By this Practice According with Truth, February 14, 2015
What a very full three weeks (108 hours) that was! The Sixth Kandy Intensive Buddhist English Course ended with a satisfied sigh very much like that euphoric feeling we get when Ashoka turns off the engine of the three-wheeler, and we coast swiftly and silently all the way to the river! By all accounts, it was a great success. We'd had our doubts before it started. We had expected to hold the course again at Asgiri, but the room we were offered there was not adequate for two classrooms. Fortunately, one of the Burmese monks was able to make arrangements for another temple, Sudharmarama, and that worked out very well. The young abbot graciously provided us with plenty of space, and the caretaker made sure that, everyday, we were adequately accommodated. The new venue was even more convenient to the Burmese Rest than Asgiri had been, and it provided easy access for us as well.
We had also worried about the possibility of campaign violence during the presidential election which was held a few days before we began. As things turned out, Sri Lankans are to be praised for managing a complete regime change with no more fuss than when other countries change town mayors. Congratulations to Sri Lanka!
The weather was another worry. After weeks of steady rain, flooding, and deadly earthslips--to say nothing of mold and mildew, damp clothes, sniffles, hacking coughs, and low spirits--we wondered how we'd manage to accommodate the teachers or have classes under metal roofing, let alone have weekend activities around Kandy. The rains stopped, however, and the sun came out. Amazingly, we had excellent weather the whole time. The gods were on our side.
Wherever a wise person makes his dwelling,
Because of the heavy rains, vegetable and fruit prices soared, and there were days when there was almost nothing available in the market. Shopping was sometimes difficult, but, with the generous donations we received from so many, Lily was always to find enough produce from which to make delicious lunches.
[An aside about shopping: At the supermarket, it is usual for the clerk to place each type of vegetable in a separate plastic bag before weighing it. At home the bags with the price stickers attached are not really reusable. What a waste! A while ago, we began collecting all the vegetables we wish to purchase and taking them to the scales to be weighed. We then ask the clerk to put them in only one plastic bag and to attach all the price stickers to it. At first, the clerks were surprised, but now they understand and never object. It drives the check-out clerks a little crazy keeping track of the various stickers as they ring them up, but we've cut down on a lot of plastic.]
For several months cooking gas prices rose to almost astronomical heights, and, sometimes, it was very difficult to find a shop that had any for sale. After the election, however, the price dropped by several hundred rupees per canister. Let's hope it stays there--another sign that sanity is returning to the country. During the course, our biogas unit was invaluable. We use it to boil all of our drinking water. It has certainly more than paid for itself, but we don't ask it to do that anymore than we do our TV!
Most of the students in the course were Burmese monks from Colombo, and they stayed at the Burmese Rest. They have come to Sri Lanka to study Pali and Buddhism at Sri Lankan universities, and almost all want to return to Burma to teach Dhamma and English. Very few had ever studied with native speakers. Their monastic education seems to have been primarily memorization of Pali and Buddhist texts, with little general knowledge, let alone critical thinking. It was exciting to expose them to a plethora of new ideas and teaching methods, and to introduce topics of discussion outside their usual experience.
We were pleased that most of the Burmese, Chinese, Korean, and Bhutanese monks and nuns from Peradeniya were able to join the course, but many of them had university classes and could not attend full-time. We also had two Sri Lankan monks, one from the University and one from Ven. Sujatha's temple in Illinois. Che's older children also participated often and more than held their own. As we rode back and forth with them in Ashoka's three-wheeler, we enjoyed teaching them songs like "She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain" and rounds like "I Love the Mountains."
We had a great teaching staff. Daniel joined us for the third year, flying in from Nepal. Che, accompanied by his wife, Naoko, and their 6 children, came from China for the second year. Cameron, Visakha's cousin, is a retired professor from the US. This was his first time in Kandy, but he taught at Bodhisukha in 2007 and, before that, visited and volunteered on the Thai-Burma border. These three teachers coordinated teaching Merit this year, and we supplied a rudimentary teacher's manual and a "prop box" with all the visuals and realia needed for each lesson. This was the first time for Merit to be used so intensively, and it seemed to make a big difference for the students, who enjoyed it and seemed very satisfied with their progress.
|"Evening discussions gave me confidence and knowledge."
|"Always ready to help the students with their problems"
|"Cam is my model in teaching!
"Merit helped me increase my confidence in English."
"I enjoyed studying the Wheel of Life."
"My favorite lesson was the Bharhut Stupa.!"
Lalitha and Lal are both experienced Sri Lankan academics who have taught with us for a number of years. Lalitha focused on grammar, while Lal offered sessions on academic writing, using Bhikkhu Bodhi's The Noble Eightfold Path. Both received great praise.
|"Your teaching grammar is very useful for us!"
"An active teacher!"
|"Now I have confidence to write papers for my degree."
"A very patient teacher."
