Apples and Oranges, March 12, 2016

Most people countdown the days until Christmas. For us, however, as the days remaining in December decreased, we found ourselves counting down the days until the Intensive Course. Teachers were lined up and had bought their tickets to Sri Lanka, and donations had started coming in. We needed confirmation that the course was indeed going to take place. We wondered why we had not heard from the Burmese students-in-charge in Colombo. After a few frantic emails and phone calls, we finally learned that they were waiting for a message from Burma. This led to some discussion, and it was finally decided that we could go ahead without waiting. The temple in Kandy was set for classrooms, and the Burmese Rest was ready to accept the students from Colombo.

Deena and Matt in 2011
Just as we started making the schedule, we received notice that Deena had developed pneumonia and would not be able to make the trip. Of course, this would increase the hours for the other teachers, but that was not important. They are all troopers! We were relieved to learn that, with rest and proper care, she would recover. We knew how much she was looking forward to returning to Sri Lanka. She had repeatedly mentioned that the teaching experience five years ago was one of the high points of her life. Of course, we were disappointed not to meet her and Matt again, especially since Matt had prepared a lot of material to supplement Ven. Upatissa's sessions on counseling and active listening. We do hope they'll be coming for a well-earned vacation, at any rate.

We named the two classes Apples and Oranges (so that they could not be compared). No teacher had more than four hours of classes on any day, and Lalitha was pleased to have only the Apple class, rather than preparing two sets of lesson plans. Daniel and Terry concentrated on Merit, dividing the lessons between them. We took a few sessions of each class, covering logic and reading a story from the Jayamangala Gatha, as well as teaching the lesson of Merit which includes Meditation on Death. Mike was able to give us one day, and he taught the lesson from Merit about encountering a king cobra on the ancient road up Vulture Peak and extending metta to all creatures.

Lalitha has taught in all seven of the Intensive Courses; this was the sixth for Ven.Upatissa; and Daniel has come for the last four years! This was Terry's first course. We had known him in the eighties in Japan when he worked for a major publishing company. He had been following our reports from Arizona and had wanted to come before. Now, after retiring, he was able to arrange the time. Terry stayed with us and enjoyed the house, the garden, Lily's cooking, and Nezumi's company, and we thoroughly enjoyed having him!

Click the photo to see more photos of class
A few students have come two or three times, but the course is a new experience for most, and the feedback from them was overwhelmingly positive. Maybe it has taken this long to get the organization right. Despite the confusion over the classrooms, no one got upset. (We seldom knew until 12:30 where our afternoon classes would be. Once we were asked to use a huge classroom big enough for one thousand students at the bottom of a stone staircase of 25 steps, each one about a foot high. When we explained that this was impossible for the teachers [all of whom are approaching or over seventy], we were given rooms at ground level.), We were even able to coexist with the instructors in adjoining rooms who broadcast their lectures with wireless mikes and loudspeakers, even with only five students in the room.

The biggest surprise came about halfway through the course. One afternoon, Ewen was visiting classes and suddenly announced that he had to leave because a guest was arriving sooner that expected. Not wanting to pry into his personal business, we asked no questions. That evening, as we were preparing the next day's lessons, we heard a three-wheeler arrive at the gate. Then a familiar voice shouted, "Hello!" There, in our doorway, stood Che, Naoko, and five of their kids! You could have knocked us over with a feather. "I couldn't let the Intensive go without coming!" Che greeted us as we hugged all around. It was Chinese New Year, they had to get out of China, and Che wanted Ewen's advice on his thesis. They stayed at Ewen's house for a week, but visited us several times and came to class almost every day. Of course, the students thoroughly enjoyed the kids. As did Lily, Shehan, Ashoka and us too, especially retelling "Bad Rabbit!" Good one, Ewen!

There were a few lay students in the classes. Mrs. Kim had come several times to the Subodharama class and was happy to join the Intensive. We had first met her son about a year ago when he had become a samanera along with the nephew of one of the Korean nuns. The two boys had attended our class and had been able to hold their own with the monks and nuns from Peradeniya University. Sakko is a Ladakhi student at Peradeniya who had spent most of his life at the Mahabodhi Society in Bangalore (about which you will hear in our next report). He was eager to join the intensive course, but would not have been able to commute from Peradeniya every day. Fortunately, Amal was able to find a place for him in a temple very near Sudharmarama, and he stayed there the entire time. The third lay student was a Chinese gentleman who happened to be staying at the Burmese Rest and asked to join. All three of them were valuable additions to the classes, and they greatly assisted us in serving and taking care of the monks and nuns.

Click the photo to see photos of lunch prepation
Click the photo to see more photos of lunch
Lily and her team did yeoman service in preparing excellent lunches every day. All through December, she directed the setting up of the back half of the carport as an outdoor kitchen. (The front half is called the waiting room, since it has a full complement of chairs, and a great view of the birdbath and birdfeeder.) In the kitchen, there are tables and shelves arranged, a lockable cabinet, a stove and burners installed, bamboo curtains reaching all the way to the floor with chicken wire in all gaps to keep out the monkeys. It proved to be an ideal workspace. In the evening, the women spent several hours chopping vegetables. Then, after a few hours of sleep, they began cooking at three AM. By eight-fifteen, they had prepared and wrapped sixty delicious lunch packets. The menu varied, but the rice and curries were always lovingly wrapped in a banana leaf.
Click tho photo to see photos of the carport/kitchen

The monkeys came almost every day. They knew there was food around and wanted to get in the kitchen. The locked storeroom had enough space to keep the vegetables, but the simians would have wreaked havoc had they ever managed to get through the curtains and wire around the kitchen. Fortunately, the defenses were strong enough to allow Lily to get a few hours of sleep in the afternoon. The monkeys had to satisfy themselves with plundering the roselle, which they relish, and the few other plants growing outside the cages.

