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New Buddhist fraternity and sorority to bring compassion and kindness to college campus

Faith

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For founders of the first Buddhist Greek organization on a U.S. college campus, striving to show compassion proves more important than starting controversy.

Caitlynne Leary wrote for The Huffington Post that Jeff Zlotnik, co-founder of the Dharma Bum Buddhist Temple in San Diego, and Abby Cervantes, a student of the temple, are establishing a Buddhist fraternity and sorority at San Diego State University.

Zlotnik and Cervantes plan to spend the organizations' initial time gauging interest and gathering members, hoping to formally request to join the Greek community, according to The Huffington Post.

Members of the Buddhist groups will learn compassion and kindness to utilize for the rest of their lives, Zlotnik told The Huffington Post.

"It's not just about those four years. You're impacting their entire life and their future," he said. "That's something you have to take seriously."

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, a source of inspiration in founding the organizations for 40-year-old Zlotnik was his time spent in a fraternity while in college

However, he told the Union-Tribune although people referred to his organization as a "gentlemen fraternity," "gentlemen" isn't a term widely used in relation to Greek life.

And recent headlines involving these groups back that idea up.

Just in 2015's spring semester, "133 fraternity and sorority chapters at 55 U.S. colleges were shut down, suspended or otherwise punished after alleged offenses including excessive partying, hazing, racism and sexual assault," according to Akane Otani and Jeremy Scott Diamond of Bloomberg.

Issues like these prove more troubling because they negatively affect all students in one way or another.

According to Caitlin Dickinson of Yahoo News, fraternity activities have been linked to 60 deaths nationwide since 2005, and accidents and injuries related to Greek life underscore larger issues.

"The number of fraternity-related accidents and injuries (in relation to deaths) is much higher, with many linked to binge drinking — a problem of 86 percent of fraternity house residents, according to a 2009 study published by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators," Dickinson reported. "Comparatively, the study found that 45 percent of nonfraternity men on campuses binge-drink."

Sandra Wawrytko, who teaches classes on Buddhism and philosophy at SDSU, said the Buddhist organizations — with their emphasis on spirituality and compassion — could set an example for SDSU fraternities and sororities, according to the Union-Tribune.

Wawrytko said a new perspective could combat Greek life troubles.

"It can definitely help the fraternity and sororities on campus to see different models," she told Gary Warth of the Union-Tribune.

Zlotnik told the Associated Press the founders' aim is not to start "this heavy religious organization," but he said Buddhism changed his life — and he thinks young adults could learn a great deal from the philosophy's teachings.

According to the Union-Tribune, Zlotnik attended a religious service at a Buddhist temple in 2003. Since, he's helped Westerners learn about Buddhist teachings and now looks to offer that guidance to SDSU students.

Approval to make the Buddhist Greek organizations official might take "a couple of years," Zlotnik told the AP. He said his beliefs can guide him and organization members through that, though.

"It's a long process," he said, "but part of Buddhist practice is to be patient."

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Payton Davis is the Deseret News National intern. Send him an email at pdavis@deseretdigital.com and follow him on Twitter, @Davis_DNN.

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