Ven. Upatissa, an American monk who has a certificate in counseling, and Ven. Vinita from the Czech Republic offered a workshop on communication skills, active listening, and counseling, a unique program, which is always exciting and challenging for the students. This was Ven. Upatissa's third year with the intensive course.
"I want to be a good counselor, too."
"Very useful for solving problems and helping others."
The two of us didn't spend much time in the classroom this year, but, every day, we checked the notebooks for the writing module. The students made terrific progress in 10 and 26 Steps, and most of them are continuing via email. In one class we introduced our new Dhammapada "Karuta" game and read the story of Saccaka, and in the other we presented logic and analogies. Both were enthusiastically received.
Click either of thse photos to see more classroom photos.
"You are like my mother and father"
"When I see you, I am very happy."
"Ken and Visakha, you are part of my life."
"After this intnsive course, we understand that critical thinking and active leaning
"Dhammapada Karuta was the most enjoyable lesson."
"The Story of Saccaka was good for me because I could hear it read in clear English"
10 Steps - "Fantastic!"
"I really liked the logic and analogy.
Three sessions were devoted to a Buddhist Knowledge Quest tournament, with more than a hundred Dhamma books as prizes. One student won at all four levels and got first pick of the books. Subsequent winners chose in turn, but everyone got a prize, and all the books were given away.
|Click any photo to see more photos of Buddhist Knowledge Quest.|
"I could get a lot of Buddhist knowledge in English and enjoyed playing the game with my friends."
"When we go back to Myanmar, we can use Buddhist Knowledge Quest to teach Dhamma and English."
There were four weekend activities scheduled. The first was a visit to the International Buddhist Museum behind the Temple of the Tooth, and the second was a tour to three temples near Kandy--Lankatillaka, Gadaladeniya, and Degaldoruwa. For both of these excursions, students worked in groups completing questionnaires to help them understand what they were seeing. Everyone took the questionnaires seriously and made excellent comments. Helene, a French SERVAS visitor who had contacted us in December, joined on both days. Weston and Teresa, American students at Peradeniya University, along with Weston's parents, joined the temple tour.
The next Saturday, there was a visit to the Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya, which is one of the most lovely spots in the Kandy area. For this, there was no pressure of completing a questionnaire nor any requirement at all. Everyone enjoyed the opportunity to be outdoors and to chat with each other in a relaxed atmosphere. On the final Sunday, we held a viewing of the movie, Princess Mononoke, at the Burmese Rest. This provoked a lively discussion about protecting the environment, the evils of greed, hate, and envy, and the weaknesses of human nature. One of the most insightful observations was that Prince Ashitaka seemed like a Bodhisatta! We stayed for the first hour of the discussion in English, and we heard the next day that it continued for much longer in Burmese.
|"The International Buddhist Museum made me want to visit other Buddhist countries."
"It felt like traveling in Buddhist countries."
"Talking with Che's children was interesting. Their knowledge of Buddhism is amazing!"
|Click the photo to see more photos of the opening and closing ceremonies.|
Sudharmarama is actually a massive tuition class center and a pirivena (novice training school). The temple sits in a recess from the crossroad at the top of the hill behind the Burmese Rest and Trinity College. At the bottom of the driveway is a plateau with a stupa and a Bodhi tree. Just beyond the stupa is a building with a very large classroom (300-student capacity), a small room (30-student), and a central room with an ornate Dhamma platform in the center. At first, we were given all three of these rooms, but, as circumstances changed, we were asked to use different rooms. For a few days, we never knew before we arrived where any class or lunch would be. As it turned out, however, lunch was usually in the central room, which was very pleasant, with the image of the Buddha on the platform above us. Some of the teachers felt that the classroom which felt most like a temple was the ordination hall, where we set up our own whiteboard (other classes used chalk boards).
For the last two weeks, there was a tuition class in the big room every morning and early afternoon. We could not understand anything the lecturer was saying, and his voice never really bothered us, but it certainly continued unbroken for the duration of the class. On the level below the Bodhi tree one could see the roofs of classrooms where several thousand more students were studying. At various times during the day, the compound was swarming with young men and women relaxing between classes and chatting merrily. All seemed contented that they were receiving the education they were paying for. We had to be happy for them, but also very glad that we were not in their shoes, preparing for exams!
