The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas




The Bearing of Fruits and Deepening of Roots
-- 30 Years' School Experience at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas --

By Shr Jin Fan

Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, the founder of Instilling Goodness Elementary and Developing Virtue Secondary Schools, was born in Jilin Province, Northeastern China. As a young child, he did not have an opportunity to attend school due to his family’s financial hardships. It was not until the age of fifteen that he enrolled in a private school. After gaining a deep insight that the secret to success in study lies with ‘concentration,’ he applied in his own study and thus was able to, within two and a half years, master the Four Books and Five Classics, classical Chinese literature, and a dozen Chinese medical texts. At the age of eighteen (1936), he started a school in his own home and offered free education to thirty some disadvantaged children in his village. This is the beginning of Master Hua’s establishing free schools.

In 1962, the Master came to the United States, empty-handed, to propagate Buddha-dharma. At its beginning stage, he took up residence in a tiny windowless basement, waiting for the right time to teach—thus he called himself “a Monk in the Grave.” In 1968, at the request of some teachers and students from Washington University in Seattle, he set up a summer Shurangama lecture series program for them. When the 96-day study-and-practice session was concluded, five American youths who were moved requested to leave the home life under the Master. Thereafter they went to Taiwan to receive the Full Ordination. This marked the birth of a Buddhist monastic order in America by the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association. Influenced by the Master’s lofty virtuous character, more and more people came to follow and study under him, thus the Sangha Order grew steadily, and the Branch Monasteries sprang up one after another.

In view of the society’s ethical standard drastic and continuous declining, and people’s putting more and more morality behind their back, Venerable Master Hua felt that reforming and promoting education was the only way to shake up the trouble-laden old system and rejuvenate the tradition and moral values that were being forgotten, and to rescue people who are drowning in this worsening world. Therefore, he set up Instilling Goodness Elementary School in San Francisco, the very name of which indicating its purpose was to nurture and develop upright and excellent children. The school took ‘filial respect’ as its founding principle, aiming to educate and instill in children the fundamental moral principle of being a good person. This is the most appropriate method to promote the value of filial respect in the West.

At first, there were only eight students with their age ranging from 4 – 8. Its principal was Venerable Master’s lay disciple, Upasika Gwo Shen (Terri Nicholson), and its staff included a few Bhihkshunis. “Establishing school is a fresh and exciting idea, because we not only helped bring the Buddhadharma into the West, but have also establish a school to educate children how to be good people.” This is what Terri Nicholson wrote in reminiscence in the book commemorating the School's 30th anniversary.

In 1978, the School was relocated to the current peaceful and spacious grounds of City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which are 110 some miles north of San Francisco and about 488 acres in total. Following that, Developing Virtue Secondary School was also founded in 1981 with ‘filial respect and service’ as its founding principle. In addition to filial respect, it also educate students to be loyal to their country, doing their best to fulfill responsibility and to contribute to the nation. In addition to the subjects required by the California state government, the Schools emphasizes the eight virtues in China tradition—filial respect, fraternity, service to one's nation, trustworthiness, propriety, integrity, and citizenship. By educating students in this manner, the Schools wishes to develop the students into excellent and outstanding citizens for the future, and then further influence the way of the world. More and more Ukiah residents learned of Instilling Goodness Elementary School and Developing Virtue Secondary School and sent their children to CTTB to study. It resulted in the student population increase. In order to enable students to stay focused on their study, the Schools started to split the boys and girls from the co-education system in 1982.

The most distinguishable feature about the Schools is that, in addition to the regular academic courses, the curriculum also included courses in Buddhist studies, meditation, and ethics study. Students take Chinese as their second language. Standard for Being A Student (Dizi Gui) and Confucius Analects (Lun Yu) become the key texts in educating the students. These texts provide guidance and criteria for students how to deal with varying situations and how to advance or retreat when handling interpersonal relations. Students also participate every year in the Chinese contests, which were organized by the Association of Northern California Chinese Schools (ANCCS), such as speech, essay, translation, Chinese calligraphy, and Chinese painting. Sometimes students also joined in the Chinese Cultural Knowledge Contest. In all these contests, they not only learned knowledge, but also broadened their scope of vision, and had the chances to do some exchange programs with other students and other schools. Other extracurricular activities also include Chinese orchestra, dragon dance, lion dance, and Chinese calligraphy, Taiji [shadow boxing], Chinese folk dance, and other Chinese traditional cultural activities.

