From February 26 to 28th, the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas conducted a program for students of Humboldt State University in conjunction with an ElderHostel Retreat. Led by Father John Rogers, a group of forty students came from Humboldt State University wishing to learn about life in a monastery and the spirit of Buddhism. In order to let students gain a broader understanding of life at the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Dr. Snjezana Akpinar, Chancellor pro tem of Dharma Realm Buddhist University, organized various activities including: Meditation, General Introduction to Buddhism (by Dr. Ronald Epstein), Discussions with the Sangha, Introduction to the Ceremonies and Facilities in the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and others.
Most of the visiting students were not Buddhist. Attempting to combine their classroom learning with the actual experience of monastic life, they raised many questions that they were anxious to discuss with the monks and nuns. The various Buddhist practices left deep impressions on them. Although they barely kept up with the City's residents in the Morning and Evening Recitations, and did not understand what they were chanting, they could sense the attractive power of the mantras. Temporarily leaving behind the mundane world, the students had brought along the troubles and hurts they experienced in their daily lives. To our great delight, many found immediate relief in the great sea of the Buddhas' wisdom. One student's impressions are given below:
When I was younger, 1 assumed that 1 would end up in a monastery of some sort. At that time I knew what was important - what was real - and it seemed natural that one would choose the environment most conducive to becoming one with that reality.But I knew no one who shared my feelings and inclinations in that way and so, over the years, living in a society that doesn't recognize that man has spiritual dimension (and that looks on a monastic vow as highly neurotic), I began to doubt my understanding of what was real and important in this life. I knew that I would still visit a monastery some, day but now it would be more to see if I could find some useful practice or perspective to take back, to my life in the world. The first thing I noticed when I got here was how different it was from the world outside. Not the things that people did so much as just the fact that realty reigned. Everything in our society is based on illusion upon illusion upon illusion. People and things had substance here. The things that are admired at the university and in the workplace are not admired here - have no place. Competition, flattery, pretense, greed - are all absent.
I still have doubts. I don't know for certain if I will end up in a monastery forever. I do know that I'll be back. I know that the rest of my life seems of little meaning right now.
P.S. The food was the best I ever had.
Elderhostel provides a chance for the elderly to investigate the theory and practice of Buddhism. This time, the retreat was organized as a follow-up to the Elderhostel Workshop held in October 1992, at the request of fifteen participants from that workshop. During this three-day retreat which focused on Pure Land and Chan practice, instructor Steven Tainer shared his personal experience of Buddhist practice, and guided participants to practice letting go of the body and mind and getting rid of distracted thoughts. Dharma Masters at the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas also shared the teachings of Dharma. Concentration is based on keeping the precepts. In order to realize the originally pure Buddha-nature, we must follow the rules in daily life.
The weekend also included a seminar for both groups on "Ethical Dimensions of the Modern World," with Father John Rogers, Dharma Masters from the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Dr. George Weissman, Dr. Akpinar, and Steven Tainer leading the discussion and answering questions. Seeing the university students learning about ethics and filiality at the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the senior students of Elder Hostel remarked that they really did learn how to respect elders!
The students and seniors both came hoping to gain a better understanding of Buddha Dharma. Anxious to search for the truth in life, many of them hope to return this summer to spend more time exploring this lifestyle. As these two programs become more and more common, it shows that the seeds of Buddhism are now sprouting in the West.