By Prajna Murdaya
In a distinctly green-colored house on Woodrow Street in Daly City, my siblings and I spent eleven wonderful years of our childhood learning Buddhism from Bhante U Sobhana at the Dhammananda Vihara. We went every Sunday starting in 1983. I was about nine years old then, the rest of my brothers and sisters were between the ages of eleven and three. Every time we went, Bhante had always already prepared a big lesson for us. It was nicely typewritten, usually about 10 pages long.
In the beginning we learned prayers, such as the 5 precepts and the basic Paritta. As we became more literate, Bhante started giving us lessons on Buddhist history,
and also introduced us to Jataka stories. When we grew older, he taught us more about Buddhist cosmology. For example, we read more deeply into reincarnation
and the different planes of existence. Each of us read the written lesson aloud. That way he could be sure that each of us was paying attention to the lesson and reading every word.
When one of us was finished with reading the lesson, another student would read the same lesson over again. Of course, we were bored by having to read the lesson over and over again, but as Bhante said wisely, “Repetition never spoils one’s memory!” By around 1994, which was the time I graduated from high school, Bhante had written well over a thousand pages of lessons for us, and we had read them all aloud!
Reading the lessons aloud not only helped us remember them better, but also doubled as an opportunity to practice pronouncing the numerous Pali words that were used throughout the lessons. That helped us to chant our prayers more skillfully.
I have to admit that I was not always very enthusiastic about going to school each week. Like most children, there were other things I wanted to do on Sunday
afternoons than to go a temple for three hours. And as I studied in high school, my assignments took a lot of time and sometimes I was very reluctant to go. But for whatever reason, I still went pretty consistently, and I benefited from the experience.
I began to see it as a nice retreat away from my daily life, and learned to appreciate its peaceful atmosphere. But whether or not the students were reluctant to be at the lesson, Bhante was always cheerful and happy. He was always patient with us, even though as children we were horribly naughty. He always adapted to our spontaneous behavior. He showed us great generosity and care, and treated us as if we were his own grandchildren. He would always stuff us with snacks and sweets every time we came as well. He certainly felt like a grandfather to us, and it was certainly a blessing to be able to spend time with him. It seems as if Bhante has never changed his cheery personality ever since the first day we met him, even though during the time we took lessons from him, I had grown at least a foot taller.
Throughout those years we have grown up and changed. I felt that the lessons became more and more meaningful as I grew up, and I learned to appreciate Bhante’s
cheeriness, sensitivity, and patience. Attending each lesson certainly enhanced my background knowledge of Theravada Buddhism. After I started studying at the University, I did not have as much time to visit the monastery every week, but the Bhante’s lessons had helped build my confidence in Buddhism.
Often times my friends ask me about Buddhism, and often times the reason I can answer them is the fact that I went to these classes continuously for eleven years. It really helped me a lot when discussing Buddhism with others now. Currently I am the President of the Buddhist Community at Stanford, and thanks in large part to Bhante’s lessons, I feel that I am able to help represent Buddhism at my school.
I recall that the beginning of each of Bhante’s lessons would begin with “My dear students! When I read that greeting the first few times, I wondered who he was so boisterously addressing. After a while, I realized happily that he was referring to me and my brother and sisters, because for all those years, we were the ones who read his lessons. I feel very special and grateful to Bhante Sobhana for all his efforts in teaching me about Theravada Buddhism. He has made a large and positive impact on us and on our family.
Prajna Murdaya comes from a respective Indonesian family. Being devoted Buddhists, the parents gave all their four children Pali names (Metta, Prajna, Upekkha, and Karuna). Before sending them to the United States for education the parents found out about Dhammanada Vihara through a Myanmar Sayadaw visiting Indonesia and finally met with Ven. Sayadaw U Sobhana in Daly City, California, in 1983. Since then the four brothers and sisters came to Dhammananda Vihara to take classes on Buddhism every Sunday. For the next 11 years they studied Buddhism in addition to their regular school lessons. Prajna is now graduating from Stanford University and he is currently serving as the President of the Buddhist Community at Stanford. – Editor