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.

Pilgrimage to the Buddhist Sites in India and Nepal, February 2016

Organized by
Buddhist Relief Mission
Doorway India

Vegetarian meals

Comfortable facilities

Leisurely pace

Time for meditation

Lumbini, BuddhaGaya, Sarnath, Kushinara, and much, much more!
21 days, by train and A/C coach.
Similar to the Pilgrimage in 2012
Contact Buddhist Relief Mission for details --

Click the photo to view more photos of the MahaBodhi Society, Bangalore
In the meantime, we have received an exciting new proposal. Ven. Ananda, the monk who succeeded Ven. Buddharakkhita (1922-2013) at the MahaBodhi Society in Bangalore has asked us to organize an intensive course for the novice training center there, and we have agreed to try. The first step is to find enough instructors. Then we will make a suitable schedule.

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
On June 26, Ven. Amilasiri came with seven monks and novices from Kurunegala to accept a meal. Also here were several foreign monks and nuns and Ven. Upatissa from Ja-Ela.

About a week later, on July 5, we went to Bodhirukharama and offered dana to all the monks and novices, including the elderly monks in the ward. At that time, we learned that Ven. Amilasiri had been suffering severe back pain for several weeks and was receiving treatment in Colombo from the Indian doctor who had performed the transplant of his donated kidney several years ago. Recently, we have heard that the course of medication he has been taking is proving effective and that he is much improved. We are happy to report that, as the rains retreat gets underway, all is well at Bodhirukharama.

Donations to Ven. Amilasiri, Bodhirukarama, Kurunegala
Our class of novices at Vajirararama is suspended until September, but we invited all the students to come for lunch on July 27. Ven. Dhammavilasa told us that 25 monks and novices would be coming, so we thought of hiring a bus. Lily found one and told us the price. We considered that and then talked to Ashoka. For less than half the price of a bus, he arranged for nine three-wheelers. Ven. Dhammavilasa was amazed to see that caravan arrive at the monastery. It was a great idea, because the narrow roads around here aren't suitable for a bus, and, this way, we could give work to local people. Of course we provided each driver with a lunch packet.

Click the photo to see more photos of the three-wheeler caravan Click the photo to see more photos of the dana
In order to accommodate so many monks and novices, we had to rearrange the furniture, but it was a joy to see them all neatly seated around the great room. As the chanting resonated around the room, we felt that the house was truly triple-blessed.

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
For the launch of the Jataka Tales of the Buddha: An Anthology in 2010, we invited Dr. D.V.J. Harischandra, the eminent psychiatrist and author of Psychiatric Aspects of Jataka Stories, to be our keynote speaker. He willingly undertook the seven-hour drive from Galle to Kandy to offer a succinct and engaging discussion of the Jatakas, in which he praised our work as "the most readable edition of the Jatakas I have found." In 2013, Dr. Harischandra suddenly passed away, and it was feared that his book, a seminal work which had long been out of print, would never again be available. Very recently, we discovered that a new, expanded edition, Psychiatric Aspects of Jataka Stories: A Modern Analysis of the Ancient Stories of the Buddha's Past Lives, edited by his daughter, Tolusha, has been published by Vijita Yapa, one of the best bookstores in Sri Lanka. In the "Conclusion" of the new edition, under a heading, "Accessibility of the Jatakas," we were pleased to find the following remark:

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
Between us, we have one hundred years of experience as second-language teachers, mostly of English, but a little of French and Japanese, too. Since 1971, we have worked closely together, often in the same classroom. We met while working for a language program for Japanese companies and married while working for a Japanese steel company. Since then we've taught in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines and for a high school in Japan. Classrooms have ranged from air-conditioned conference rooms to bamboo huts without electricity. Students have included sophisticated office workers, engineers who never took a day off, salesmen, blue-collar workers, preliterate Hmong mothers nursing babies, Khmer widows, Lao farmers, Hmong teenagers turned on to rock music, Vietnamese officers and farmers, and jaded Japanese boys exhausted by their studies. We feel fortunate to be able to say that, throughout it all, we have never had a job that we did not enjoy.

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
"Teaching English" fails to convey what our classes actually are. Even though we always have each lesson prepared, we seldom know where the discussion is going to go or leave a class without the satisfaction that we have learned at least as much as the students. We're not passive learners, ourselves, and we don't want them to be either. We see it as part of our role to challenge them not to be complacent. We often say that if you can give a good sound reason, we all want to listen.

