Imagine this scene: a veteran monk sits cross-legged on a cushion in front of a small crowd of lay disciples; behind him on a large wooden stand lies a statue of the Buddha on his side, keeping watch over the well-lit and neatly-decorated room. The monk is teaching the dharma of the Sutra of 42 Chapters, and every so often, in between segments of intent listening, there arises a buzz of internal discussion within the disciples, and occasionally even a burst of raucous laughter as the Shifu throws out a funny joke.
The students here are not adults, but mere teenagers, already delving into the deeper meanings of Buddhism under the guidance of the venerable JianHu Shifu (and now JianYing Shifu). Surprised? I was too, when I first joined the class in the fall semester of 2008. At the time, I was under the impression that it would be impossible to convince any high-schooler to spend two hours of his/her Friday night learning about religion when there were so many other things, like studies and social activities that could be done in the same time slot.
After some convincing from my mom and her friend (whose nephew attended the class before he left for college), I decided to give the class a try; my opinion of the center changed greatly when I arrived at the Zen Center, even before the class had even started. I thought, “These other students are just like me, ordinary guys just looking to learn about Buddhism!” With that, I continued to go to the classes,which were structured with a lecture in the beginning, teaching about the Dharma and about figures like Upali and Ananda. The rest of the class focused on meditation; traditions like the wearing of the Hai Qing, singing of the Heart Sutra and Dedication of Merits, as well as the usage of the Dharma instruments were also practiced in this section of the class. After the class, snacks were provided for the students while we spent the time socializing with one another.
Despite this being my third year being with this class (had a one-year hiatus around the college transition), it has stayed close to its original roots; JianHu Shifu has worked non-stop to teach us about Buddhism and how to incorporate it into our daily lives. As a result of this class, I have felt so much more level-headed and calm in situations that would have otherwise caused great anger or panic in me. Beyond the scope of just Buddhism and myself, I have made many great friends through this class; activities like the one-day meditation retreat in the summer of 2011, and other field trips have created a sense of togetherness between the entire class, even between students who don’t interact much otherwise. This is a very significant achievement as the student body is about thirty strong, with a great diversity of interests.
So if you’re in the Bay Area and are interested in learning about Buddhism and meeting new people, come on over to the Zen Center of Sunnyvale and give this class a try!