6th Intensive English Course
Bodhgaya (Buddhagaya), the land of Enlightenment and Salvation, which is located in Bihar, India, 110 kilometer from Patna, is the most sacred place to all Buddhists, just as Mecca is to Islam, Jerusalem is to Jews and Christians, the Ganges River is to Hindus, and Amritsar, the site of the Golden temple, is to Sikhs. In Pali Literature, the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment is referred to variously as Bodhi Rukkha Mula, Bodhimandala, Sambodhim, or Uruvela etc. It is written that Arimetteya, the future Buddha, will also attain enlightenment in this place. That is why, every year, millions of Buddhists from all over the world visit the site with great devotion.
According to the Burmese Government statistics, 20,000 Burmese visited BuddhaGaya last year, and it is expected that the number will increase to 30,000 this year. Due to bomb explosions at Buddhagaya on 9 July this year, however, that figure may not be reached. On 8 September, the Burmese Embassy in New Delhi issued a travel advisory regarding security to all Burmese pilgrims traveling in India.
In 405 AD, Fa-Hien, the first Chinese Pilgrim to travel to India, visited BuddhaGaya, after overcoming many difficulties. Two hundred years later, Huen-Tsang reached BuddhaGaya, having faced unimaginable obstacles. How great was their veneration for this site! In spite of the bombs, it is certain that pilgrims will continue to visit BuddhaGaya, just as those Chinese travelers did.
Just two weeks after the explosions at Buddhagaya, we started the Sixth Intensive Buddhist English Course at the Mahabodhi Parahita Temple, newly established at Buddhagaya by the Young Buddhist Student Literacy Mission. This was the first time we have organized this course in Buddhagaya. The first five Intensive English Courses were all held at Bodhisukha School, Bodhisukha Parahita Temple, in Kolkata. Bodhisukha school was established in 2001, with initial donations for three consecutive years from Buddhist Relief Mission.
The Opening Ceremony of the Sixth Intensive Buddhist English Course was held on 24 July, 2013. As usual, the course was jointly organized by Buddhist Relief Mission and Young Buddhist Student Literacy Mission. Ken and Visakha Kawasaki, the directors of Buddhist Relief Mission, as energetic as ever, have been teaching English as a second language for more than forty years. Recently, they became well-known in the Buddhist world due to the release of a three-volume set of books, Jatakas Tales of the Buddha: An Anthology, published first by Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, and subsequently by Buddhist Cultural Centre, Dehiwala, Sri Lanka. This set of books, containing 217 Jatakas, retold by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki, one of the fastest-selling publications produced by BPS in its fifty- year history. It has proved Buddhist Jatakas are still relevant to all walks of life today. In 2012, they published another book, A Pilgrim’s Companion, which contains Suttas the Buddha taught and stories from each of the sacred sites and should be very useful to Buddhist pilgrims in India. In fact, A Pilgrim’s Companion was one of the texts for this year’s Intensive Course.
This year we were very fortunate to have joining us a new teacher, Che, who has taught English as a second language in Thailand and China. As Ken mentioned in his remarks at the opening ceremony, in this course, the students learn English through the Dhamma. The students learn English from the instructors, and the teachers learn Dhamma from the students.
The old students were disappointed that Steve, who has taught in the three preceding courses was not able to participate this year due to a serious eye-problem. We are happy to know, however, that he is recovering nicely. Vivi, from Sri Lanka, who also taught last year, was able to join again this year for three weeks, but she had to leave a little early to assume the post of Head of English Department at the Open University. (Congratulations on her promotion!) I was not able to attend her Farewell Ceremony, but I heard glowing reports of her teaching from the students.
During the course, Che conducted some discussions and debates, which the students enjoyed very much. In two activities, organized by all the teachers, the students visited various temples in BuddhaGaya and the Mahanta Palace, reporting on each place with photos. The Mahanta, as you may know, was the Hindu Priest who occupied the Mahabodhi main Temple in the sixteenth century. We were also very lucky to have as one of the students Venerable Prajnasheel, who was General Secretary and monk-in-charge of Mahabodhi Main Temple for several years. Venerable Prajnasheel is one of the leading monks in the struggle for the liberation of the Mahabodhi main Temple, which is currently controlled by the eight-member Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee, consisting of four Buddhists and four Hindus. Venerable Prajnasheel shared the other students many of his experiences with and knowledge about such things as Buddhist problems, Indian mythology, and Indian history. In all, the course was very enjoyable and very fruitful.
The closing Ceremony was held on 22 August. Of all the speeches, perhaps Visakha’s was the most notable in its relevance to the present situation in the world. Although Visakha is a Theravada Buddhist, she told the students about the Bodhisattva Non-Despising of Mahayana Buddhism. This Bodhisattva vowed never to look down on anyone since everybody will eventually reach salvation. Even Devadatta, who was perhaps the most despicable individual in Buddhist history, trying both to kill the Buddha and to divide Sangha, will one day get salvation by attaining Pacceka Buddhahood. Thus, we should not despise anyone at all. In fact, all problems faced by human beings today are rooted in hatred, condemnation, disrespect, and selfishness. In today’s world, full of so many conflicts, our motto should be: “Where there is non-hatred, there will be love; where there is love, there will be peace.
In conclusion, I would like to declare that this Sixth Intensive Buddhist English Course inspired many things in the students, and I expect great benefits for them from the course.
Ven. Dr. Nando Batha