Eighteen members of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association accepted an invitation from George Bush, the President of the United States, to attend the President's Dinner on April 28,1992 in Washington, D.C.
The invitation came from the President, in response to his first meeting with the Ven. Abbot four years ago, who greeted him at Portsmouth Square in San Francisco, while Mr. Bush was campaigning as Reagan's Vice-President.
On September 14, 1988, the Ven. Abbot spoke these words to the crowd at Portsmouth Square as a spokesman for community leaders who had gathered to greet the Vice President:
"We are living in America, and we should elect a President who is the most intelligent and who has the greatest wisdom; one who is public-spirited and unselfish; one who is fair and unprejudiced. Someone who is President should serve as a model, and not fight, should not be greedy, should not seek, should not be selfish,. should not pursue personal advantage, and should not lie. Someone who can meet these conditions is the best qualified person to be President."
Mr. Bush remembered the meeting and invited the Ven. Abbot to attend the President's Dinner this Spring in Washington, D.C. The Ven. Abbot accepted the invitation, and led a delegation from DRBA which included monks, nuns, and laypeople from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, China and Canada, as well as members from San Francisco, the International Translation Institute, in Burlingame, California, and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas In Ukiah.
When asked why so many Buddhists came to the Republican gala, members of the delegation answered, "First of all, we were invited. Second of all, Buddhists are concerned with the well-being of our nation. A stable country fosters the well-being of religions in general. In particular, we are engaged in building and reforming education, which should instill wholesome moral virtues in young people. So we come to make that statement."
"Buddhism is a mainstream religion. Religion can flourish when the government is sound. Good government enhances the benefits and services it renders to its citizens. We feel a responsibility to make the government sound, and to support it, and thereby benefit all peoples. And in that way the interests of all good people are advanced."
Someone made the comment, "I didn't know Buddhists were Republicans."
The Buddhists replied, "We aspire to benefit all people, and that includes Republicans, Democrats, Independents, friends and neighbors of all political persuasions. Politically, we are non-partisan. But since we drink the water and eat the fruits of this land, and since we enjoy the freedom of its governing systems, this involves us automatically in working for the best interests of America. We feel that Buddhists can contribute to the nation and the world by representing right views and right efforts. Our presence here states that involvement. We don't limit our membership or our work to a single party, we want to exercise our freedom to offer new solutions to the problems that we share with all peoples, so that this country can be peaceful, fruitful, and a good place to live."
On the morning of April 28, the members of the delegation took part in a variety of special events in the Nation's capital.
The leaders of the two houses of Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole of Kansas, and Senator Robert Michel, held a breakfast in the Congressional dining room. Dr. Ronald Epstein of CITB and Dr. Randy Lum, of Los Angeles represented DRBA.
Senator Dole then hosted a reception in the Old Senate Library. Bhikshu Heng Lai and Upasaka Howard Hu joined the small group of thirty Congressional leaders, took part in the conversation, and posed for a photograph with the Senator.
Bhikshuni Heng Guei, DRBA trustee Hector Wong, Dr. Huang Ming Lu of Los Angeles, and Upasika Rosaline Kang from Singapore went for a luncheon with Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife Marilyn, at their residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory.
Bhikshu Heng Sure, Upasika Helen Woo, Doug Powers, and Huang Gwo Ling visited the White House, where they heard the President's address, shook hands, and spoke briefly with the President and Mrs. Bush.
On the evening of the 28th, the group of eighteen disciples, including Bhikshuni Heng Tung, Chancellor Ho Bai Chau, Upasika Anne Biihwa Cheng, Upasika Vinnie Ko, and Prof. Yan Xin, went to the President's dinner.
At six p.m. the delegation went to the Convention Center for a cocktail gathering, the monks and nuns wearing yellow and orange robes, everyone else in tuxedoes and dinner dresses. The group then went to dinner in the Convention Center and listened to speeches by Chairman of the dinner, Howard Baker Jr., Vice President Quayle, and President Bush.
