Today I just want to say a few words about how Shr Fu (the Venerable Master) established schools and the way he taught students. Every time I see his final instructions, I feel really moved when I get to the very last part, in which he says,
“You must organize yourselves. You must manage and administer the schools well, both the elementary and the secondary schools and even more so the university.” Why? Because I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to grow up near Shr Fu and to be educated in Instilling Goodness Elementary and Developing Virtue Secondary Schools.
From the time I was six years old, in 1976, the year Instilling Goodness Elementary School was established, until I graduated from high school at eighteen, I attended these two schools. So I had the opportunity to watch the evolution of the schools. I was even more fortunate to personally experience the methods that Shr Fu used to teach us. Probably many of the people who are present have heard Shr Fu’s instructional talks. There are many instructional talks on education, because, as we all know, he emphasized the importance of education and encouraged people to be volunteer teachers. I think some of the people who have come in recent years might not know that when Shr Fu talked about education, he wasn’t just talking about empty theories. When he was eighteen in Manchuria, he also taught as a volunteer teacher. He had over thirty students, and he taught them all himself.
And then, after Instilling Goodness and Developing Virtue Schools were established, no matter how busy he was, he came up to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas from San Francisco almost every week and taught us. This is something I can never forget.
His classes were always extremely lively, very creative, and very interesting. You never knew what new things he would do. It wasn’t the least bit boring. In particular I remember once there was a period of a few months during which he told us,
“No matter how little you are, you should all practice giving speeches.” So for several months, every Friday we’d pick a representative from the girls’ school and from the boys’ school. You had to go up onto the stage and sit next to Shr Fu and give a speech in Chinese and English, whether you knew both languages or not! And when you’re a little kid of eight, nine, ten, or eleven years old, it’s a very rare opportunity and a very special experience.
Afterwards, I also remember there was a period when he had a class on the Analects. What method did he use? Ordinarily in a class, the Dharma Masters sit in the front, then the laypeople with black robes, the laypeople without robes, and then the students at the very back. He told the whole assembly (it took the assembly several times to realize he was really serious),
“This class is for the children, and so the children are going to sit in front.” We thought,
“Well, this must mean in front of the laypeople. We couldn’t possibly sit in front of the Bhikshus and Bhikshunis.” But no, he wanted us right up in front! Oh, we were really little then, and we felt so special to be right up in front. As I got older, I thought about it from a teacher’s perspective: what better method than to have the children sit in front! Usually we sit in the back of everyone and play and write notes and talk. But here he had us right up close to him, and he had all the Dharma Masters and all the parents in back of us, so nobody dared to goof off. It was a really, really good thing to do with us at that point. At the same time we didn’t even realize that we were being watched. We were really happy!
It wasn’t just in these classes that he had especially for students that he paid attention to children. He
always treated the children like we were really worthwhile, and even when he gave classes for the adults, he encouraged the children to attend. For example, in the matched couplets class that was held once or twice a week, he always encouraged us to write couplets. If we didn’t write couplets, he would notice. We thought we’d get away with it, but he’d call people by name,
“An An, Guo Tuo, did you write couplets?” Sometimes there were children who were too short to reach the board, so he would say,
“Don’t worry if you’re too short. I’ll put a chair up by the blackboard for you,” and he would─he’d bring up a chair and you’d have four-year-olds standing up there matching couplets! He paid just as much attention to the little kids’ couplets as to the adults’.
These are just a few examples, but they give you a taste of the amazing wisdom and creativity and enthusiasm that he brought to teaching children.
I also remember there was a time when Shr Fu encouraged us to memorize Sutras, especially the Shurangama Sutra. He also encouraged us to memorize the Earth Store Sutra and other Sutras. We all worked really hard at memorizing Sutras. In order to exhort us, in the evenings in the Buddhahall he would ask people to go up to the stage and recite Sutras from memory for the assembly. Every one or two days, one by one people would go up to the stage to recite Sutras from memory. But after a few days he changed his method. He said,
“Okay, now we’re going to use a new method. Today three or four people are going to come up and recite Sutras from memory.” However, they would all be reciting different things. One might be reciting the Earth Store Sutra, one would be reciting the Shurangama Sutra, and another would be reciting the Shurangama Mantra. We were all very surprised! How could so many people recite different Sutras at the same time? He then explained,
“For one person to come up and recite is very easy. If you have truly committed the Sutra to memory, then even if someone is beside you reciting another Sutra, if you are very concentrated and have memorized it well, you will still be able to recite it from memory. I’m testing you!” During that time he let children go up to recite, too. It was a lot of fun.
Of course, Shr Fu taught according to people’s potentials and the situation. He based his teaching entirely on the person and the time. Sometimes he would be very stern. I remember when I was about two or three years old, which was before we had the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, after Shr Fu finished lecturing on the Sutras every day, my parents would drive him back to where he lived. I was very little and didn’t know anything. One day I was making a fuss and complaining,
“I want to go home first. Why should we wait so long?” At that time I remember he scolded me very, very sternly,
“You can’t act this way. You have to know your manners.” I felt very ashamed, and I’ll never forget it.
But most of the time he was very kind and very compassionate. When I got older, I remember that one day after I gave a speech, he called me to his side and said,
“Remember, anytime you have something you want to tell me, you can come and talk to me.” He was very compassionate, just like a grandfather.
So we can see, he spent so much effort in teaching people. He didn’t want people to learn passively. Whether it was Americans; Chinese; a child of two, three, or five years old; or a seventy-five year-old, he gave everyone a chance to realize his or her potential.
Shr Fu exhausted all his strength to teach us. Now we should take responsibility for continuing the work he started. We must,
“organize ourselves, and manage and administer
the schools well, both the elementary and the
secondary schools, and even more so the