“Everything works out for the best!” is the best way to describe whatever happens in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB).
Last summer, Developing Virtue Boys’ School (DVBS) faced a big challenge – a shortage of dorm counselors! At the last minute, right before school was about to start, Upasaka Victor Cheng showed up. Having just graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in Economics, he was concerned about the possibility of getting lost in worldly illusions once he landed himself a job. Thus he decided to volunteer at CTTB. But he had no idea what he could do. After an interview with the Boys’ School teacher Mr. Kellerman, he accepted his suggestion of taking care of dormitory students.
Based on his observation of his cousin David, Victor believed that he would be capable of handling this job; so he embarked on a brand new experience. Exchanging the role of student for that of teacher, he became a dormitory counselor and Chinese teacher. At the same time, a DVBS alumnus, Nakula Hertz, who had also just graduated from UC Berkeley, wanted to contribute something to his alma mater and took on the job of dorm counselor as well. With these two young men’s help, the school faculty felt greatly relieved when the school started in September. Didn’t everything work out for the best?
When Victor was a fifth grader, his whole family immigrated to the U.S. A few years later, his grandmother and his cousin also moved to the U.S. and lived in his home. This cousin was spoiled and lazy, often making his grandmother angry. When he was asked to take out the garbage, he would say: “I’m a guest here!”
Five years ago, this cousin came to CTTB and became a boarding student. At first, he complained about the school, saying that this was no good, that was no good, the teachers were no good. Three years later, when he came home, to everyone’s surprise he offered to help with chores and became more compliant. This cousin, who is tall and strong, used to eat meat a lot and looked rather fierce. After several years at CTTB, he has transformed into a more peaceful and gentle person. At that time, Victor, who had just begun studying Buddhism, realized that his cousin’s Buddhist school was quite special in being able cause such a significant change in its students. His confidence in Buddhism grew.
Victor grew up in a Buddhist family. His grandmother is a member of the Tzu Chi Buddhist charity organization. He became interested in Buddhism in high school. He often went to the Bodhi Way Association in San Jose to read the Venerable Master Hua’s Dharma talks. Since he had never experienced hardship in his life, he did not know what suffering was. Reading the Venerable Master’s lectures about the many sufferings of life and about the practice of eating one meal a day, he could not relate to them and did not study further.
As a teenager, he cherished the dream of going to college! That would be the happiest thing in his life, and he could make many friends there. However, a series of frustrations and discouragements made him feel that college life was meaningless, like a marathon without a finish line, an endless pursuit and an ephemeral goal.
He also realized that people were all after money, and that the happenings in society were all unreal, illusory and impermanent. Since the environment in which he grew up was not ideal, he felt very confused about life. What was the actual truth? Since all the external phenomena could not provide answers to his satisfaction, he tried to look within himself. He thus realized that he did not understand himself and did not know what he wanted. Because he had tasted some suffering, he could gradually comprehend the concepts in the Ven. Master’s lectures, so he began attending practices at the Institute of World Religions in Berkeley.
In 2001, his sister Estee, who was also a volunteer teacher at Developing Virtue Girls School last year, was in charge of organizing the annual conference of Dharma Realm Buddhist Youth (DRBY). Victor joined DRBY and came to CTTB for the Shurangama Sutra Study Session. In 2002, he, Chin Luo and another friend volunteered to coordinate the DRBY Conference at Blessings, Wealth, & Longevity Monastery in Long Beach. One of his major motivations for volunteering for a year at CTTB was that after participating in two activities here, he felt he was a member of this community.
Being a dorm counselor for nearly a year, he has discovered that the students do not understand the school’s and teachers’ expectation very well, nor do they know what their true dreams are! Therefore he feels that teachers should sometimes take a step back, thus creating some space for issues to be resolved more satisfactorily.
CTTB has been Upasaka Cheng’s very first life experience after graduation, and it has also been an ideal arrangement. He feels that the environment is very wholesome, that every single daily activity is naturally infused with the Buddhadharma. In every move and gesture, one can sense the Dharma’s influence and power. Although the term he set up for himself as one year volunteer teacher has come to an end, he would like to come back to contribute his efforts when the opportunity arises. As a member of CTTB, he will always carry a sense of responsibility and mission.