As an ESL teacher, I spend several hours a week individually tutoring a first grader named Thomas. I started working with him because his mother, who was taking adult ESL classes at the community college I was volunteering in, approached me with concerns about his ability to acquire English reading and writing skills at the same pace as his peers, namely because he only uses English at school while his peers use English at home as well as school. In communicating with his parents, Thomas knows how to speak Cantonese, Taishanese, some Mandarin (from Sunday Chinese school), and of course English. I usually have Thomas read picture books to me, practice writing sentences and spelling words, or work on school work that his mom can’t help him with. Though from my perspective, he is a bright kid with a very active imagination and a good mind for actively learning what he is interested in, all his mom seems to see is a troublesome, naughty, unstudious child, characteristic of the troublemakers (especially guys) that are usually in every class.In line with his mother’s concerns, when he doesn’t enjoy what he is learning, he becomes stubborn, apathetic, and sometimes even silly in terms of not taking the study materials seriously. I try to make the books we read and the activities we do fun and interesting by shaping them in the form of games, rewards, and storytelling, largely based on his own interests. I treat him like a little brother and his mom treats me as her son. I rarely go home after a tutoring session (usually late afternoons) empty-handed in terms of a nicely packaged tupperware of whatever she has cooked for dinner that night. I see so much of my own youth in terms of family cultural dynamics and diversity of linguistic exposure in Thomas’ life, and that is what motivates me the most to spend time working with him.
So in having set the context, I was reading a book with Thomas on how polar bears and penguins would never meet because they live on opposite ends of the world. Essentially, they were learning about the North and South pole, the Arctic and Antarctica, and the wildlife in each region. I don’t remember how we transitioned from this topic to the next but Thomas ended up asking me, “Do you love God?”
Continue reading “Do You Love God?”
I’ve been blogging with the assumption that I could always find time to sit down for thirty minutes and blog, even if it meant copying a paragraph from a news story and adding some inane commentary. Even with the onslaught of budget deadlines that cannot be fudged (without the loss of flesh and blood), I can usually find the time to stack up posts for the week. Add in a death in the family, and my blogging goes on hold.
Continue reading “Death in the Family”
I found this blog post on Celestial Lands today via Buddhist Military Sangha and was captivated. UU Army Candidate Chaplain David Pyle shares some “observations of similarities and surface differences between Sesshin and Military Basic Training, in the hopes that it might inspire thought.”
Just this morning I talked with my youngest brother, who will soon be off to basic training in North Carolina. Usually I can give plenty of advice to my brother ranging from finding memory leaks to playing the guitar, but today I had nothing to say. I have never been through basic training.
Continue reading “Zen Sesshin and Basic Training”
Just got back off a five hour drive from San Francisco. Some thoughts…
Finally I understand why monks are supposed to sleep on low beds. I’ve been spending the last few nights with a quilt across two zabuton (and a pillow). As a result I would only lie down to sleep for the sake of sleep, not for any pleasure at all! (I still got good sleep.)
I love staying with family because I can waste five minutes of my day by gently taking an ant outside, and no one will question why, and no one makes me defend expending so much effort for the sake of a little ant.
Someone should install a traffic camera at the corner of Oak and Octavia. The city could make millions on those tickets. And maybe it would even be safer.
Much time with family also meant much time speaking our language! I think it’s definitely important to speak another language with family for at least the following reasons.  You can talk about people in the same room without them knowing. (“Don’t nag Mom right now, she’s having a bad day.”)  Language is like a cultural glue. If you have language, you have almost direct access to so many aspects of culture, from recipes to history to religion. If you try to study a culture without its language, learning about it is like crawling the net with a dial-up modem.  Language binds family at a very deep emotional level. You share a knowledge that no one else has.  Perhaps the most obvious reason: if you don’t speak it, your language just might die out.
Lastly, I just came across an article from Urban Dharma with the topic: How will the Sangha fare in North American Buddhism? More about this later. But first sleep, and I shall sleep for the joy of it too.
I do not think it is an uncommon story that many Buddhists develop their spiritual leanings from their grandparents. The grandparent/grandchild bond is a special one – grandparents are wizened with knowledge without the day-to-day responsibilities of child-rearing, which seems like just the right combination to imbue an appreciation of peace and a proclivity to contentedness.
I also see grandparents as muddling that already terrible “heritage Buddhist” definition – where children grow up encountering the Dharma from their grandparents even through their own parents had rejected that very series of influences.
I am not part of that muddled category as neither my parents nor my grandparents are Buddhist. Still, I would not have ended up a Buddhist without the opportunity to know my grandparents. They taught me generosity, always being willing to give what they had simply for the reason that it was there to give. I learned patience, temperance, and that doing what is right for your family requires doing what is right by your family.
That being said, I only terrifiedly came out about my wacky religion to my grandparents this last year.
Continue reading “What we get from Grandparents”
All of the statues, beads, incense, and other collected Buddhist miscellania I’ve received over the years has been given to me by friends or monastics. For this I am extremely grateful, not only for their kindness and generosity, but because if I wanted to go out and find these things myself I would have no idea where to go.
I assume a tall mountain with wispy clouds, mythical creatures who ask questions in threes, and switch-triggered rotating walls. This is where these things come from, right?
It was when I was given my very first Buddha statue that I began to have a glimmer of understanding – it was bought in Long Beach, California and given to me by a wonderful woman who had only just met me. Continue reading “If Only God Made Buddha Statues (Part 1)”
Tonight is the last of three nights that I’m staying at my brother’s place in the Bay Area. I came back up here for the first time in two years to run a race and see family that I don’t usually get the chance to see. This weekend has also made me realize the comforts and importance of having a Buddhist family.
Not all of my family is Buddhist. Five generations ago, everyone was supposedly Buddhist or followed our indigenous religion. Many converted to Catholicism and later to Protestant Christianity when they came to the US in the years before and just after WWI. My grandmother clung steadfastly to the “old ways”, and some aunts and uncles “reverted” to Buddhism. But it was the Buddhist practices of my grandmother that left the strongest imprint on me and my siblings, who have come to embrace our Buddhist heritage.
Buddhism was never forced on me, but neither did it hang as some sort of background tapestry on the wall. It was the little symbolic things that I built my practice on later in life, even if I didn’t know what they stood for.
Continue reading “Running in the family”