International Seon Center’s English Templestay for Children __ Park Dong-sik

 

Experiencing the Buddhist Mind with Native English Teachers

 



 


▲ Students and teachers both experienced not only Buddhist culture but also Korean culture through the 108 bows, meditation, having tea with the abbot, painting handmade Korean traditional paper fans, making lotus flowers, etc.


As the Summer heat began to peak, 30 elementary school students went to the International Seon Center in Mok-dong, Seoul to participate in an English language templestay program. Carrying overnight bags, they seemed to be happy to experience something new rather than sad at parting from their parents.


One Bow, One Rosary – “108 bae” (108 bows to remove the 108 earthly desires)

The students were briefed on basic temple etiquette and then gathered in their classroom. They were split into five groups and each group was assigned a volunteer native English teacher. Each group was given ten pictures to put in chronological order and make a story. This had to be done in English. The English skills of the students varied but luckily each group had some students who were better at English. The students worked together to put the pictures in order and write a story. The pictures they were given were the “Simwoo-do Pictures (The Ten Ox-herding Pictures).” The stories completed by each group were quite extraordinary.”…We went to the mountain and got a cow. Riding the cow we went over mountains. The cow was so tired it turned white. Finally, the cow became completely white…”


One Bow, One Rosary – “108 bae” (108 bows to remove the 108 earthly desires) The students were briefed on basic temple etiquette and then gathered in their classroom. They were split into five groups and each group was assigned a volunteer native English teacher. Each group was given ten pictures to put in  chronological order and make a story. This had to be done in English. The English skills of the students varied but luckily each group had some students who  were better at English. The students worked together to put the pictures in order and write a story. The pictures they were given were the “Simwoo-do Pictures (The Ten Ox-herding Pictures).” The stories completed by each group were quite extraordinary.”…We went to the mountain and got a cow. Riding the cow we went over mountains. The cow was so tired it turned white. Finally, the cow became completely white…”


This story focused on the cow where a robust ox left to naturally find its way. On the other hand, another group was touched by the “forgetful person and the ox” and made up a story about how enlightenment and emptiness caused the ox to die of old age after it was ridden. Another group made up a story about washing the dirty ox, and another group focused on the clothes the child monk was wearing and made up a story about how a ox lead a little lost girl over the mountains. All the stories were wonderful. After the students finished their presentations, they wanted a video about the ox-herding pictures with English subtitles. The students were fascinated to see how the video was so different from their stories. Then it was time to move to the main hall and do the 108 prostrations (common Buddhist practice). ”Why do we bow?” a monk named Cheonjo asked. The children gave a variety of answers: “To do do well in life,” “To be  happy,” “Every time we bow, we cleanse out souls by ridding it of greed, selfishness, hate, etc.” After each Korean verse and each bow, each student strung one bead onto a string to create a Buddhist rosary. And after each Korean verse, the teacher read the English translation; one verse, one bow, and one bead. This continued until all the students had a 108-bead rosary. The completed rosaries were put on each student’s wrist by the monk Cheonjo.


Playing in the Mud for the First Time
The next day we left for Ganghwa-do Island where we spent all day at an “experience farm (a sort of recreational activity).” There we went rafting and rode ponies. Compared to the day before, it seemed the students were more at ease with their English teachers. The highlight of the day was playing in the  mudflats. Everyone went into the mud to roll around. The puddles became a water park and water slide for the children. The bank of the mudflat was not very smooth so some English teachers slid down it first to smooth it out for the children. Afterward the mudflat became an amusement park. One teacher caught a crab the size of his thumb to show the children. The children took turns holding it and examining it in curiosity. The teacher then explained some of the creatures that live there. The children let the crab go, and it disappeared into the mud. The fun and games then began again as the children slid down the slide their teachers had made and into the muddy water. Eventually, the first to tire were the teachers. South African Tebogo Leshabane gave up first and  exited the mud. He said, “I have never been to a mudflat, but I have had a mud massage before.”


He teaches English at a Korean elementary and middle school. He came to the International Seon Center because he wanted to meditate, and after being touched  by the warm words of the monk, he began visiting weekly. I asked him what he enjoyed most about Buddhism. He replied, “I enjoy walking meditation the most.  Now I do a 30-minutes walking meditation every morning. Before, I was always too busy in the morning getting ready for work, but now I make more time for myself.”

 



▲ (Left) Though this was primarily a place for monks, the teachers now
allowed the students to take the role of Buddha as they bowed to their
friends. (Right)As the templestay was in English, making up stories
about the ox-herding pictures (Simwoo-do) was a valuable experience for the children.


After playing in the mud, the children showered and ate steamed potatoes. Then the bus brought them back to the center. After the evening Buddhist service,  they began making lotuses out of paper. They glued the prepared yellow, red, and purple papers onto a thin stick. Though it was their first time, it was not difficult and they were soon making beautiful paper flowers. Those who were having trouble were helped by the teacher. Monk Cheonjo asked them, “What kind of  flower is the lotus?” This was followed by a variety of answers; “A pretty flower”; “A summer flower”; “A Buddhist flower.” He explained: “The lotus is a flower that represents Buddhism. It blossoms in the mud yet is not made dirty by it. This carries the meaning that no matter where you come from, you must not forget your initial kind heart.” It seemed to be difficult for the children to grasp the concept of blossoming in the mud yet staying pure, as well as living in a world of the five desires and still keeping a kind heart. Cheonjo explained, “When your friends say or do bad things at school, you must not follow them. That attitude is what the lotus is supposed to exemplify.” Unclear whether the children truly understood or not, they answered loud and confidently, “Okay!!!” AT the end of the day, 13-year-old Hui-ung said his most memorable event was playing in the mud. He added, “Though the rosary and 108 bows were also memorable, I will never forget my mudflat experience. I came here with my friend, but we both made many new friends.” Hui-ung said that on past vacation he has gone to many different camps. He said that all other camps he had been to had felt like only a fun trip while this trip proved to be  more educational about Buddhism even while having fun with friends.

 

We are All Precious Beings, Bowing to a Friend
The last day of the Templestay program arrived. On the last day is the most important event which is bowing to friends. The English teachers wrote the strengths of each of their students they had observed over the last three days. When the teacher called their names, the students came up and sat with their  hands together. Though this was primarily a place for monks, the teachers now allowed the students to take the role of Buddha as they bowed to their friends. One teacher noted, “Hyung-il is a bright boy who always makes his friends laugh. Because of him, his team was always happy.” Another teacher said, “Ye-chan came with his little brother and cared for him as a trustworthy brother. Their friendship inspired others.” Another commented, “When I first saw Mi-na, I was worried because she was so quiet. However she always led the group when helping the teacher and cleaning up.” After the compliments, the designated student bowed to their new friends sitting right in front of them. Just like on the first day during the 108 bows, they recited, “Just like all existences in the world, I am valuable.” And the students seemed to sense the truth of that verse. The teacher Euan from England has participated in this English Templestay for children five times now. He had been interested in Korean Buddhism for a while and began to bond with us as he participated in the Saturday meditations at the International Seon Center. He says, “Templestay is an opportunity for change in these children’s lives as they have no TV or phones here. I feel happy when I see them forget about such technology and  see them interacting with others.” After the program ended, the children eagerly ran toward their parents. Though they all were carrying their overnight bags as on the first day, they seemed to have matured a bit.


Description and Photos Park Dong-sik

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