From July 5th - 15th, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) hosted a summer camp for children ages 4-15. The camp attracted both local students and those from other parts of California, the U.S. and the world. There were about 100 students in all. Approximately 20 counselors (many of them students or alumni of CTTB’s schools), and many volunteer teachers and parents helped make this year’s camp particularly successful.
“The kids in summer camp were really wonderful!” This was the common feeling of all the teachers. These innocent and adorable kids had a very special quality about them. The more the teachers taught them, the more inspired they felt. The more the kids played, the happier they felt. They experienced an unforgettably happy time at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. More than half the students said they would come back next year.
Boys’ Camp. There were 12 boys between the ages of four and eight. Graciela Rodarte (from Fresno, CA) and Min Zhang were the main teachers. Many teachers and counselors helped with activities such as meditation, art, and outdoor playing. The “center of operation” was the elementary classroom in the Boys School. This was where the boys had their indoor play and snacks.
Early morning schedules included free play and activities such as tea parties, arts, storytelling, Lego constructions and brief chanting. Outdoor activities such as hiking to the creek, basketball and soccer started around 9:30 am. At 10:20 am, students walked to the Buddha Hall for the meal offering and then had lunch in the dining hall. During quiet time after lunch, each boy took a book and a cushion to read and rest. One favorite afternoon activity was doing construction with recycled material in the enormous art studio. Many also loved the meditation-and-story hour with Jin Fan Shi at the spacious Chan Hall. Whoever sat quietly got to sit beside the Dharma Master and after a few days almost all the boys were sitting with him. The day concluded with a fun and healthy snack. The class popped popcorn in pots and even baked our own cookies in solar ovens.
The 22 boys between the ages of nine and twelve came from various states. Two hailed from as far as France and only spoke French. During these two weeks, they experienced monastic life for the first time. Although most kids struggled with the pain in their legs during meditation, many were able to sit quietly in lotus posture after a few days. In Buddhist studies, the students were most curious about the heavens and hells. They knew that bad deeds cause one to fall into the hells, and good deeds lead one to the heavens. Building on their understanding, the teacher taught them about the five precepts and ten wholesome deeds.
On the first day, students chattered excitedly in the Dining Hall, and left their shoes lying everywhere outside the Chan Hall. However, they learned quickly, and by the second day they were quiet in the Dining Hall and Chan Hall and also lined their shoes up very neatly. Children with deep roots of goodness would respectfully put their palms together when they saw a monastic. They learned to cherish their blessings and not waste resources, and to show respect to the Buddha images by not wearing shorts in the Buddha Hall. They also learned not to chase peacocks or hurt small creatures, and to protect the earth and environment.
During activities such as basketball, soccer, orchestra, taiko drumming, and lion dance, they learned how to work together as a team to produce the best result. A careless move by even one individual would break the team’s rhythm. As the students were exceptionally cooperative, the social education aspect of this year’s summer camp’s was quite successful.
Although this year’s students were younger than average, more than half could speak and understand Chinese quite well, showing that their parents’ emphasis on Chinese education. In Chinese class, students learned more Chinese and heard stories about filial people and eminent Buddhist monks. Some students were homesick at first, but after a few days, they did not even want the classes to end. Students who did not understand Chinese learned to play Chinese chess and to speak simple Chinese phrases. In art class, the children had great fun creating imaginative works of art out of recycled materials. The teacher taught them how to conserve energy, and they baked snacks in a solar oven. In a short time, they acquired much valuable knowledge.
We should mention that Richard Tsai, an alumnus of Developing Virtue Boys School, has volunteered in the summer camp for seven consecutive years. In the past two years he led the other counselors in helping the children and planned the entire camp’s activities in such a way that the children could learn and play safely and comfortably. He is greatly loved by the students. The counselors’ efforts made the camp especially enriching and successful.
The camp’s success also comes from parent involvement. About a dozen mothers helped make breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks every day, accompanied the kids to the park for a picnic, and watched over their safety at the swimming pool. At the end of camp, the parents were extremely satisfied that their kids had not wasted their time here.
From this successful experience, we hope to see more children come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to enroll in school or attend summer camp. In this serene environment, they can smile in youthful innocence and develop their talents.
