回溯70年代的時候，我在一間寺廟 Samye Ling 受三皈依；可以說，從那一刻開始，我的生活似乎加速了。我以前常常想像佛法是存在於某個神秘虛空裏的某種東西──某種很特別、很難達到的東西；我也把所有的出家人理想化了，想像他們是生活在一個和我不同的世界裏──生存在某種天堂裏。然後我聽到一位年長的日本和尚說：「天堂裏沒有洗手間，所以你不能住在那裏；您必須到這世界上來用洗手間。」過了很久以後，我在萬佛城讀到了六祖所說的偈頌：
I am currently teaching English, drama and yoga at the Girls School and art at the Boys School. This is my fifth year at the schools and during that time my definition of the word “education” has grown.
Defining education is complex; it depends upon who’s talking and who is listening. If I speak from the perspective of an English woman born and raised in England and educated at an all-girl’s school then at various coed colleges and universities, I might agree with the Webster’s Dictionary’s definition: education is the process of training and developing knowledge and skill, mind and character; a systematic study of problems, methods and theories of teaching and learning. Some synonyms for education are: instruction, teaching, breeding, training and cultivation. If I had to choose one of those words to define education here at CTTB it would be: cultivation.
Both the Boys and Girls Schools take a broad view of education and give license to teachers to bring their own skills, artistic talent and teaching styles to the students. Parents are also encouraged to share their specialized knowledge. The schools also have very specific expectations as to what students will learn: not only are students expected to reach their full academic and creative potential, they are also expected to learn to be kind, respectful and trustworthy, to develop wisdom and a personal faith and to appreciate and respect other cultures and religions. As you probably all know, the schools are applying to be accredited by the State of California through an organization called WASC [Western Association of Schools and Colleges]. This accreditation will validate students’ education here at CTTB, qualifying them to enter the state university system.
Actually, when I hear “WASC” I think “WASP”! Why? Because I feel a sharp sting as if I was engulfed by a swarm of wasps! The sting reminds me that I must pay closer attention to what I am teaching. The sting reminds me how I came here to the City, took the job in the schools thinking I could escape! Escape the annoying bureaucracy of the American education system, escape the need to move forward, to change – escape has really been a theme of mine for most of my life – always trying to find a place more comfortable, less demanding, a place where my opinions and ideas will be affirmed – a place where I can settle and rest, imagining that my life would be good if only I could find the right place to live, the right partner, the right job etc. etc.
It is ironic that I came to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) with the idea of escaping the mainstream and suddenly I find myself embroiled in an accreditation process that turns out to be the epitome of bureaucracy and mainstream culture. However, after my initial knee-jerk response to my foray into the world of WASC it becomes clear that this accreditation process is going to be extremely helpful for students, parents, teachers, Sangha and members of the community. Why? Because it makes us all communicate with one another. Students need to be “reading the menu”; they need to know what is expected of them and how they will be assessed. We teachers need to clarify our relationship to the school - what and how we are teaching. Parents need to know in which direction their children are headed and how they can help them on the journey. The accreditation process is making us map out the territory so no one gets lost.
If education is defined from the standpoint of, say, an English teacher, it might be seen as knowing the difference between subject and object, understanding language.
From the perspective of a student of Buddhism, it might be realizing the relationship between the self and everything else – the realization of true compassion, Buddha Nature – one’s own true nature.
If, as I stand here before you, I suddenly become self-conscious, it is because I have the deluded thought that we are strangers, separated from one another, each in our own small worlds. We all know that we exist together in this great universe and that we all appear here this evening simultaneously and when the time comes we will all move out of the Buddha Hall into whatever is next. We all must move forward in our lives whether we want to or not – there is no escape. We all feel the WASP sting of change, the discomfort of moving away from what is comfortable into the unknown. When I think in this way I do not feel alienated or self-conscious, I feel connected and part of everything and everybody else, I cease to feel nervous, unworthy and misunderstood. It is an education that teaches this kind of connection that interests me. Keeping up the effort is the tough part.
When I first arrived at CTTB, I was reeling from the misery of divorce, I had no money and a son to take care of. Living here and having my son attend the Boys School seemed like the answer to my prayers. My son had a different perception and wanted to get back to mainstream life. He went to live with his father and I remained here. When I ask him about religion he says, “It sucks,” it makes trouble between people.
I first took refuge back in the 70’s at a Temple called Samye Ling and I can say that since that moment my life has seemed to accelerate. I used to imagine the Buddha Dharma to be something “out there” in some esoteric void – something special and unattainable and I idealized anyone who had left home imagining them to be living in a world different from mine, some kind of heavenly existence. Then I heard an old Japanese monk say, “There are no restrooms in heaven so you can’t stay there – you have to come down to earth to use the restrooms.” Then much later, here at CTTB, I read the following verse spoken by the Sixth Patriarch:
Enlightenment is not apart from the world.
To look for Bodhi apart from the world.
Is like looking for horns on a rabbit.
I had to laugh! My perception of education is changing…
Can it be said then, that to be truly educated means to be well versed in the ways of the world and in the ways of human relationships – is this true literacy? To be able to meet whatever shows up in daily life with a straightforward mind rooted in personal experience and wisdom?
I can only act in accordance with what I know which is not very much, so life turns out to be an exercise in improvisation.
