Past, Present, and Future, August 15, 2015
In our last report, we announced that, July-August, we would be in Kolkata for the Seventh Intensive Buddhist English Course at Bodhisuka Monastery. That is not the case. The course has been postponed until March-April next year. Applications for the voluntary teaching positions for that program are welcome.
Planning is underway for the Seventh Kandy Intensive Buddhist English Course, January 11-29, 2016. It promises to be an exciting course with new teachers and an expanded curriculum.
Click the photo to view more photos of the MahaBodhi Society, Bangalore
Let us begin our invitation by explaining that Bangalore (now officially known as Bengaluru) is the Silicon Valley of India. It is a modern city, with plenty to offer. The MahaBodhi Society Monastery is very well organized, beautiful, clean, and quiet. Ven. Ananda has assured us that the facilities will be very comfortable.
Here are some of the details of what the course will be:
|140 Students:10-25 years old -- mostly samaneras, but a few bhikkhus -- all resident at the monastery||Class periods: 9-11 AM, 2-4 PM|
|Level of English: Beginner to lower intermediate||Evening activity (Movie, discussion, etc.): 8-9 PM|
|Length of course: 30-45 days||Monday-Friday only Weekends free|
|Teaching focus: reading, writing, listeing, speaking, logic, and critical thinking||Accommodations: rooms in the monastery; meals provided|
The possibility of conducting such a course is exciting, and we have great expectations. We estimate that, for that number of students, we will need four to six teachers in addition to the two of us. If you are interested in volunteering for the course (any number of days), please let us know when you might be available, and we will try to arrange dates to fit your time frame.
For information about the MahaBodhi Society, please visit these sites:
|Click the photo to see more photos|
Donations to Ven. Amilasiri, Bodhirukarama, Kurunegala
|Click the photo to see more photos of the three-wheeler caravan||Click the photo to see more photos of the dana|
In recent reports, we've announced our Buddhist Crossword Puzzles, first available in an interactive CD version, and now as a book published by the Buddhist Cultural Centre. It has a fine cover and convenient size. It can be ordered on our website and will soon be available on Amazon.
|Click the photo to see more photos of the book launch|
| Ken and Visakha Kawasaki, in their Jataka Tales of the Buddha, presented both the atita vatthu and the paccuppanna vatthu in their lively retelling of 217 tales. It is hoped that they will expand this number to include all 539 in their next edition.
Kind words! You are much missed, sir!
|We took a van to the "pottery village" on the way to Colombo to buy flower pots. We also bought a few plants. This is our newly decorated courtyard.|
Those who have read our reports over the last ten years and those who have known us for longer know how much we love teaching, particularly the teaching we are doing now. Let us, however, review where we have been, and, perhaps, through the telling, we can encourage some of you to join us in future projects.
|SERVAS visitors from France, Claire and her daughter, Marie|
Now we are "retired" in Sri Lanka, but we are still teaching (but not "working"), and we are enjoying it more than ever. It's not just the students, although their motivation is very high; it's also that we're teaching English using Buddhist materials, which means that we ourselves are constantly learning, both in the classroom and during preparation.
First, we have the class of Sri Lankan novices and temple boys at Vajirarama, a nearby temple, with excellent discipline and an international outlook. (Several monks from there are now serving at temples in Canada and the US.) We've been going there once a week for about nine years. Most of the novices' regular education is rote, passive learning, but they have responded enthusiastically to our activity-based approach and critical-thinking exercises. They eagerly volunteer to act out dialogs and to draw pictures on the board. They have become quite adept at solving logic puzzles, and a few have volunteered to lead their classmates in finding solutions, while we sit in the back and observe. Whenever we have challenged them to find the Pali for something just read in English, they have presented it in the next session.
Our second class, which meets weekly at Subodharama temple in Peradeniya, includes monks and nuns from Burma, China, Korea, and Bhutan, who are studying at Peradeniya University. Occasionally, a Sri Lankan monk joins us, but not often. This class often resembles a university seminar with lively discussions reflecting Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana viewpoints. Topics for discussion have included the environmental crisis, secular Buddhism, self-immolation, Buddhist economics, the death penalty, and marriage equality, just to name a few. The monks and nuns have struggled with questions such as, "Can a deva attain nibbana?" and "Can a Bodhisatta be reborn in hell?" To encourage critical thinking, we have presented a wide variety of exercises using word puzzles, logic puzzles, common fallacies, and propaganda techniques. As much as possible, we have given the exercises a Buddhist context.
It was for this class that we began compiling Merit, a Buddhist ESL textbook set on a pilgrimage to the sacred sites in India. The pilgrimage ostensibly lasts only twenty-one days, but there are, so far, thirty-four lessons, and we have been using it with this class for about five years. The lessons incorporate many Buddhist themes, e.g., dependent origination, early Buddhist art, metta meditation, Dalits and caste, death meditation, and making merit, as well as some of the controversial issues mentioned above. The happy news is that our pilgrim characters have, at last, reached Sarnath, which is the last site to be visited on the pilgrimage.
