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Students Launch New Buddhist Group at Harvard

Zehan Zhou '22 and Suneragiri Liyanage '24, co-presidents of Maarga, led the charge to revitalize a Buddhist space on campus last fall.
Zehan Zhou '22 and Suneragiri Liyanage '24, co-presidents of Maarga, led the charge to revitalize a Buddhist space on campus last fall. By Aiyana G. White
By Rohan Rajeev, Crimson Staff Writer

Buddhist students on campus have a new place they can call home: Harvard Maarga.

Zehan Zhou ’22 and Suneragiri Liyanage ’24, co-presidents of Maarga, led the charge to revitalize a Buddhist space on campus beginning in October 2021. The organization received official recognition from the Undergraduate Council last month.

Zhou said he grew up in a Buddhist family and was looking to further engage with his religious roots at Harvard, but found no such group during his first three years at the College.

“There’s a graduate students Buddhist organization, but a lot of the topics that they were talking about, quite frankly, didn’t really resonate with my experiences,” he said.

Liyanage also grew up in a Buddhist family. He said his upbringing in Sri Lanka shaped what he wanted out of a Buddhist group on campus.

“I was severely disappointed to come here and say, ‘Okay, there are no Buddhists around to speak to,’” he said

Harvard Dharma, a Hindu student association, assisted Zhou and Liyanage through the club registration process. Zhou said many shared traditions and beliefs across Hinduism and Buddhism allowed for collaboration between the groups.

“With their generosity, we both share the same prayer space because most of the deities in Buddhism are the same deities they have in Hinduism,” Zhou said.

Khin-Kyemon Aung ’14, a tutor in Dunster House, also provided guidance as Zhou and Liyanage started the organization.

“When I was a student, I would have loved to be part of an organization like this — to get to meet other people from all different parts of the world to find Buddhism a source of strength and a source of comfort,” she said.

Maarga has hosted numerous events throughout the semester, in spite of campus Covid restrictions — including ones centered around calligraphy, lantern-making, and meditation. The group also plans to hold outdoor events, including ice skating, in the future.

“We’ve tried to turn it into more of an advantage and less of a disadvantage,” Liyanage said of the Covid restrictions.

Liyanage said the founders’ main vision is “making a space for critical discussion.”

“The most important part is we just want a space where we can share our upbringings, and where we can participate in a community get-together,” Zhou said.

—Rohan Rajeev can be reached at rohan.rajeev@thecrimson.com.

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CollegeOn CampusStudent GroupsStudent LifeReligionFront Middle Feature