Planting the Root Down Below,
Producing the Fruit Up Above
A Thirty Year Experience of the Elementary and High School of City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
Addressed by Shi Jin Fan of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association
at the 2nd World Buddhist Forum on March 29, 2009
Venerable Master Hsuan Hua of Jilin, Dongbei China was the founder of Instilling Goodness Elementary School and Developing Virtue High School. Because his family was poor when he was young, he didn't attend school until he was 15; and from there, he realized that the key to studying is "concentration". And so, he was able to learn all Four Books, Five Classics and read various Medicine books in 2.5 years. Because he himself started school at a later age, and knowing that poor families couldn't afford to send their children for schooling, at age 18 ( in 1936), he established a school at home for the 30 or so children around his neighbourhood, and he taught for free. This was the start of Venerable Master establishing a free education.
In 1962, the Venerable Master empty-handedly came to America from Hong Kong to propagate Buddhadharma. In the beginning, he lived in a basement without any windows, calling himself "Monk in the Graveyard", and waiting for the right condition to transform. In 1968, he started a Shurangama Sutra Summer class that was requested by the students of Washington University; and 96 days later, 5 Americans requested to shave their head and leave the home life under the Master, and later receiving the complete precept. This was the start of the Sangha community of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association. Because of the virtue of the Master that had inspired many, followers had gradually increased, the Sangha community was expanding day by day and eventually, the branches were established one after the other.
At that time, the Venerable Master felt that the moral values of the society is worsening day by day, and moral ethics is gradually perishing. And the only way to save the value of this world is to advocate proper education. And so, in 1976, he established Instilling Goodness Elementary School at the Buddhist Translation Society located in San Francisco. The name of the school means to instill goodness to the children. The school emphasizes "filial piety" as its principle. Its aim is to teach children the foundation of being a human being a young age; especially in the Western countries, promoting filial piety is the most basic way.
In the beginning, there were only 8 students (age 4-8). Terri Nicholson, an American laity, was the principal of the school; and the staffs were few Bhikshunis (nuns). “The idea of establishing a school was new and inspiring; not only could we help bring in Buddhadharma in the Western world, we could also build a school to teach children to be good.” This was Terri Nicholson's comment during the 30 th anniversary of the school.
In 1978, the school was moved to City of Ten Thousand Buddha. It is very clean and big about 488 acre, and is located just 110 miles North of San Francisco. And in 1981 Developing Virtue High School was established, with “Loyalty & Filial” as its base principle. Other than filial piety, the next step in teaching the student is to be loyal to their country and to be responsible on their own action. The school, other than teaching the courses regulated by the government of California, it also teaches the Eight Virtues "filial piety, brotherhood, loyal, trustworthy, propriety, justice, incorruptibility, humility" from the Chinese classical to the students, so that they'd come out to become a remarkable citizen in the future, and influence the world. The town’s people of Ukiah, when they heard about instilling goodness and developing virtue, started sending their children to the school; and the number of students gradually increases. In 1982, to encourage the students to focus more on their studies, the girls only school and boys only school were established.
Other than the regular curriculum, the school also teaches Buddhism, Meditation, and Moral & Virtue classes. The school uses Chinese as its second language. It also uses "The Rules of Being a Student" and the "Confucian Analects" thinking as its main source for teaching material; so that the student would be provided with a proper ground rule in how to treat other people and deal with things. In addition, every year, the school would also participates in the competition organize by the Chinese School Association of California. The competition includes public speech, essay writing, translating, Chinese calligraphy, drawing, etc. Furthermore the school also participates in the competition on the general knowledge of Chinese Culture. These competitions help the students to develop and increase their view by making academic exchanges with students from other schools. Other extracurricular activities of the school includes, Chinese musical band, dragon dance, lion dance, Chinese calligraphy, taichi, folk dance and other Chinese cultural activities.
Chen ManYi, the mother of an alumnus Jia Fan said: "Learning Chinese cultures are one of the few reasons why other parents and I send our children to study at the City of Ten Thousand Buddha. For a lot of these kids, it would be their first time to touch a Chinese musical instrument, their first time to learn Chinese folk dance. Watching these children slowly learning traditional Chinese culture, I see that they're starting to show more and more of their Chinese elegant feminine side. And I truly appreciate that. Jia Fan's biggest achievement was to represent the school to compete on the general knowledge of the Chinese Culture. She would always bring up this precious moment over and over again. This experience is an important page of her life and it also brought her Chinese knowledge to another level.”
In 1992, the Venerable Master, using the idea of "Honouring all the elders as we do with our own parents, caring for all children as we do with our own child", instructed the school to hold a "Cherishing Youth Day" event in the spring, and invited the students of neighboring school, 400 of them to participate. And in the fall, the “Respecting of Elders” event was held. The elders in the town were invited to attend this event at the City of Ten Thousand Buddha. The students performed for them and wonderful delicious vegetarian dishes were served to all the guests. These two activities give the students a personal experience of the wonderful virtue of "Respecting Elders and Cherishing theYouths"; and both are received and highly accepted by the town’s people in Ukiah.
