Thanks everyone for your well wishes. I'm just back and I can report that despite the fact I felt completely unprepared - it went well.
There were some interesting questions at the end of both sessions. Once again this year, the presentations from my colleague Sam and I dovetailed nicely together, both relied upon the following:
to abstain from all unwholesome actions,
to cultivate wholesome actions, and
to purify the mind
— this is the teaching of all the Buddhas.
It was interesting how Sam and I used the same quote to present the Theravada and Vajrayana.
Would you share your experience of Burma (I still prefer this name over the one chosen by the ruling regime)? Perhaps give them a glimpse of how 'Buddhism' is enacted there, how it suffuses the everyday activities of Burmese culture? Perhaps even highlight aspects of Buddhist understandings and practice you've encountered there which must surprise them and exceed the assumptions they might have about 'Buddhism'? It may be helpful, I think, to generate an awareness and understanding of how other cultures have hosted the Dhamma, given that 'the West' is now being called upon by the same call of hospitality to host the Buddha's teachings. Indeed, I imagine the Burmese are very hospitable people?
I only touched upon it. One of the introductory videos that was being played was a short BBC documentary on Theravada Buddhism in Thailand. I did talk a bit about some of the cross-cultural influences that have shaped modern perceptions of Buddhism and practice in here the West and the influence of that perception in the East. I also talked about my teacher, SN Goenka, being thrown out of Burma in 1969 and his businesses being nationalized by the Ne Win Govt.
Being 16-year-olds, I think they were far more interested in my experiences working for a funeral director and my up-close and personal experiences with dying family members.
I was prepared for questions on my experience in Myanmar and the military junta there, especially in the second class as one of the teachers is active in Amnesty International and is on the Burmese Govt black-list, but I didn't receive any questions regarding Burma itself.
Sadhu Ben! What a wonderful thing to bring young people the gift of Dhamma! And on such an important but "unpopular" topic on top!
My highest respect that you seem able to transport teachings like the charnel ground contemplations and the topic of death so well that you get reinvited three years in a row!
Out of interest: When presenting, do you usually quote or refer to the suttas or do you try to put it in your own words as much as possible?
Yes, its definitely very humbling to be re-invited back year after year and i do cherish the opportunity to speak to the students.
Because of the audience, I want the Dhamma to be as accessible as possible. So it is mostly in my own words but I do use a little bit from the suttas. Today, in the first class, I did read a couple of paragraphs from the cemetary contemplations from the Satipatthana Sutta. Some of the descriptions of bodies in different states of decay are quite gritty and visceral. In the second class, i didn't read that section.
Thanks you all, particularly David and Cooran.
Hopefully, the seed of interest has been sown for at least one (if not more).
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725Compassionate Hands Foundation
(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global Relief