The temple abuts Udawattekele, the national forest inside Kandy city limits, so the local monkey troop ran gaily across the tin roofs daily, like clockwork. Little simian faces sometimes peered through the netting, and an old female macaque watched from a post near the door, but none made a move to steal anything. Of course, we never left anything edible unguarded--no point in tempting fate!
|Click the photo to see more photos of lunch|
Those lunch packets, praised by everyone both everyday and in the closing ceremony, were, of course, vegetarian, delicious, and cooked with devotion. The rice and curries were placed on a banana leaf for extra flavor and then neatly wrapped. Lily always sent extra rice and curries so that everyone got as much as he (or she) wanted. Each day, we also served fruit and dessert. Any leftovers were put into a container for stray dogs, and extra packets were given away to the needy.
|Click the photo to see more photos of lily's team.|
For the three weeks, Ashoka worked full-time for us. We needed him everyday, not only delivering lunches, but for transporting the teachers back and forth and for all the shopping. One day, midway into the course, he got an emergency phone call. His wife had been hit by a three-wheeler near their house and was unresponsive. He rushed to the hospital and found, to everyone's relief, that she had regained consciousness. Though shaken and certainly traumatized, she didn't have a concussion, no bones were broken, and she quickly recovered. When the course was over, Ashoka needed a rest as much as we did, and so did his three-wheeler, which he immediately took to the shop for a tune-up. For the next week, however, he was still busy, chauffering everyone around. We always depend on him, as both Che and Cam did, for that early morning run to the station to catch the 6 AM train to Colombo.
Jotiko joined us for two unusual events. One evening, Julia hosted a Christmas tree-decorating party at her new house. Since the weather was cooler than usual, Ken decided to wear a jacket and tie, the first and only time he has worn the latter item since we have been here. On Boxing Day, Weston, Teresa, and Mike came for lunch. We all sat around the dining room table and sang Christmas carols.
The hut had proved itself habitable, so we were confident that it would suffice for Che and his family as well. We retrieved the three down comforters from our storeroom for them to use as mattresses. We're not sure how they managed, but, every morning, they and all six children came down bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so they must have slept well. Che was even able to make the water heater work. We had installed it earlier, but it would not heat water for Jotiko, so he had showered before going up.
Lal stayed with us for his week of teaching. Last year, he had only a cot in the living room, but, this year, we cleaned out the small room that usually serves as a catchall. It is, indeed, small, but it provided privacy, and he was grateful.
The cooking staff, including Dilan, Soma's grandson, were comfortably ensconced, but slightly cramped, in the guest and servant's rooms downstairs. For the duration, we truly had a full house.
The guest who, to our delight, stayed the longest was Cam, who occupied the library for his entire stay. He enjoyed interacting with Che's children, and we enjoyed hours of conversation with him. We really got know him when, in 1989, he was returning to China where he had taught many years before. On the plane, he had heard about the demonstrations in Tienanmen Square and realized that it was not, perhaps, a good time to visit China. From Tokyo, where he was changing planes, he called his mother to ask about the cousin who, he remembered, lived in Japan. She called her sister-in-law, Visakha's mother, and got our telephone number. As soon as Cam got it, he called and asked whether it would be convenient to visit us. He stayed for a month and liked Japan so much that he arranged to return a year later on sabbatical with his family. That was the beginning of a strong connection to our work with Burmese Relief Center--Japan and Buddhist Relief Mission, for which we are extremely grateful.
Having everybody at the house was delightful! Nezumi got far too much attention from the kids. They fussed over her, carried her around, petted her, and fretted that she was hungry. (She lies!) Once Yae even expressed the fear that "Nezumi is cold!"
Our resident kingfisher
A frog behind a picture on the porch
Mike, "the Pirate," after a sty removal
Our spread for a high tea
One evening, however, Nezumi couldn't be found. We checked the porch, the closets, all the chairs where she usually curled up, called out the front door, and called out the back, but no Nezumi. Finally, when it was time for us to go to sleep, we tried the back door again and heard a very unhappy kitty. She had wandered into the outdoor kitchen, presumably looking for the resident mouse, and gotten locked in. Back in the house, she immediately ran to our bed and demanded to be petted and made much of.
Every night, as the family trekked up the hill, they chanted Pali verses for protection. It must have been effective; no one was ever bothered by snakes, pigs, or porcupines. They did catch a few leeches during the first few days, but nothing serious.
One day in January, Lily called us to see snakes "dancing." Dilan grabbed his camera.
This is the video, uncut and unedited. It was amazing!
Several times, Che and Naoko took the kids to the little park beside the lake near BPS. We wondered what the big attraction was. In China, we found out, children line up to use the swings. After standing in a long queue, a child is allowed only a minute on a swing. Then he has to relinquish it and return to the queue. In the Kandy kiddie park they could all swing as much as they wanted, and the parents could sit comfortably without being surrounded by teeming hordes.
From the above descriptions, you might think that we are very comfortably ensconced and likely to remain so. We thought so, too. When we moved to Dodanwela in November 2013, we expected to stay for many years. As it has turned out, however, we will be leaving. With a monthly water bill of $150 or more from a massive, undetermined, and hidden leak, we have accepted the fact that we cannot stay here. Thus, we are once more house-hunting. We would like to find a place more convenient for students and for us as well since we are spending an inordinate amount just traveling back and forth to Kandy for shopping and weekly classes. We will keep you posted on the progress.