Every summer, a summer camp is being held; and each year the theme and activities are different. The camp gives young people a chance to experience a different lifestyle in the monastery. And it is quite a popular camp.
Education is the most sacred work and mission, and teachers are the key to the success or failure of it. If the teacher would set a good example, then the students would come out great, excelling both in conduct and academic. The Venerable Master used his own experience in starting and providing free education, had promoted voluntary teaching; that's why in 1992, he started recruiting voluntary teachers. The staffs were comprised of left home people and lay people. Some of the staff would completely not take any salary, while some would only take what's needed for their own basic expenses. They wouldn't go on strike because of money - a distinct feature of the school. Currently, volunteer teachers come from different parts of the world - US, England, Spain, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, South America etc. More and more teachers are willing to devote themselves in this sacred work.
Current appointed Head of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, Reverend Heng Sure said: "If we want to learn about Buddhism, the first thing we should do is to be a good person. It is said: "If one does his best as a person, he has already accomplished the path to Buddhahood." That's why, to cultivate the path to Buddhahood, one must first have a wholesome characteristic. This is in fact the highest priority of education in the 21st century. In the City (City of Ten Thousand Buddha), we do not require the students to be fluent in all sort of dogmas, nor do we require them to memorize and recite the sutras. We only require them to be respectful to all elders and teachers, to repay the kindness of their parents. This kind of filial piety virtue is the foundation of great wisdom and great compassion. I once taught the Grade 3 students of Instilling Goodness Elementary School; considering it, I could say that it was the most difficult assignment in my cultivation. The students were testing my patience at all times; and every class, I was forced to bring out my creativity and imagination to the extreme point."
An American Bhikshu, Dharma Master Heng Shun, supervisor of the boys school since 1994, said: "According to the Master's instruction in the prospect of running the school, I discovered that to instill the fundamental virtue of goodness to the students, one must first cultivate. For example, if I lose my temper or was mad at someone, it would be hard for me to teach the students to get along with each other. The teacher must first set an example." He also said: "In the beginning, I've also discovered that to face the student, one must maintain some certain standard, such as complete honesty and openness. If you would have wear a mask and conceal things from them, they would quickly see through it. By educating a student to be good, we would also nurture our inner virtue at the same time. I think that this is the best way to cultivate and train our own moral characteristics.
Bhikshuni Dharma Master Heng Yin longed to be a pre-school teacher when she was a child. When she came to the City of Ten Thousand Buddha, her dreams came true and she is now the principal of the girls school. She said: "In the City, the children are able to maintain their purity, and they wouldn't be ridiculed for being what they want to become. It is a place for young people to learn how to get along harmoniously with their peers, family and mother nature; it's a place for young people to learn how take upon themselves the responsibility of keeping mankind happy and earth peaceful. And that is why, when they grow up, they will be the voice and strength to move and improve the society." Because of Dharma Master Heng Yin's devotion and sincerity towards education, her parents Dr.Ye Zu Yao and his wife, after retiring, came to City of Ten Thousand Buddha and offer their time and devotion.
Dr.Ye and his wife, with all their best, have contributed their wisdom and experience to the City of Ten Thousand Buddha. They said: "With the lack of home education, if one wants to have an effective education so that we can bring up proper children, the school have no choice but to work on both areas, moral character and academic. However, this is extremely difficult task. Not only must the teaching material be completely reorganize, to look for a role model for the student, a teacher who is compassionate and with good moral characteristic would not be easy. And it's definitely not easy to set up such system in a public school with thousands of students in a short period of time. Instilling Goodness Elementary School and Developing Virtue High School are the schools that emphasize in teaching both moral characteristic and proper academics. The teachers in the school are cultivators who are filled with compassion, and most of them are volunteers.
Yan Ya Ri, a Malaysian High School Math and Physics teacher, has already been teaching voluntarily for 16 years. He was once the principal of the boys school. He said: "In 1992, my wife brought our four children to City of Ten Thousand Buddha. When the Master saw my children, he looked and smiled at my wife, telling her that the children can study at Instilling Goodness Elementary School. My wife naively asked: "How about my husband in Malaysia?". The Master replied: "He can come as a volunteer teacher!" So, at that time, we quickly registered our children to attend the school and the following year, I came to the school and became a volunteer teacher." Now Mr. Yan's children have graduated from University; receiving Master's degree, or becoming qualified educator. Their youngest daughter is graduating this year from Developing Virtue School, and she will be receiving a scholarship from Pacific University. "This is one dream that I wouldn't think would come true." The voluntary teaching system definitely has changed the life of Mr & Mrs. Yan's family.
