接下來就到了2020 年的三月，新冠疫情開始在全世界流行，很多州都執行了居家令，學校也紛紛關閉了。為了不中斷學生們的學業，很多學校都轉為在網路上教學，於是Zoom，Google Meet，Canvas、虛擬實驗室等等一系列的網絡視訊工具和教育平台也開始在全世界流行，為老師和學生們提供了極大的便利。
All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, and Dharma Friends, Amitabha!
Tonight is Qinyi’s turn to share the Dharma talk, and if I say anything incorrectly, please kindly correct me.
First of all, I am deeply grateful for the blessings from Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Venerable Master, and the hard work and efforts from all Dharma Masters and volunteers, for overcoming all kinds of difficulties and challenges during the past 3 years of the Covid pandemic, so that CTTB was finally able to reopen at the end of May this year. This was truly not an easy journey.
Over the past two months, every time I joined the Dharma assembly back in the Buddha Hall, seeing the Ten Thousand Buddhas, Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva and Venerable Master statues, and immersed in this uniquely bright, pure, magnificent and adorned atmosphere, I realized even more how fortunate and precious it is to be able to be here right at this moment.
Venerable Master said that the Genuine Right Dharma Age is just like a big monastery community, where everyone cultivates all together. Venerable Master also emphasized that he would like to “tear down small temples and build large temples,” because when people stay together, they can remind and encourage each other in their cultivation. Only through such collective effort can true progress be achieved. Therefore, the atmosphere and power of unity from group cultivation are quite different from self-practice. Also, the Buddha Hall has special energy that can nourish our body and mind.
The three years of the Covid pandemic have brought many changes in the world, impacting many people and routines. However, regardless of the changing circumstances, the Venerable Master’s dedication, vows, and expectations for the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas remain unchanged. So whenever I think of Venerable Master and CTTB, my heart feels rooted and grateful. I feel fortunate that there are still Buddha Dharma and the monastery place left by Venerable Master in this uncertain world. This is where our roots are, and also a guiding light in the dark night, allowing us to rely on it, and guiding us forward to pursue towards Venerable Master’s expectations.
During these years of teaching and working in our school, my deepest feeling is that “learning is a lifelong process.” Each year’s students are a completely new generation from the previous year, and we need to learn to adapt and understand them. At the same time, each year brings new things to learn in teaching methods, school work, and communicating with each other. As a teacher, I am also a student, continuously learning new knowledge, learning how to tune the body and mind, and how to balance the time between work and Dharma practice lessons to recharge myself. Big tests or small quizzes arise one after another, just as mentioned in the verse from Venerable Master, “Everything is a test, see how you handle it. If you don’t recognize it, you must practice again from the beginning.” The more I teach, the more I feel like a beginner.
The outside world is a reflection of our inner mind, and students are no different; they are like mirrors to me. During class, when I see some students not paying attention, looking around distractedly, or playing while doing their homework, it reminds me of myself when I recite Buddha’s name or read sutras. Just like them, my mind may start wandering with random thoughts, and I need to continuously bring my mind back. When interacting with students, I need to observe their strengths and areas where they need improvement. After some time, I suddenly realized, am I developing a habit of only looking at others’ faults, just as the Venerable Master said, “always washing others’ clothes but ignoring my own dirty clothes”? Have I truly accomplished what I ask my students to do? Therefore, ultimately, I need to learn from the method of observing self-nature taught by Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva in the Shurangama Sutra, to reflect within, turn the light inward, and seek the truth within myself.
The changes in current world and technology have a significant impact on children. Today’s teenagers are more self-focused, and pursue more convenience and freedom compared to the past. At the same time, the application of technology and the internet in education is becoming increasingly widespread. Since 1980s, online courses started to emerge, allowing students from different countries and time zones to attend remote classes conveniently from their homes. This has sparked discussions about whether there will be fundamental changes in the future of education, and if traditional schools will still be necessary. With almost all courses being teachable through the internet and artificial intelligence (AI), there is even the possibility of establishing 3D virtual schools, virtual classrooms, and virtual teachers online. Students could learn various knowledge and skills anytime and anywhere, without interacting with real people. Back then, I was also wondering if this could be the trend of the future, and whether schools and teachers might eventually be replaced.
Then came March 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread worldwide. Many states implemented stay-at-home orders, and schools were also closed. In order to ensure that students’ education was not interrupted, many schools shifted to online teaching. As a result, a series of web-based video conferencing tools and educational platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, Canvas, virtual laboratories and more became popular worldwide, providing great convenience for teachers and students.
Our school was no exception. Teachers and students would log in to Zoom according to the daily class schedule, attend video classes, and use the online whiteboard to write. In the evenings, students would take photos of their homework and email them to me, and I would correct them on the computer before sending them back to the students. I remember that during that time, almost everyone had to sit in front of the computer screen for 7-8 hours almost every day.
After several months of online learning, new issues began to arise. Students’ responses during class started to slow down, and there was a decrease in communication and interaction. Meanwhile, it seemed like the learned content didn’t go through their brain, and was quickly forgotten. I also noticed that even though I was looking at the live cameras of a dozen students on the computer screen, it still felt different from teaching face-to-face in the real classroom. It seemed like something was missing when we were separated by the computer screen.
During that period, news reports mentioned that many students in nationwide schools experienced changes in emotions and personalities during online classes. Various conditions such as depression, irritability, and withdrawal from communications appeared. Many parents and students couldn’t bear online classes anymore, and strongly demanded a return to campus for in-person learning. I also chatted with some friends from other states, and they mentioned that their children attending online classes had similar situations. They were deeply concerned about their children’s mental health.
In the fall of 2021, our school reopened, and everyone finally returned to campus. Now, two years have passed, and we have witnessed how our students struggled to move forward from the aftermath of online classes. Over the entire two years, they have painstakingly rebuilt their learning abilities, communication skills, self-confidence, as well as a deeper understanding of themselves and others.
Therefore, the development of technology is like a double-edged sword, with both advantages and disadvantages. Now in CTTB, the Buddha hall’s Dharma sessions have been resumed, and the online broadcasting still continues, allowing people who cannot personally come to have the opportunity to join the Dharma events. However, online Dharma assemblies are just an expedient way, and compared to the in-person experience in the Buddha hall, the feelings are still quite different.
Since the launch of ChatGPT last year, it has sparked a lot of controversies. While people were amazed at the powerful knowledge base and conversational abilities of artificial intelligence, but they also worried about its potential to compete with humans for jobs, leading to massive unemployment.
One day, my students also brought up this issue during class, and they were concerned that they couldn’t find jobs after college. I told them that I once had similar thoughts, but my mind changed after experiencing the period of online classes during the COVID pandemic. ChatGPT is indeed a great tool for learning and work. However, no matter how advanced the technology becomes, or how “real” virtual classrooms look like, they are still just supplementary tools and aids. They cannot replace the genuine connection between human beings. Knowledge and appearances can be copied and transmitted through machines, but the interaction of life force and energy that are invisible but can be felt by us, is something that machines cannot duplicate. It comes from our own inherent nature, and is the most crucial part that modern technology lacks.
Venerable Master has said that technology is seeking outward, and our inherent nature within has the true limitless and boundless power. Therefore, just like many people’s experiences with online classes during the pandemic, I believe that even if artificial intelligence becomes widely used in the future and replaces some human jobs, there will always be groups of people who recognize the limitations of technology and the importance of interactions between real lives. They will particularly choose to save jobs that require human involvement. Furthermore, some people may even seek spiritual development, to find their inner true-self. Maybe at that time, they will find out that Buddhism and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas are the destination that they have been seeking along. Amitabha!