Girls’ Camp All the girls in this year’s camp had a wonderful time. Several applied to study at the Girls’ Schools. Since this year’s theme was “Cultural Understanding and Environmental Awareness,” special activities included working in CTTB’s 2-acre organic garden, picking fruit, arranging flowers, ballet, and Chinese painting and calligraphy. We were lucky to have Heng Yi Shr, Echo Hsueh, and Mr. Lin from Gold Mountain Monastery’s Chinese School come to teach this year, along with many other volunteers. Here are some impressions shared by students, a counselor, and a parent.
Hoy Yi Moh (age 10): I made a lot of new friends, practiced drama and Chinese orchestra, learned the Lotus Sutra, listened to stories about Guanyin Bodhisattva helping suffering beings, and memorized the Universal Door Chapter.
Jessica Fong (age 14): CTTB is a wonderful place to be in for both mind and body. There is no end of friends, teachers, opportunities, and happy moments. I enrolled in school here after attending summer camp last year and it is fun. I was really happy about some of the new classes, especially art and Buddhist Studies. I’m grateful to the counselors for planning our evening activities. All in all, summer camp this year is awesome!!
Tammy Tran (age 15): I’m from Virginia. Summer camp means a lot to me for it is the only time I get to visit CTTB and my friends. CTTB is a very wonderful place. Here is where I mostly laugh and smile. In camp, I learned more about Chinese culture, our environment, Buddhist studies, drama and art, and to play the Er-hu! I’ll never forget when I got to walk through the mountain gate for the first time! It was a spiritual experience and a wonderful feeling.
Tiffany Liu (age 10): I learned a lot of things here: how to recycle, dance, memorize a sutra, and make art projects. I like CTTB because it’s fun and big. My favorite games were the obstacle course and the water balloon fight.
Catherine Li (age 12): I learned be responsible, to cooperate as a member of a team, to share, etc.—over all, be a better person. I feel counselors are all my elder sisters. We learned how to play together and get along with each other. CTTB is a very special place for me indeed.
Linda Lee (age 8): I’m from Texas. I like the peacocks. I come here because I love it here. This is my 6th visit. I get to learn Buddhism and hear stories about Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. I think this place is very special because it’s like a place left by the Buddhas. When my family found out about this place, we really wanted to visit. CTTB is a place where we can live and study and do a lot of work to help out. In this place, the Buddha wants to help us be very healthy and that’s why we eat vegetarian food!
Angel Yang (counselor/alumna): This is my fifth year as a summer camp counselor. I’d like to thank all the campers who talked just now for not forgetting to thank all the Dharma Masters, teachers, parents and counselors. I invite those who have the opportunity to come back to help out the summer camp and dedicate yourself. We truly need it! This is a great opportunity for us to develop virtue while working with kids.
I’d like to thank all the counselors for working so hard and spending your summer vacation here. I’d like to thank all the campers who have been really cooperative.
Although it has been so hot in the past few days, they were still willing to do their daily routine!
Mei Chuan Huang: I’m Linda’s mother from Texas. Without this big CTTB family, there would not be such a joyful summer camp for children. After accompanying the kids through all the scheduled group activities, I see that dorm life isn’t easy. To supervise the children so that they follow the schedule on their own isn’t easy. I am grateful to the Dharma Masters for tolerating the kid’s voices and noise level. Thank you for providing them such a wholesome environment, and for allowing them to draw near to you and to the Buddhadharma.
Having helped out in the CTTB kitchen, I realized that my cooking three meals a day for my family at home is nothing in comparison. When I held the huge spatula I couldn’t even reach the other side of the wok! I can imagine how tough a job it is for the kitchen staff to cook three meals for the assembly. I respect and admire them from the bottom of my heart, and hereby express my gratitude to them.
Before going back to the mundane world, I wish to tell the Dharma Masters: We need you badly to help maintain this monastery of the Proper Dharma, so that in this world full of afflictions, we have a refuge. Here, we breathe the fresh air and enjoy the pure environment. It is a totally different world here. For the sake of all the suffering living beings, please take care of your health. We truly need you!