The Pleasure of Watching One’s Students
I am honored to contribute to this book celebrating an important anniversary at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. CTTB is an important place in my life; I have been here hundreds of times over about a dozen years, to work as a teacher at Developing Virtue Boys’ School and Dharma Realm Buddhist University. Beyond being merely a workplace, though, “the City” is a unique environment: beautiful, peaceful, and exotic to me as a longtime resident of Mendocino County.
When I enter through the great arch at the end of Talmage Road, many times I feel an actual change, something expressing the extraordinary difference of this place, as compared with the rural California world outside. First of all, it feels Asian; I experience something of a wholly different continent when I observe people (and peacocks!) here, particularly, of course, the nuns and monks in their robes. Serene walkways and carefully tended gardens add to the impression, right down to the non-American brooms used to sweep and keep the grounds exceptionally neat.
But, because of my teaching experience, I believe my perception of Asia goes deeper. My opportunity to know students, colleagues, and parents has introduced me to Asian culture by way of the manner and behavior of these fine people. Not only do Dragon Dance and Chinese New Year exemplify the cultural atmosphere that pervades CTTB, but also respect for teachers and elders.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the profession of teaching is knowing and working with students. It is a mutual relationship in which both can gain knowledge. Watching boys grow, even to the point when they return as “old grads,” is one of a teacher’s pleasures. For me, it has been very gratifying in numerous instances to teach and then follow the development of a variety of students, each in his own way becoming a good young man.
Naturally, Buddhism is a fundamental part of the school environment here, too. Besides not being Asian, I am not a Buddhist, but I do feel influenced by and comfortable with the religious nature of the institution. In addition, I would be giving an insufficient account of my experience if I didn’t mention that Chinese language – which I do not understand at all – is generally in the air.
Perhaps paradoxically, the facts that I am a native-born American, a non-Buddhist, and an English-only teacher are positive aspects of what I contribute at CTTB. In my opinion it’s valuable for the students to have contact with people from “outside, lest their experience be too narrow and remote. While it is not my assignment to inculcate the boys in American-ness, I cannot help being who I am. As I observe them playing basketball or relaxing from the academic demands of school, I see young people maturing in an era of globalization, and I think it’s appropriate that their education be conducted both in the world and apart from it.
Many residents of the surrounding area once worked on the grounds when it was the institution called Mendocino State Hospital, and many others know this interesting chapter in local history. The “campus” of the hospital provided the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, thirty years ago, with an extensive array of buildings, courtyards, roads, and open space that comprised at that point a unique foundation for the gradual development of CTTB. It must have been a very unusual place in the even more distant past; I feel privileged to be a small part of it in the present.