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?

Catastrophic Floods in Burma -- Appeal for Relief

Photos from BBC News
The death toll has exceeded 100.

More than one million people have been affected.

11 of 14 states have been devastated.

State of emergency has been declared in four.

Buddhist Relief Mission has joined with Burmese monks from Makutarama Temple in Colombo in sending relief funds. If you can, please join. All donations may be declared as tax deductions with IRS.
Photo from ABC News (Australia)
Photo from MyanmarNews

Police Alert! Dial XXX (Click to find the number in your country!)

Lily in her outdoor kitchen
A few nights ago, the house was quiet, and we were all sleeping. Lily was upstairs, Ken and Viskaha were in their bedroom. Weston and Teresa, who had just returned from the US where they were married in grand style surrounded by family and friends, were in the guest room. (Coming directly to Kandy, they found that the house they had left a few months ago had been invaded by monkeys who'd made a colossal mess. To make matters worse, the house was moldy and lacking running water, so they had asked to crash with us for a few days.) About 1AM, Lily began shouting. She had heard something and opened her eyes to find a man standing in the corner, trying to unlock the balcony door (to let in an accomplice?). She shouted at him, and he opened a window, jumped onto the roof, and fled. When she turned on the light, she discovered that he had entered her room by cutting a large hole in the screen of the lower window, which she leaves open for air. (Screened windows of the same design are left open in all rooms of the house.) We ran upstairs, and neighbors in the adjoining lots appeared at their windows. All the lights were turned on, but no one saw the intruder escape. Except for the holes in two screens, the only evidence we could find was a faint handprint in the dirt of one flower box. The only thing Lily could say about the man was that he was thin and wearing a yellow T-shirt. He had to have been small to fit through the hole he'd cut. We are sure that he intended to steal the TV and the computer in the library, and that he hadn't realized that Lily was in the adjacent room.

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.

Map of Life
Sri Lanka has a wide variety of beautiful birds, and our garden attracts a good number of them, especially sweet little bee-eaters, which are iridescent and have curved beaks. The other day, Ken walked into the living room and noticed something lying on the floor. He stooped to see what it was, but Nezumi quickly snatched it in her mouth and ran into the courtyard. She dropped it again amid the flower pots, and Ken saw that it was, indeed, a bee-eater. Ken looked closely and saw that its legs were twitching, but he could not see much more life than that. He grabbed Nezumi and carried her away, with a stern lecture that it was bad to catch birds. Ashoka picked up the bird and gave it to Lily. Lily sprinkled cold water from the water-lily pot on its head and placed it in the rattrap for safety. Less than an hour later, she showed us that the little bird was merrily flitting about inside. She carried the trap across the room (with Nezumi right behind), opened the window, and released the catch on the trap's door. The bird flew swiftly over the valley. We cheered. Nezumi sulked.

Click the photo to see more photos of high tea the the Cancer Home
You meet the nicest people at the pool of the Queens' Hotel. A few years ago, we met a Scottish couple, Alan and Cathy, there. They have since expanded their volunteer teaching project to include Sri Lanka and India. Just recently, we struck up a conversation with an Englishman at the pool and learned that he had just retired from the British Council. Ewen is Buddhist and wants to teach English to monks and novices, so we are keen to share ideas and materials. Next month will be the one-year death anniversary of his beloved wife, and he has invited us to the dana. When we happened to mention our recent high tea at the Kandy Cancer Home, he expressed interest in joining us next time, which has just been scheduled for August 22nd. It is sure to be another joyous occasion.

Click the photo to see more
As we have almost every year since we came to Sri Lanka, we celebrated Ken's birthday by offering breakfast at Vajirarama. This year, we were joined by quite a few friends. The dining hall has been recently renovated (again) and is lovely.

When Ven. Nirodha Bhikkhuni mentioned that the water was off yet again at her hermitage in Amaya Hills, we knew that we needed to help. We had a spare water tank, Ashoka's three-wheeler to transport it, and Nimal and Ashoka could do the job in the afternoon. Every problem should be so easily solved!

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: 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.

Click to view on the INEB site

"Patience, obedience, meeting the Sangha, and discussing the Dhamma--this is the highest blessing." --Discourse on Blessings

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