Chen, Yiman is mother of Jiafan (Yvonne), one of our Schools alumni. She said, “Chinese culture and influence here was another key reason for me and many other parents to send our children to CTTB. It is the first time for many students to actually touch Chinese musical instruments and learn Chinese dances. Witnessing these children being gradually exposed to and influenced by the quality traditional culture and value and seeing each possesses more and more the refined temperament of a traditional Chinese female, I was touched beyond word.” One of Yvonne’s biggest achievements was to represent Developing Virtue Secondary School to participate in the Chinese Culture and Knowledge Competition. The valuable experience has become a frequent subject in here conversations that she cherishes and keeps reminiscing them over and over with relish. The experience has written down a rich page for her life and brought her Chinese language and the knowledge Chinese culture to another incomparably gratifying level and domain.

Starting in 1992, the Venerable Master promoted the compassionate ideal of “respecting your own as well as others’ elders and caring for your own as well as others' children,” and instructed that the schools celebrating Cherishing Youth Day each spring, inviting hundreds of local school children to participate. He also instructed that the Schools commemorate Honoring Elders Day each fall, inviting local senior citizens to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to be our guests. At these celebrations, students perform for the guests and the kitchen serves them a delicious vegetarian meal. Through taking part in these two activities, students learned to apply into their lives and actually practice the teaching of “honoring elders and cherishing the youth.” These activities were well received, viewed in positive light by the Ukiah populace who echoed our theme affirmatively. Every summer the Schools organized a summer camp with a different theme and program, inviting youth to experience a different kind of lifestyle in the monastery, which they find very rewarding.

Education is the most sacred job and mission, and the key to its success lies with teachers. If teachers can set a good example with their own conduct, then students they teach will be developing into excellent ones excelling both in character and in academics. With his own prior experience of establishing free school for the poor, the Master promoted volunteer education. In 1992, he started to recruit volunteer teachers, and those who responded and came included both monastic and lay people. Some of them did on a totally salary-free basis, while some others received some monthly stipends. These teachers would not go on strike for requesting a pay raise and the volunteer education has become one of our Schools’ defining features. At the present the teachers are from all over the world—America, Spain, Mainland China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, and South America. More and more teachers are coming to contribute or devote their time and life to this sacred cause.

The current president of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, Bhikshu Heng Sure, said, “To learn from the Buddha, you have to first start with becoming a good person. As it is said well in the ‘when you can become a good person to perfection, Buddhahood accomplishes itself.’ Hence, cultivating the Buddha Way starts with cultivating a wholesome character. This is what is needed most and needed most urgently in the 21st century education. In school, we can not rigidly require students to spout catechism or to parrot Buddhist phrases.We do ask them to respect teacheres and their teachings, and to repay the kindness of their parents. The virtue of being filial and compliant is the very foundation of great wisodm and great compassion. I taught the third grade at Instilling Goodness Elementary School, and I consider it the most difficult cultivation I've done. The students tested my patience at every hand and pushed the limits of my creative imagination with every class.”

American Bhikshu, Dharma Master Heng Shun, started his teaching at the Boys’ Schools from 1994. He said, “Based on the Master’s guiding vision of what the school's purpose is, I have found that in order to inculcate the basics virtues of being a good human being, one must first cultivate one’s own self. For example, it is difficult to teach the students to be kind and harmonious with other students, if I myself get upset or angry with others. It is so important for the teacher to be a good model to the students. I learned early on that one must maintain a standard of total honesty and openness to the students. They quickly see through any façade that one may wish to hide behind. I cannot think of a better way to develop one’s own spiritual practice and virtue, and at the same time help others – the students –to as the Master said ‘go towards the good.’”

Since her very childhood, Bhikshuni Heng Yin had been dreaming about being a kindergarten teacher when she grew up. After she came to the CTTB, all her dreams were realized one after another.

