”

Buddhists emphasize taking care of the body, the earth and others. They extract spiritual principles from every experience in life.

“I’ve always believed that spiritual truths are embedded in everything in our surrounding,” Habermeyer said. “The universe is constantly singing its song to us. Are we seeing what it wants us to see?”

The Buddhist religion also places a strong emphasis on “bodhicitta,” or charity.

“I was so surprised about how their religion is geared toward charity, helping everyone,” Elison said. “Prior to this (retreat) I thought it was for their own enlightenment; not the case. In order to grow spiritually, we have to help others.”

The two BYU students spent hours each day meditating, beautifying the land, eating vegetarian meals and “blissing out” with their Buddhist instructors. They had a chance to give out copies of the Book of Mormon and share with the Buddhist instructors and fellow students about Jesus Christ and the restoration of the LDS Church.

Both still apply what they learned on the retreat.

Habermeyer said he learned from the Buddhist law of interdependence and gratitude.

At each meal, after eating, they meditated over how the meal came about. They thought about the farmer who planted and nurtured the seeds, the manufacturing company that took the food and packaged it, the person who bought it and the person who prepared it.

“You have a moment of silence after you eat,” Elison said. “My salad is the whole world. It’s all connected.”

“They’re so serious about it,” Habermeyer said. “Everything is so spiritual to them. It resonates.”

Elison said he learned to be “gentle” with himself and others because of his experience at the retreat.

“Getting a chance to practice the meditation that I learned there, it calms my life down, it calms myself down. Just turn off the iPod and cell phone,” Elison said. “I understand how much God loves his children now. Be gentle with everyone and their own beliefs. Everyone is seeking after something to make their lives better.”


  1. I thought I was the only Zen Mormon! My former seminary teacher (freshman year 1975) saw my religion designation on facebook and asked me about it. She later sent me a link to your site. Nice to know there is a community.


  2. Way to go Zach you have always been so “zen” you need to come back to Colorado and teach us how to meditate!

  3. Just a thought from a believing Mormon and its first prophet Joseph Smith:

    “The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.”

  4. Interesting…it seems that many of the same good things can be found in any tradition–religious or otherwise–and long with many of the same bad things, which sadly, are what organized religions tend to emphasize….

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