A special guest from the Department of Education, Deputy Secretary David Kearns and his wife Shirley, joined the Buddhists' table. The Ven. Abbot exchanged viewpoints with Secretary Kearns on the current situation of education in America.
"In the world right now where would you say people are doing an excellent job of educating the young?" asked the Abbot. "I know this will be an unpopular comment to make, but I often say what others dare not say, and that is, that education in the world is on the brink of going morally bankrupt. What children learn in schools any more is not how to become a good person, but how to smoke, how to have sex, and how to disobey their parents. The message they hear in school is learn as quickly as possible whatever skill will bring you the highest pay and the most affluent, self-indulgent lifestyle.' The lesson we teach our children from the start is how to fight for the highest salary".
"Another dangerous situation is that frankly speaking, the schools' influence on children in America cannot compare with the education they get from the television. I don't want to condemn television outright, it does bring us some advantages, but we have made a disastrous error by giving the television the primary job of educating our children."
Mr. Kearns replied, "Although I agree with you one hundred percent about the crisis facing our schools, I wouldn't go quite so far as to say that the system is completely bankrupt. The system has failed, and we simply have to fix it."
The Ven. Abbot replied, "Yes, but stop-gap measures won't do the job. We need to isolate and deal with the problem at the roots. The problem is a lack of moral values! When religion was made a taboo subject in the classroom, the teaching of any values whatsoever was discredited at the same time. We needn't teach religion to youngsters, but if children don't ever hear about the basic standards for being a decent person and a responsible citizen in the classroom, they certainly won't get a chance to learn it once they leave school. The classical virtues: filial respect, fraternity, service to the country, integrity, propriety, righteousness, incorruptibility, and a sense of shame are simply not being taught any longer. This reduces the vital, valuable years of primary education to nothing more than a training ground for consumers, pawns, and pleasure seekers."
Deputy Secretary Kearns asked, "Might I ask what methods the Ven. Abbot suggests for remedying the situation?"
"As I explained at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris two years ago, the best medicine for the ills of the world's educational crisis is, in fact, a wonder drug that has the power to solve the problems of the entire world's youth: it is called filial respect and brotherhood. If children were taught by example, right from the start, to listen to their parents and to respect their teachers and elders, then the majority of these dangerous situations that we face now would never even arise.
The point is, if we don't teach our children to value their filial duties to their parents, then any other solution will be only a superficial remedy, and ultimately futile, since it won't get to the heart of things, or cure the problem at the root. My solution to the problem is to build an educational curriculum that teaches by example a foundation in moral virtues, which begins with filial respect."
Mr. Kearns said, "Well I am grateful for your enlightening observations, and when I return to my office I will send you a copy of my book, called
Winning the Brain Race and also a copy of the President's statement on
Education 2000. I look forward to meeting with you again soon for a more detailed discussion on this topic."
Dharma Realm Buddhist Unversity's Chancellor for the Americas, Douglas Powers, also exchanged views with Mr. and Mrs. Kearns, regarding the best way to introduce the fundamental principle of cause and effect into the classroom on a meaningful, daily basis. "We live our lives as a series of experiences, not as a stage where we apply technical expertise to solve problems. Morality has traditionally been connected with religion in the West, and thus it came under fire when science challenged our fundamental theological concepts. This was an unfortunate liason, because causation, in the Buddhist sense, is a secular truth, a universal verity: "If you do this, that inevitably follows." An individual who is educated in this timeless principle can become an adult who takes responsibility for the actions of his or her lifetime. It's not a religious question. Morality, as the Buddha teaches it, is a science. Our schools should provide this basic preparation for dealing with human life, instead of teaching us that more technical knowledge, or more expertise will give us a quick and easy way out of our moral dilemmas."
Prof. Ron Epstein described for Mrs. Kearns some aspects of the Buddhist elementary and secondary schools, that include meditation, a vegetarian diet, and an emphasis not on theology, but on investigating principles of wisdom and how they apply to daily life.
Following the dinner, the Ven. Abbot attended a briefing at the White House on Asian Leadership, where the President's staff asked for suggestions and advice from the Asian Community leaders in solving the challenges to America's multi-ethnic society.