She assumes the important responsibility of being the Girls’ Schools’ principal. She said, “CTTB is a place where children can keep their innocence and be themselves without fear of ridicule, a place where young people can learn to live in harmony with each other, with their family, and with Nature. It is a place where they assume a deep sense of responsibility for the well-being of humanity and the planet, so that when they grow up they will act as catalyst for positive social change.” Inspired by Heng Yin Shi's in sincere resolve to devote herself to education, now her parents, both Prof. Yeh and Mrs. Yeh after retiring, also came to the CTTB to contribute themselves selflessly to the cause of education.

At CTTB, Prof. Yeh and Mrs. Yeh, according to their strength, contributed their experience and wisdom in many ways. They said, “When a good family education is lacking and cannot serve as foundation for school education, the responsibility for educating today’s youth falls entirely to the schools. That means that schools must focus both on building character and teachings academics. Although this dual mission is clearly crucial, many schools will find such a transition difficult. Not only will most schools need to significantly modify their curriculum, but it is critical that the schools staff both administrative and teaching positions with people who can serve as virtuous models for the students they teach. Staff members will need to weigh equally the importance of helping students find their life path and teaching the knowledge and skills necessary for adulthood. Such a radical transformation will be very difficult for large public schools with thousands of students to achieve in a short time. Instilling Goodness and Developing Virtue Secondary School are schools that emphasize both the building students’ characters and the teaching of knowledge and skills. First, all teachers are cultivators who love to work with young people. Almost all of them are volunteers.”

This year marked the 16th year of Mr. Gan (Agis Gan) service at the Boys’ Schools as a volunteer teacher from Malaysia, who originally taught Physics and Math there before he came to the CTTB. He had once been the principal for a period of time. He said, “In 1992, my wife brought our four children to the CTTB. When the Venerable Master saw the kids, he smiled at her and said that they could come to study at the Buddhist schools here. Naively, my wife asked, ‘What about my husband in Malaysia?’ He answered, ‘He could come to be a volunteer teacher.’ We enrolled our children in the Schools immediately. The next year, I came to the Schools and became a volunteer teacher.” Now all of Mr. Gan's children graduated one after another from college or university, with their Master degree or having become certified teachers with the teaching credentials in hand. This year, their youngest daughter will also graduate from our Developing Virtue Secondary Girls' School with a granted scholarship from Pacific University. “I have never imagined that all these dreams can become reality.” The volunteer education system had totally changed the way of life for Mr. Gan as well as for his family.

Mr. Gracia, who is a Spain-nationality, came to the CTTB five years ago together with his wife and two sons, both of them under the age of 6. He said, “I came to the U.S. more than sixteen years ago. Soon I realized that the education system here was not better that in Spain. I kept reading about drugs, gang fights, teen pregnancy, and schools with metal detectors. And the problem was not just the students; teachers walking out of schools demanding better salaries and the students left alone without an education. While things looked hopeless, I came across the Venerable Master’s vision of the Schools. He had seen the problems with the current education system and had laid out his set of solutions. There was no rocket science her, just pure intuitive wisdom.” Mr. Gracia is still at the prime of his life and his wife, Dr. Zhang Min, was born in Xinjiang province, China. His saying at a great extent highlighted their motives of coming to the CTTB.

According to the Schools’ mission statement, and by the virtue of all of the Schools’ teachers’ enthusiastic hardworking, every student graduating from Developing Virtue can be expected to achieve the following goals of education:

  1. Manifests the core virtues, interacts harmoniously with others, and has developed the skills of leadership and communication.
  2. Has gained a deep appreciation of their own inherent spiritual wisdom through meditation and other spiritual practices and teachings.
  3. Has explored and developed their individual academic potential and talents in the humanities, sciences or arts.
  4. Expresses a multinational, global awareness and understanding; and shows an appreciation and respect for a variety of cultures and religions.