Mr. Garcia from Spain brought his wife and two young sons to City of Ten Thousand Buddha 5 years ago. He said: "About 16 years ago, I came to the United States. And I quickly realized that the educational system here is not much more superior than what we have in Spain. I always read about drugs, fighting, teenage pregnancy, and metal detectors in school campuses. Also, the problem is not just the student; the teachers would walk out of class and ask for higher salary, while students would be left on their own with no one teaching them. When I felt that there was no hope, I came across the Venerable Master's foresight in setting up a voluntary school system. He truly saw clear the problem of today's educational system; and he brought up a solution for it. There's no nuclear science here, it's just pure and direct enlightened wisdom." This is what motivated the young Mr. Garcia and his wife, Dr. Zhang Min from Jaing Xi China, to move to the City of Ten Thousand Buddha.
Base on the philosophy of establishing the school, as well as the overwhelming majority of enthusiast volunteer teachers who put all their hearts and effort, Developing Virtue High School hopes that every graduate would able to achive four kinds of educational goals:
1. To have a good moral characteristic, harmonious manner in dealing with other people, as well as great leadership and communication skills;
2. Through meditation and other proper intellectual guidance, they are able to bring up their intrinsic wisdom.
3. Through academic teachings, they are able to develop their potentials in the aspects of humanities, science and arts.
4. To have a global broadminded aspiration so that they could admire and respect all cultures and religions.
Having an excellent environment and also a clear education goal attracted a lot of parents to send their children to the City of Ten Thousand Buddha to receive their education. One of the parents, Chen Gwo Lun said: "My friends asked me, how could you be willing to be apart from your two daughters by sending them to such far place to study? And I told him: " The City of Ten Thousand Buddha is the most beautiful and serene place; it emphasizes on teaching moral characteristic, and it also teaches Buddhism, Chinese and Meditation, and you'd never able to find these kinds of education anywhere else. For their own good, there are certain things that I'm willing to let go. Besides, our children, even though they're here with us right now, when they are going to attend University, most of them would have to leave us. So, they are only leaving me slightly earlier. That's all."
In 1991, Zhu Jian-He left his job as a diplomat, accompanied his wife and a two-year old daughter and drove for 9 days from Washington to come to City of Ten Thousand Buddha to become a volunteer. It is mainly because he would like his daugther to receive a good education. He said: "Every student from Instilling Goodness Elementary and Developing Virtue High School are the most fortunate children; because they are able to develop their character in a wholesome environment that values moral characteristics and high academic standards." His daughter is now studying in a University in the East Coast. He recalled: "Over the past 10 years, my daugther Gwo Fan, when she was studying at Instilling Goodness Elementary School and Developing Virtue High Schoool, not only did she learn how to honor her teachers and elders, refrain from killing and protect lives, and knowing how to work with other people in a proper conduct, she was also free from the exposure to drugs and violence. We used to hear from others that, when Gwo Fan was young, she always had a frown on her face; but now, she always has a smile on her face and she's an easy-going and bright girl."
Liu Qin Zhi, a graduate of 2007, came to the City of Ten Thousand Buddha with his parents from Malaysia in 1994. He attended school here since kindergarten, receiving a complete education here at the City. His dad works as a volunteer and his mother helps with the administration work in the school. With his high academic grades and excellent performance, he has received a full four-year scholarship at Princeton University. Last year, he started a Buddhist association in the University and has shared what he learned since young, and there are now over 10 students who have joined. This is one of the achievements of the graduates from the City, where they'd take their experience and expand it outside the scope of the school. His father Liu De Fu said: "The Venerable Master always said that we study because we would like to understand the theory and not because of fame. We really wish that all children would truly walk through this direction. I have already wasted most of my lifetime, and I do not wish that my children would walk the same path again. I am really glad about my decision in 1994."
Year 2007 is also Developing Virtue High School's most important and memorable year. The school has finally been approved by WASC strict evaluation. And it is the first qualified American Buddhist High School. The grades from the graduates are now being recognized by all Universities, and the school is allowed to issue student visas for international students. The students, after going through our training and education, most are able to enter Berkeley University, Stanford University, Columbia University, Princeton Univeristy and MIT. Some students, after receiving their degree came back to join the volunteer teaching program.
In reality, Instilling Good Elementary and Developing Virtue High school is really a mini school. From kindergarten to high school, there are only roughly a total of 170 students; but there are about 40 teachers and everyone is doing their best to work as one for the school. With this kind of special environment, not only would the students receive Buddhist teachings, they would also learn the Chinese Confucian thinkings; and yet, the education they received would not be apart from present day learnings. The school is cultivating and training an even more healthy next generation. This kind of teaching, from the surface, looks like it's an education for the students; but in reality, it’s also teaching the teachers, parents and others.
Currently, the students are from various places; from different states in the US, to Canada, Asia -- China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines; as well as Europe -- Spain, France, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, etc. These students from different parts of the world would in the future take what they've learned to their own country. A volunteer teacher Mr. Chen Wei Hong said: "Even though the scale of our school is not big, and the numbers are few, but every student is like a seed. If you put your effort to nurture them, in the future, each seeds would become a big tree; and once the flowers of these trees open and become fruits, then it would be the birth of hundreds, thousands and millions of seeds."