Once a week, on another day, some of the students from the Subodharama class come to the house for a two-hour reading session. For several years, we read stories from our book, Jataka Tales of the Buddha: An Anthology, and now we are reading Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi's In the Buddha's Words. In addition to engaging discussions, these sessions provide an opportunity to work with the students on proper pronunciation and intonation, which so many need.
|Ven. Sujatha accepting dana, Mike serving|
A teacher has a chance to reach, stimulate, provoke, or inspire only those in the classroom, but one who creates a textbook can touch any number of others--students and, of course, other teachers as well. We think the materials we're developing would be useful both for self-study and in classrooms, in both traditionally Buddhist countries--Burma, Thailand, India, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Bhutan, Korea, Bangladesh, and Japan--and with immigrant populations in countries where interest in Buddhism is growing, such as Canada, the US, and Australia. Monastics who want to pursue an academic path need English for their research into modern Buddhist scholarship, history, psychology, ethics, and comparative religion, to name just a few possibilities. Those who want to be missionaries need to be able to express themselves clearly and to be confident that they are doing justice to the Buddha's Dhamma when they speak, which means they need to be well informed and able to think critically.
We have always enjoyed making our own materials. (We are still using some of the puzzles and worksheets we designed at Seifu Gakuen.) In Thailand, we established a team of refugee artists who received a small stipend for producing a vast library of visual aids and supplementary materials for use by all the teachers in the program. In Ban Vinai and Panat Nikhom, Visakha specialized in establishing a literacy program for the Hmong, and Ken wrote a series of dialogs to complement the competency-based curriculum used throughout the region.
Never before, however, have we been so challenged to create new, high-quality material regularly. We are not preparing students for any particular achievement test. There is no administrator or headmaster telling us what to teach. We have the freedom to use whatever we like and to offer the students whatever they need at any particular time. It is certainly exciting, and out of it has come, in addition to Merit and Buddhist Crossword Puzzles, two other books in the making--(1) Buddhist logic puzzles and critical-thinking exercises and (2) a collection of stories from the Jayamangala Gatha and Dhammapada, each with vocabulary and comprehension exercises. All of this material is available for use in all intensive courses. Moreover, materials creation is an on-going process, and full credit will be given to anyone who wishes to contribute to further developments.
This brings us to some specific tasks and a request for help. In addition to accepting applications for teachers for the intensive courses, particularly Bangalore, we are earnestly searching for someone who would like to collaborate with us in expanding, polishing, formatting, illustrating, and recording Merit. We are eager to complete the book because there seems to be a call and a need for it. In a recent discussion with Ven. Sujato from Australia, he expressed interest in the book: "A few years ago at a monastic conference in Melbourne, we asked the monastics what their number one need was, and it was learning English."
The situations, the dialogs, the Buddhist content, and many of the activities are in place, but the book could use more grammar activities and pronunciation exercises, as well as a proper teacher's manual. So far, we have been working completely on our own, but we wonder about the possibility of raising funds to support wider involvement. We feel sure there would be support in the Buddhist world for the book. We think that what is needed now is a capable fund-raiser/manager/editor who could coordinate the project and work with us to shape it into a cohesive and attractive whole, in-person or via the internet. Is that you?
Police Alert! Dial XXX (Click to find the number in your country!)
|Lily in her outdoor kitchen|
Ken dialed the police (119 here) and reported the break-in, but no one came. (Emergency calls go to Colombo, whence they are forwarded to the local precinct, so we did not expect much since the burglar had fled, nothing was stolen, and no one was hurt. We considered ourselves lucky indeed. Nezumi was especially delighted with all the excitement; usually, she's the only one awake at 2 AM. Just as we thought it was essentially over, Ashoka and his brother arrived, carrying clubs. Lily had called Raja, who had then called Ashoka, who immediately came to help. At this point, there was nothing more to be done, except settle frazzled nerves, so we went back to bed, while Lily served them tea.
In the morning, Ken called the landlord to report the incident and to suggest putting grills on all the screened windows for safety. The landlord understood our concern and asked for an estimate. The carpenter who's done so much excellent work for us came with his son and measured the windows. There are 34 windows, but none is exactly the same size as any other! We looked through a design book of grills and opted for the simplest one. Some of the designs are amazingly ornate--including one of an elephant bearing a howdah!
Understandably concerned after the incident, Lily suggested bringing her dog, Odie, to the house. We agreed, and, that afternoon, she and Ashoka fetched him. Odie is a cheerful three-year-old pup. He capers about the yard and wants to play with Nezumi, but she just hisses, arches her back, and frizzes the hair of her tail to look like a bottle brush. Play with that silly dog? No way!
|Click the photo to watch a video on our YouTube Channel|
The narrow yard between our house and the hillside is a favorite playground for a troop of monkeys. They come at least once a week. The young ones love to tumble in the grass and to climb on the fence.
|Click the photo to see more photos of high tea the the Cancer Home|
|Click the photo to see more|
|Ashoka and Nimal delivering and installing the water tank|
A few weeks ago, we received the latest issue of Lankataman Magazine from the Burmese students in Colombo. Much of it is in Burmese, but we were pleased to find the article, "Sangha sans Frontières" which we had submitted.
While much of the world mourned the stupid, brutal, callous death of Cecil the lion at the hands of a dentist, of all things, we in Kandy mourned the loss of the most majestic banyan tree around. Since we first came to Kandy, we'd loved that tree, used it as a landmark, and felt grateful for it's wonderful shade. It took several weeks to destroy it, a caravan of cargo trucks to haul away its hard wood, and some huge machines to excavate the roots. We really are an impossible species to coexist with, aren't we! At least, some of us are hopeless. The rest? Very sad.
|Before: http://www.panoramio.com||After: Michael Fronczak|
For a glimmer of hope through activism, please consider the January conference of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, to be held in Colombo and Anuradhapura.