"For a long time, we've been talking about being sensitive to cultural issues," he said. "But how can you be culturally sensitive without being religiously sensitive? In almost all cultures, religion is a big part of the culture."
In another session, conducted by Bhante Chao Chu, abbot of the Rosemead Buddhist Monastery, the message was simple: Slow down, meditate, be mindful of each moment with each breath you take.
Slowing down one's reactions doesn't mean being sluggish or lazy, said the Sri Lanka-born monk. Rather, it means being fully aware of "this very moment."
Calm and looking as if on the verge of breaking into a gentle smile, the saffron-robe-clad monk talked about the importance of breathing and walking as meditation techniques.
One of the best ways to meditate is walking, he said. He then proceeded to demonstrate by standing erect, clasping his hands behind him and taking a few steps very slowly.
"When we walk, we walk slowly, keep the head straight. It's very important to keep the head straight," Chu said. "Holding hands behind you helps you walk in balance."
When you reach a barrier during your walk, stop and relax there for 10 to 20 seconds before changing course, he advised.
"The mind is not something we can show you, but [it is] easy to contaminate," he said. "It takes a lot of time and energy to purify. It's like water. We need to take care of our mind."
Before his walking demonstration, Chu had led another exercise, directing members of the overflow audience to put one hand on their abdomen.
"The rising and falling of your abdomen -- focus on that," he said, standing still and surveying the group.
During the five-minute segments of this mindfulness training, when all closed their eyes and focused on breathing, it seemed as though time had stopped. Five minutes seemed longer than 300 seconds.
And when the monk called out softly that the five minutes were up, the audience members opened their eyes slowly as if waking from a dream.