A good educational environment plus the clear goal of education has attracted parents who are concerned about their children’s future to send their children to the CTTB to receive the education. One of the parents, Mr. Chen Guo Run, said, “My American friends asked me why I wanted to send my two daughters to a school so far away. I replied, ‘The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas has a pure and beautiful environment, and the school emphasizes developing virtue and instilling goodness. Plus, the students also study Buddhism, Chinese and Meditation there. This wonderful kind of education in not something you can find anywhere else in the world. For their sake, some things need to be sacrificed. An old Chinese saying goes: ‘A banquet won’t last forever.’ Although we are together with our children now, when they go to college, don't we have to part with them then? Our daughters just left us a few years earlier, that is all.”

In 1991, Upasaka John Chu gave up his diplomatic career and came to the CTTB together with his wife and his daughter who was a little over 2 years old. Driving transcontinental for 9 days on the Highways, he came all the way from Washington D.C. to the CTTB to be a volunteer worker. His main purpose of so doing is to provide for his daughter with a wholesome education opportunity. He said, “All of our students from Instilling Goodness Elementary School and Developing Virtue Secondary School are most fortunate to receive an excellent education that fosters their whole person with a pure, pristine environment that emphasizes the development of virtuous character.

Now his daughter, Nancy, is still at a university on the East Coast. He recollected: “In retrospect, during the 17 years of Nancy’s education at Instilling Goodness and Developing Virtue Schools, not only did she learn good habits of being respectful to teachers, refraining from killing, protecting life and sharing her views and interacting with others in appropriate ways, but she also passed through her teenage years untroubled by violence and other negative influences, drugs and other negative influences. I have often heard other people say that when Nancy was younger, she always used to frown. However, now she has turned into a cheerful girl who always has a smile on her face.”

A graduate of the class of 2007, Qin Zhi Lau, was brought all the way from Malaysia by his parents in 1994. He has been a student since Kindergarten through high school, and has received a solid education. His parents serve as volunteers, and his mother in fact helps the school with administrative work. As a result of his scholastic aptitude and fine character, he received a full scholarship to attend Princeton University. Last year, he created the first Buddhist Society to share with his peers what he has learned throughout his younger years; there were more than 10 people who joined. This is the fruit of a graduate from Developing Virtue who strives to share his life experience with others. As his father, Mr. Lau, once quoted the Venerable Master, “The purpose of an education is to understand – not to get wealthy or famous.” He continued to say, “We hope that our children will walk this path. I have already wasted half my entire life, and I hope my children will not walk in my footsteps and make the same mistakes I did. I feel very happy that I made the right choice in 1994.”

2007 was also an eventful and significant year for Developing Virtue Secondary School. After passing a tough evaluation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), Developing Virtue Secondary became the first fully accredited Buddhist High School in the United States. From then on, the grades of the graduates will be valid and acceptable to colleges, and visas could be issued by the Schools to international students. After undergoing a transformative influence at the school, many Developing Virtue graduates have been accepted to the various University of California campuses, Stanford University, Columbia University, Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other outstanding universities. Some alumni, after graduating from college, have returned to their alma mater to join the ranks of volunteer teachers.

Really, Instilling Goodness and Developing Virtue schools are super mini-schools in terms of size— there are about 170 students total in K-12, but amazingly over 40 faculty members. United under the same spirit, the teachers combine their hard efforts to educate the students. Such an extraordinary environment not only gives students a taste of Buddhism, but also teaches - in addition to the regular curriculum - the Confucian ideals. An education such as this, besides ensuring that students are not disconnected from the modern academic world, nurtures a healthier generation. This seems to be an education just for the students, but in truth is a learning experience for the parents, the faculty, and all other people who have affinities with this place.

The diversity of the student body is increasing to cover all over the U.S, and Canada, as well as China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. There are also students who come from European countries: Spain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and so on. The students from different places who come here to study will one day return to their native land with what they have learned. As one of the volunteer teacher, Mr. Chen Wei-Hong, once well put it, "Our school is neither large nor populous. However, every student is like a seed. All it takes is true dedication in raising them, and in the future, each and every seed will become a great tree. And when this tree flowers and bears fruit, it will give birth to millions of new seeds."

法界佛教總會Dharma Realm Buddhist Association