TBSA 20th Anniversary Newsletter

Next year also
I'd gladly go

by Phyu Ma
Translated by Hla Min

Like a typical se-kyaw-thet (pre-teen), my niece is fond of posing questions of all sorts. She was four years old when she came to the US; so she does not fully understand Burmese. When she acts or says something that is considered impolite [in the view of a Burmese Buddhist], I would say, "Thamee (literally "daughter"), don't say or act this way. Nga-ye-kyee-me
(meaning the deed may eventually lead you to a woeful state called "hell"). Wut-le-me (meaning bad reactions of the deed may come back to you sooner or later). She will ask, "What do you mean by nga-ye-kyee-me and wut-le-me?" [As a Chinese-Burmese], I tried my best to explain to her in Burmese and Chinese. She could not comprehend. I could not explain to her in English. That was my problem. But I felt that a greater problem [cultural gap] lies ahead for the thar-thars (sons, nephews, and all young boys) and mee-mees (daughters, nieces, and all young girls).

Especially in the US schools, students are asked to talk about their religions. Most Buddhist youngsters are not able to talk about their religion. [Sad to say], some would eventually get swayed to convert to religions [that are described by their fellow students]. I wanted my niece to have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of Buddhism, so I urged her to take the annual "Aye-Thet scholarship" examination held at Dhammananda Vihara monastery.

My niece asked the Sayadaws [at Dhammananda Vihara] topics that she did not understand; they patiently answered them [to her satisfaction]. Back at home, she would ask me more questions, but our language barrier prevents us from having good progress. I simply said, "Thamee, if pass the [Aye-Thet] exam with flying colors, I'll reward you well." Seeing my niece  studying [with some difficulty] on her own, I felt concerned for the young boys and girls [brought up here in the US].

During that time, I learned from my friends that a week-long summer school would be held at TMC (Thathargata Meditation Center), San Jose. I relayed the news to people who would like their kids learn about the basics of Buddhism. In all, four children (including my niece) agreed to attend the summer school. To avoid the long commutes, we decided that the children should stay for the whole course at TMC. I took three days off from work.

The classes start from 8 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. Each session would last 30 minutes or 45 minutes followed by a break. There are designated times for taking showers and meals. The Vietnamese nuns and some parents helped with preparing meals and clean up. The sanghas and volunteer teachers conducted the fundamentals of Buddhism in English and/or Burmese. I was elated to know that the curriculum covers all the topics tested in the "Aye-Thet scholarship" exam.

Of the fifty or so students, some had attended the course in previous years. [They are to be given refresher courses or advanced courses.] Within minutes [or a considerably short period of time], the boys became pals, and they seemed to be happy and relaxed. On the other hand, the girls tend to be aloof and slower at making friends. My niece complained, "It's boring. Why do you bring me here?" With a stern voice, I reminded, "Thamee, I'd like you to learn good manners."

The volunteer parents and I consulted the advisory board members running the course and tried to give helping hand as needed. The students were grouped according to age, and they were also given appropriate duties and responsibilities. There were two major classes: one for children between 5 and 10 years, and another for older children (pre-teens and teens). All the students have to meditate each morning. In the beginning, they meditated for about three minutes. At the end of the course, all students could mediatate for about ten minutes. The parents and guardians of the students were glad to see their kids not only studying the fundamentals of Buddhism, but also practising it. They express their heart-felt thanks to the sayadaws, the teachers, and the coordinators.

Some guest speakers also described their experiences. Although the course was barely a week long, the participants learnt and grasped the essentials of Buddhism. They took the exam on the final day. They greeted each other and headed back home. About ten of them later took the "Aye-Thet scholarship" exam. All of them passed. Four of them took the top prizes as well. The parents/guardians felt elated and proud.

It's time that all the monasteries in the US should have "Fundamentals of Buddhism" courses. The parents/guardians could and should volunteer for the courses; they will accumulate merits and will learn first-hand the spritual progress of their kids.

As for me, I felt piti (immeasurable joy and satisfaction) for my work. I felt good to have played a part in a worthy cause. But, what thrilled me most of all was what my niece said the night we came back from TMC. "If there is a similar class next year, I'd like to attend".

Tathargata Meditation Center (TMC) is located at 1215 Lucretia Avenue, San Jose.
The Aye-Thet Scholarship fund was established 8 years ago by Dr. Lynn Swe Aye, Honorary Member, TBSA and Dr. Khin Nyo Thet.

Last modified: 22nd August, 2000