Certainly, the course would not have been possible without Lily and Ashoka. They both worked their hearts out. Ashoka must have made at least six trips to the temple every day, ferrying lunches, teachers, homework to be checked or returned, water, and everything else, not to mention the frequent shopping trips. We almost wore out his three-wheeler. As soon as the course finished, he took it in and had it completely overhauled.

Click the image to all the donation boards
A hearty thanks must go to our donors. The response for support was overwhelming. The contributions we received completely covered not only the meals, but also the expenses for materials, transportation, water and juice every day, and all the incidentals. Thanks to everyone's generosity and hard work, the course was carefree and thoroughly enjoyable for all the students, the teachers, and the staff. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!

In addition to the regular classes, we organized, as in previous years, excursions to the Temple of the Tooth, the International Buddhist Museum, temples near Kandy, and the Royal Botanical Garden. The students quite enjoyed these outings, and we were pleased that so many of them used the events as opportunities to practice their English freely with each other, with their teachers, and with guests. Terry was particularly interested in the botanical garden because of his vast knowledge of horticulture, gained in part during his years in Hawaii. We hadn't known that he had been a collector of exotic plants and was an expert on many more.

Temple of the Tooth
International Buddhist Museum
Temples near Kandy
Royal Botanical Garden
Click each photo to see more photos of that excursion

Click the photo to see more photos of the viewing
On the last Sunday, in the new shrine room on the top floor of the Burmese Rest, we showed the movie, "Holes," which the students enjoyed very much. Though not a Buddhist movie, the plot can be interpreted by the law of kamma. However you view it, it is a touching story and a well-made movie.

After leaving Bolowatte Meditation Center, Carol stayed with us for several weeks. She was pleased to join the students in the visit to the International Buddhist Museum. She has left to help organize a retreat for her teacher, Lama Zopa, in Malaysia, but has promised to return to work with us on finalizing Merit, which is exciting news!

Ven. Upatissa came from Ja-Ela twice for greatly expanded sessions this year. He attributed this year's success to the fact that he began each class with meditation.

In one of our lessons on logic, we presented analogies. The exercise included:

Bee is to flower as monk is to _____. (mountain, village, alms)

Most of the students immediately responded, "Alms!" Then, after thinking a few seconds, they realized that this was directly from the Dhammapada.

As a bee gathers honey from the flower without injuring its color or fragrance,
Even so the sage goes on his alms-round in the village. (49)

With that realization, they more clearly understood the concept and importance of analogies and attacked the exercise with added vigor. It is moments like that that make teaching so worthwhile!

Click the photo to see more photos of our meeting with Ven. U Nayaka
Just before the course ended, we had the great pleasure of meeting Ven. U Nayaka, the teacher and school administrator we mentioned in a previous report. He was visiting Kandy, and asked us to meet him at the Burmese Rest. We are deeply impressed with the work he is doing, and sincerely hope that he indeed receives the Global Teacher Award 2016 of Verkay Foundation in Education. He invited us to go to Mandalay and work with him at Phaung Daw Oo School. We certainly would like to support his efforts, contribute materials that might be useful, but returning to Mandalay? That seems a dream that will not come true in this lifetime.
Click the photo to see more photos of Buddhist Knowledge Quest
One of the highlights of the course was playing Buddhist Knowledge Quest. There were four sessions, one for each level, and the students really got caught up in playing, It was a joy listening to them laugh, struggle to recall answers, and tease each other. Many of them had studied the questions before hand, but that only increased their enthusiasm.

We recorded the winners in each group at each level, and at the closing ceremony awarded prizes. We had gone to Buddhist Publication Society and, using money from our donors, bought one copy of almost every book they published. Mike and Ewen also donated books and bookmarks, and we added quite a few duplicates from our library. We arranged all the books, more than one hundred, on tables, and, beginning with the top winners, each could choose one book. After all the winners had selected their prizes, we allowed all the other students to choose one book each. Finally, we told the students to take anything they wanted, and, very quickly, all the books were gone. Everyone was happy. The gift of the Dhamma excels all other gifts!

Click the image to see photos of the closing ceremony
The closing ceremony concluded with speeches by all teachers and several students, the awarding of certificates, and the students giving gifts to the teachers.* In their speeches and their evaluations, the students told us how much they enjoyed the different teaching methods. They all felt that they learned so much about teaching from having so many teachers. There was overwhelming appreciation of Merit and the Buddhist content in the classes, which was very gratifying to us. That encourages us to complete the textbook and to get it published, and now that seems possible!

*On Thursday, the next-to the last day, Ven. Upatissa was teaching, so the students called everyone together for a group photograph before lunch. Lalitha would be leaving since she did not stay for lunch. Unfortunately, neither Daniel nor Terry was there because their classes did not begin until 1:45. Nevertheless, the photo was taken with many cameras. The student who had taken the most photos during the course asked Ken to send him his group photo as soon as possible. Ken replied that he had to go shopping after class, and would not be able to send it until evening. The monk seemed disappointed, but there was nothing to be done. Nor did Ken understand why the photo was needed so urgently. At the closing ceremony, the next day, one of the gifts the students gave each teacher was a framed group photo with Daniel and Terry skillfully PhotoShopped in. Amazing! Of course, we took another group photo on Friday, but Ven. Upatissa was not present. You can compare the three group photos.

January 28
January 29

Note to all students: We are back in Kandy. Please resume sending your assignments in 10 Steps and 26 Steps.

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