My perception of education cannot remain static. The moment I think I have some understanding of what it means to be a teacher, the rug is pulled from under me (I am immediately proved wrong). For example, the drama department put on play a few years ago based on the Life of the Buddha, the students retold the story in their own way and composed a song and dance as part of the production. The play was well received and I felt a flush of pride in the successful outcome. “Great,” I thought there is a formula here – choose any great person from history as inspiration for a production, have the students re-write the story in their own style and Hey Presto! An original piece of theatre that fulfills State Standards. This semester was to be the Life of Mulan - it simply didn’t work; I was disappointed. What to do when our best laid plans fail miserably? I remember a story I was once told. It is Native American in origin and like all good stories it changes to fit different times and places. I would like to share it with you because it gives encouragement in situations where it seems impossible to create a good outcome.
Once upon a time, before human beings had arrived on the earth, the animals lived in harmony and the earth was cherished. The rules of nature were respected and life was harmonious. One day the Great Spirit called all the animals and birds together and said, “I have an important announcement and you must all listen carefully. You have been living together very happily. You have taken care of mother earth and life has been smooth but now a change is coming. A new species is coming to earth and this species does not know the ways of nature. It is your job to educate them- to show them how to care for our world. This species is called ‘human’.”
The animals looked at one another and wondered what to do. “We must have meetings,” said the busy beaver. “We need leaders,” said the powerful horse. “We need a plan of action,” said the bounding tiger. Then suddenly from behind the great mountain an eagle swooped down and said, “You need one perfect leader and I am it.”
“Why you?” said the jackal, “What makes you so special?”
“I am fast and I am clever; that is what makes me special,” replied eagle. “I can see everything from a great height – I can see the big picture.”
“Eagle is right,” said rabbit, “I usually stay in my little burrow when something new happens; I don’t like strangers.” Tiger roared a terrible roar and said, “I will scare these humans into obeying the ways of nature.”
“You can’t do that,” said deer. “What are you thinking, we must keep harmony and work together. This will be a new situation for all of us; let us remain peaceful.”
The animals had many meetings and they became more and more confused about how to prepare for the coming of the new species. Finally it was agreed upon to appoint eagle the leader.
The first thing eagle did was to make all the animals collect feathers and grasses to make him a very large and comfortable eerie. Eagle became very demanding and bossy. The animals became exhausted and miserable – their lives were never the same again. One evening a turtle came creeping out of the ocean onto the beach. Turtle looked around and saw the sorry state of the animals – she was shocked.
“What has been happening around here?” said turtle. “You all seem so beaten down; even the earth itself seems sad.”
“We have no time to take care of ourselves,” said rabbit.
“We don’t even have time to take care of mother earth,” said deer.
“I haven’t cleaned out my burrow in months,” said rabbit.
“Eagle has made us into his personal slaves,” said horse.
“You must appoint a new leader,” said turtle.
“Will you be our leader?” said rabbit.
“Yes, will you?” said tiger. “You are kind; you have patience and a thick skin – you’d make a fine leader”
All the animals agreed that turtle should be appointed but they had to convince eagle.
The animals scheduled a special meeting and told eagle of their plan to appoint turtle as leader.
“What! Are you crazy! That old slow poke! No way!” cried eagle.
But the animals stood firm.
Eagle also stood firm.
“I know,” said turtle brightly. “We’ll have a contest”
Eagle liked the idea and smiled cunningly to himself.
‘We’ll have a race,” turtle blurted out.
“Fine,” said eagle, “and since I am so much faster and smarter than you – you may choose where this race will take place and how far it will be.”
Turtle decided the race would be the very next morning and that everyone should meet beneath the great oak tree.
The moment of truth came and there was much fear and trepidation among the animals.
“Where will the race begin?” asked eagle.
“At the top of the great oak tree” replied turtle.
“And where will the race end,” asked eagle.
“Right here where we are standing at the foot of the tree.”
“Fine,” said eagle “Let’s get this over with.”
So turtle slowly made her way up the long branch the animals had leaned up against the oak tree. When she reached the top, eagle flew up with a great flurry and perched himself beside her. The animals were getting nervous – how could turtle possible win?
“Ready, steady, GO!” said rabbit.
Before eagle had the chance to even flap a wing, turtle quickly pulled her legs into her shell and threw herself off the treetop. She landed seconds later at the foot of the tree with a mighty thud. Eagle stared down; he got the big picture. All the animals were cheering for turtle. Eagle’s reign of terror was over. Peace and harmony were restored to the earth – the humans had not yet arrived – but that’s another story.
So now that humans are here we find ourselves constantly having to re-organize and re-educate ourselves to meet the changing circumstances of our lives. The schools in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas are doing just that. Teachers are having more work to do than usual; there are many meetings to attend and changes to be made. Sometimes we need substitutes to take over our classes – can you help? Are you willing to support the education of the students here at CTTB? Perhaps you are already stretched; we all create our own ‘schedules’ and do our best to meet the changes that inevitably occur. Some may think that working in the schools will be a disturbance to cultivation. From another perspective working in the schools could be considered none other than cultivation. The Sixth Patriarch reminds us that, “To look for Bodhi apart from the world is like looking for horns on a rabbit.”