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Santiago Quintana `15

Santiago Quintana `15

Perhaps the sharpest turn in Santiago Quintana’s spiritual journey came unexpectedly, as they often do, in a place far from his Mexico City home:  a six month stay in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, waking up before dawn to meditate, chant, work and teach English all day.  By the end of his time there, Santiago had taken his Refuge Vows, a formal process of becoming a Tibetan Buddhist.

[Santiago Quintana `15] 

“What drew me to Buddhism was its simplicity and ritualistic tendencies…I love rituals and the structure they give, and the peace that comes from that.  I am very much not [structured] and I think that why I like rituals … because they are so difficult for me!”

The religion’s basic wisdom about human suffering and liberation – known as the Four Noble Truths – also attracts Santiago (Santi to his many friends).  And of course there is the experience of meditation:  “I am happy to have three lines of text that say, `Sit. Watch your breath. Observe your mind.’”

These spiritual practices show quite naturally in Santiago’s affectionate, warm and playful presence.  Definitely a hugger!  And a gifted dancer in the Beloit Dance Department – his performances exude deep compassion and feeling.  Yet he will remind you that Buddhists are not mindlessly serene and blandly friendly, going through life with eyes half closed.  To him, that common misconception is “idiot compassion.”  He’s learned that to be Buddhist is every bit as much about fearlessness and fire, the capacity to see new possibilities even in the most difficult of situations.

Growing up in predominantly Roman Catholic Mexico, among extended family members with strong differing opinions about the Church and the faith, Santiago had a complicated religious experience in his youth.  On one hand, as a 9-year-old he was deeply moved by his first communion (“It was a large point of religiosity in my life. That Catholic experience came at a time of instability in my life”), but on the other hand, “I had stereotypical preconceived notions of being Catholic …my experiences with Catholicism had been somewhat shaped by people in my family criticizing it.  Interfaith dialogues at Beloit helped me open my mind and re-think ways I had previously labeled certain religions.”

Now a member of the student Buddhist club and a Spiritual Life Assistant, he aspires to help fellow students find the grounding stability of spiritual community and ritual because he remembers the difficulty and turmoil of his own transition to Beloit from Nepal and Mexico City.

“During the first month of school or so I had just freshly arrived and was in the “freshmen chaos commotion,” he says, “Being involved with the Spiritual Life Program helped me find other people that feel spirituality is important in their lives.”

It’s not easy to walk a spiritual path when you’re a full time liberal arts college student, but Santiago is giving it a dedicated try and willing to stay with the effort come what may!  After all, he quotes the Buddha, says, “The nature of all transient phenomena is change.”