When I first entered Dharma Youth as a student, I had a basic understanding of Buddhism and meditation. I knew what the Four Noble Truths were and what the Eightfold Path was; I knew that to meditate, you are supposed to clear your mind of all thoughts. What does it mean, though, to put these concepts into practice? As I learned more and more about Buddhism in Dharma Youth, I found myself wondering if I would be able to follow these teachings in real life. It wasn’t until I left the sheltered environment of high school for college life that I was challenged to put the Zen teachings into practice.
At the beginning of my first semester, while listening to others complain about the work they had to do for their writing courses, I realized I had accidentally skipped the first class of my writing course. I had barely been in college for a week, and I had already made a mistake! The class only had eighteen students, so my absence must have been obvious. My new friends suggested dropping the class or even lying about why I had missed class. Shouldn’t I follow the Eightfold path principle of Right Speech, though? Writing an email to the graduate student teaching the course, I sincerely apologized for my mistake, saying I was unaware we had class that first day. The following day, I received his reply, which began with, “Yes, freshman writing seminars start the same week classes start. It's been that way for a couple of years now.”
When I read this, I thought, “This teacher must think I am very stupid for making such a foolish mistake. How can I attend the next class after making such a bad first impression?” Although my pride was at stake, I could not quit so easily. I decided to go the next class meeting and talk to the teacher after class to explain I did want to take his class but had just made a simple mistake. In the end, the teacher accepted my apology and even told me that because I sounded sincere in my email, he was willing to give me a second chance. After this incident, I was not only relieved but also surprised at how easily it was resolved. It showed me that if you are sincere and honest about your mistakes, people will forgive you.
Now that I am a TA for Dharma Youth, I can share stories such as this one with the students and give them real life examples of how Buddhism can influence their lives. Although these teenagers are only in high school, it is never too early for them to learn the importance of Buddha’s teachings. As a former participant of this program, I can only hope that the current students learn as much as I did from Dharma Youth.