All Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, and all Good Knowing Advisors. Amitabha!
Tonight Jin Jian would like to take this wonderful opportunity to pay tribute to all teachers for their tireless hard work, dedication, devotion, and inspiration. In looking at the flyer for the Summer Camp, I saw their theme for this year. It is "Gratitude and Respect" which precisely describes my thoughts. It connects with the theme of the 30th Anniversary Celebration from last year which was "Reflecting with gratitude and renewing with vigor." When I think about the word "gratitude", it brought to mind the many, many, and oh so many people and things that I have to be grateful for and teachers are among one of those groups of people that are on the top of my list.
First, I would like to share a true story about a remarkable teacher to illustrate how valuable teachers are. This story took place in East Los Angeles in the early 1980's. The teacher's name was Jaime Escalante. He left his successful computer career to become a teacher at Garfield High in Los Angeles. He later found out that budget cuts have eliminated funding for school computers and so instead of teaching computers, he was asked to teach basic math. His students were all Hispanics with low socioeconomic status whose parents were immigrants or laborers with little to no education. They were uninterested and even frightened of basic math. Mr. Escalante experimented with new techniques to stimulate them to learn math. As the year progressed, he was able to win over the attention of the students by implementing innovative teaching techniques, using props and humor to illustrate abstract concepts of math and convey the necessity of math in everyday life. He was able to transform even the most troublesome teens to dedicated students. Some of his students were gang members, but Mr. Escalante managed to inspire one of them, into becoming one of his best students. At teacher meetings, Mr. Escalante noticed that the teachers were discouraged. The tests scores at Garfield were low, and the Administration was afraid that the school might lose its accreditation. While Escalante taught math 1A, basic math, he soon realized that his students were capable of more than the expectations set forth by the school board. Despite concerns and skepticism of other teachers, who felt, "you can't teach logarithms to illiterates", Mr. Escalante nonetheless developed a program in which his students can rise to take the Advance Placement Calculus Test by their senior year. The AP Calculus Test was one of the most challenging of all preparatory tests that can earn early college credits for students who pass. Success in this area would capture the attention of the state. The head of the math department was aghast because calculus was not even taught at Garfield. Mr. Escalante convinced eighteen students to enroll in this intense math program. He asked the students to sign contracts to attend extra classes with him before and after regular school hours, including Saturdays from 7am to noon. They were also required to take summer classes to prepare for the test. After much intense studying and preparation, his students took the AP Calculus Test in the spring of their senior year. Needless to say, all eighteen students passed with flying colors, the highest number of successful students to pass the AP Calculus Test from any school in southern California. Later that summer, a shocking accusation was made. The Educational Testing Service called into question the validity of their scores when it was discovered that similarities between errors was too high for pure chance. Outraged by the implications of cheating, Mr. Escalante felt that the racial and economic status of the students had caused the ETS to doubt their intelligence. In order to prove their mathematical abilities and worth to the school, to the ETS, and to the nation, the students agreed to retake the test at the end of the summer, months after their last class. With only one day to prepare, Mr. Escalante had an all-night review session to help the students prepare to retake the test. The students retook the test which was more difficult than the original but they all manage to pass the test and even with higher scores than the first time. This story was later made into the motion picture, "Stand and Deliver".
It's quite evident that teachers have the ability to influence, motive, and inspire students to achieve great success. They can mold and shape the next generation, the future of our society. Since they have such a great impact on society, we would expect that teachers are honored and highly appreciated for their invaluable contribution. However, the values and morals of our society today has degraded to such a state that this isn't so much the case. Teachers are overworked and underpaid and if you happen to be a volunteer teacher, it's even worse; you're overworked and underappreciated.
While celebrities, movie-stars, and athletes make millions of dollars a year, teachers barely make enough for a decent living. During tough economic times, celebrities, movie-stars, athletes and the likes continue to rake in the dough, while federal and state budget cuts results in thousands of teachers being laid off and many school programs and activities are slashed. This is a telltale sign of the values of our society, something that should be concerning to us all.
Like most American kids growing up in America, I took everything for granted. We knew nothing of the word "gratitude". We expected to have everything without working for anything. Was I grateful that I received a good education and had excellent teachers who taught me since kindergarten? Of course not! Our thinking was, "It's their job! They're suppose to teach us. That's what they get paid to do." We would go to class plop ourselves down and expect the teachers to spoon-feed us what we are suppose to learn. We put in almost little to zero effort in learning and if we fail, it's the teacher's fault. Our failure is never our fault. The teacher, the school, and the education system failed us. It had nothing to do with the fact that as students we took zero responsibility for our own learning. When faced with this kind of attitude, teachers have a tough and almost impossible task.
You may wonder why I now have this sense of gratitude and respect towards teachers. There is saying, "You can't understand until you walk a mile in someone else's shoes." It's quite true. One minute I was the mischievous, wise-cracking, irresponsible student. The next minute, I had to teach those mischievous, wise-cracking, irresponsible students. What an ironic turn of events. Life has a way of turning the tables on us like that. From working in a teaching hospital that was affiliated with several universities, clinicians were also clinical professors which meant that I had to grow up and be responsible for a bunch of graduate students and post-graduate residents undergoing their clinical training. I was now fully responsible for these students going through my rotation and if they messed up, it would be my license that was in jeopardy. It was a bit of a challenge to teach students whose minds were already elsewhere and to make sure they were competent enough to pass and graduate. Most importantly, I felt a bit of responsibility to protect the public. If students didn't know what they were doing, they could easily make a fatal error and cause harm to someone else. Their incompetence would be a danger to society. I could only say that sometimes it was like teaching 10 year olds. If graduate and post-graduate students were like this, I can't imagine what it would be like to have to teach elementary, middle, and high school students. I can only say that I am grateful that there are people in the world with that kind of patience and devotion who are willing to undertake this responsibility. They truly deserve our gratitude and utmost respect.
If teachers are this invaluable in secular education, a spiritual guide or good and wise advisor is even more crucial when it comes to spiritual cultivation. As it is stated in the Eigth-Fold Precept Transmission Ceremony, "The Mountain of Wisdom radiates everywhere, if you climb but one step up, its light will penetrate your entire body. But without direction from a Sage, you will gaze at the vastness and certainly retreat. But if you meet a Good-Knowing Advisor, then you will find a transcending path to ascend."
By far the most important teacher in my life is the Venerable Master, the one person who I am forever grateful to and has my most profound and deepest respect. I have never met the Venerable Master but he had saved me from myself. How so? Well, as my former classmates and friends were all busy getting married and having kids, I had a better idea. I was going to go bungee jumping and skydiving instead. That's right, strap a big rubber band on my feet and jump off the highest bridge; after that it would be to strap a parachute on my back and leap out of a flying airplane. Luckily, I set foot inside CTTB before I could go through with my foolish plans. After visiting CTTB for the first time, my whole life had changed. I started reading the Venerable Master's instructional talks and his lectures on the sutras and shastras. I had learned proper Dharma, the value of having a human body, how to be filial, how to be a better person, and the path to true liberation. Needless to say, I never got to go bungee jumping or skydiving. Even though the Venerable Master was no longer physically in the world, he had such a command over my actions and thoughts. Nobody else in the world had that kind of influence on me. It's quite amazing to me and I don't think words could ever express my gratitude to the Venerable Master. If it's not for the Venerable Master, who knows what other crazy and foolish things I would have done.
I would like to conclude by again expressing my deepest gratitude and utmost respect to all my teachers past, present, and future and to all teachers everywhere.