Coming to Developing Virtue Girls’ School (DVGS) seemed to be the unexpected manifestation of the perfect place for me. I went to public school (in another county) up until sixth grade. It was in my last year at my elementary school that I started considering my options for continuing my education. With my mother’s help, I visited several private middle and high schools during my sixth grade year. Since my family has never had a strong religious preference, religion never really affected our search. Price and atmosphere did, however. After looking at several highly priced schools (about $20,000 per semester), my mother and I were getting very discouraged.
Luck was on our side, however. At a neighborhood Valentine’s Day party, my mother brought up our predicament. A friend of ours asked simply, “Well, have you tried the Buddhist school in Ukiah?” My mom’s heart leapt. “Buddhist school?” she asked. It turned out the friend had eaten lunch there for a culinary course she was taking. We jumped at the opportunity. I think we visited the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) the next weekend.
My mother and I drove down the lonely road that makes up “downtown” Talmage. We rounded a corner and the luminous, golden, pagoda-style CTTB gate loomed before us – sort of a long-forgotten treasure in a hidden glade. The glitter of gold at the bottom of a mountain stream. That was what it was like – this slice of ancient Asia in the small rural town of Talmage. I realized after passing through the gate that I had stopped breathing. I was in total awe.
A light rain fell from the sky, making the leaves of the trees quiver with the drops. A quiet mist floated in the air and circled the lush mountain that looked down on the City from the distance. We parked, and stopped to check in and get information from the Administration Office. Walking in the fresh rain toward Jyun Kang Vegetarian Restaurant, we saw a solitary
nun — with shaven head and saffron robes – running through the rain under a broken black umbrella, the Buddha Hall behind her. I thought simply, “Wow”. We approached the restaurant as a peacock flew past us into a tall redwood. My mother and I both smiled and went inside. I feel no need to explain the food in words —it wasn’t like any food, even any Chinese food, I ever had. Once I had it though, I was not about to go back to public school cafeteria food, that was for sure.
After my first visit, I thought it’d be best to experience the school itself. I took a friend from school who was also interested and stayed two days at the school and a night in the girls’ dormitory. I loved the school, but I knew living in the dorm would be difficult to get used to, and everything was a little surreal. I wasn’t used to any of the ceremonies or traditions, I didn’t know anyone there, and the day seemed so long. (The girls in the dorm had to wake up at 5:45 AM, before even the sun rose.) Despite all that, I applied and got accepted for the next school year. There were times when I just wanted to go home, but I never regretted my decision.
Now, in my fourth year at DVGS, I feel like I’m finally, truly being rewarded for my efforts. I’ve come to identify myself with the people and customs of CTTB. Now that I approach the end of my schooling, I feel a sinking feeling of regret, not for coming, but for having to go. DVGS is where my family is—all the girls who’ve gone from being classmates to sisters over the years. I’ve grown in person, in spirit, in mind, and in happiness, and I would not trade it for anything.
To be continued