It is the end of my second week at the International Buddhist College in Thailand. One's causes and conditions are truly astonishing, as I would NEVER have imagined this time last year that I would be in Thailand in a years ' time. Thailand was a country that for some reason was never on my agenda. I had the impression that it was hot, steamy, welcoming to monks, not to nuns. As one of my dearest friends used to say – 'Never say never!'.
I was first introduced to the college via Dr. Bong, who had been a teacher of the Abidharma at the African Buddhist Seminary at Nan Hua Temple in 2003/4. She has been involved with IBC from its earliest days and when she first came here, most of the buildings were not yet complete. The college is one of the projects of the Than Hsiang Foundation located at Than Hsiang Temple in Penang, Malaysia, whose Abbot is Venerable Wei Wu. He explained to me that during a World Buddhist Sangha Council meeting in April 1999, he and Professor Karunadasa, together with Ven. Anuruddha and Ven. Dhammajoti felt that the time had come to put into action a project that they had had in mind for some years, which was a college that would attract Buddhist students, both lay and monastic from all over the world. They had previously realized that Malaysia was a meeting place of the 3 main types of Buddhism – Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
It is now 4 years after it's inception and the college, which has been growing year by year now has approximately 50 students, about 85% of which are Theravada monks who come from countries throughout Asia. The remaining 15% are mostly made up of lay female students and our small group of Mahayana monastics. Not all the lay students board at the college – some stay in the nearby city of Hat Yai, which is the 2nd biggest city in Thailand.
A fortnight ago on Monday I arrived at the college with Venerable Wei Wu. We traveled by car from Than Hsiang Temple in Malaysia. It took about 3 hours to get here, including going through the border. This was quite an interesting experience – I realized that I haven't driven through a border post in years. The college is situated 6 kilometers from the main road, going to Hat Yai. Thailand is much how I imagined it – very hot, tropical and steamy. Vines hang from trees and the vegetation is dense. Because it rains so much here, there are canals of water on each side of the road. Soon we reached the college, set a little back from the road. It has a pleasing aspect, looking efficient, clean and new, like a bright coin in the middle of the jungle.
Everyone was very welcoming and it was with great relief that my big black suitcase was at last unpacked in my new spacious room. This wing of the college (being the female dormitory) is brand, spanking new and what a joy it is to smell the freshness of the paint and the building. Supper was my first meal, this being only a 'medicine meal', for those who cannot go without a little food between the midday meal and breakfast. The food seemed to be the usual Chinese temple food with the addition of curry sauces and bottles of chilis.
After the meal I went to evening service, which was held in the Main Shrine Hall. This in fact is the main auditorium, with a high ceiling and large stage on which the Buddha shrine was arranged. On Mondays there is only the 1 service which is Theravada. It was very interesting hearing the chanting in Pali – all those male voices sounded like bees humming. There was also a period of meditation, which as always helped me settle my mind. After the chanting I walked outside and looked up at the black night sky. There were some stars dotted around and I recognized Orion's belt, on the other side from where I am used to it being. It would take getting used to, but I feel by now I am becoming quite adept at 'getting used to' new surroundings. Let tomorrow take care of itself – it always does, doesn't it!?
The following 2 weeks have passed swiftly. My poor, old body is adjusting, (albeit slowly) to the intense heat and the food, which tends to be spicy, even if it isn't chili. I have got to know the morning and evening Mahayana chanting services with their different 'tunes' to the same words. It is interesting how I realize that I assumed that the chanting 'tunes' were unchangeable – written in stone, so to speak. However, like everything, they are comfortably impermanent and can be changed.
What I notice here, perhaps the most, is the kindness of everyone to each other and myself. There is none of the military style abrupt coldness of manner, which I have been accustomed to. Everything is done with consideration for the reasonableness of a particular situation or person's capabilities. In other words, it certainly seems to me that the policy here is of following the Buddha's Middle Path. To be honest, I am delighted. It was how I expected a Buddhist college or institution to be.
One last point about the weather - although there are periods of intense heat, when the sun is out and the sky is clear, I am happy to report that it rains and rains and rains as well! From beautiful tropical downpours that seem controlled by a Deva's will above, to soft gentle rains that caress the earth. Sometimes it rains every hour or two for 5 to 10 minutes. As I am writing this we are having a big tropical downpour that has been going on for at least 30 minutes. You never leave the dormitory without your umbrella, as it can rain (and does rain) at any time. The jungle soaks up the rain at an astonishing rate. After even a couple of hours, most of the puddles have vanished. Being an Aquarian, I love water. I feel replenished and closer to the earth when I am wet. Perhaps my aquatic lifetimes millenia before were very happy?!
So with that whimsical thought I will end my ramblings. Next time I want to share with you more details about the classes given here and the students who come from all over Asia.
For more information about IBC, please visit: http://my.thanhsiang.org/ibc/html/introduction.html
and their own website at : http://ibc.ac.th/