Braving the Tunnel Together

Aug 30, 2020

The following is the 2020 Convocation Address given by Dean of Students, Bhikshuni Heng Liang.

As Dean of Students of DRBU, I am honored to welcome the MA class of 2022, the BA class of 2024, and the Translation Certificate Program of 2021.

We are about to engage in a Fall Semester during the last quarter of a most difficult year for the world, a watershed/pivotal year in the history of human civilization.

This 100-year pandemic that we are still in the midst of has touched the lives of every single individual, and we are universally sharing an experience that will be etched in the collective human psyche for many years to come.  The pandemic has revealed the true state of the world, of nations, of peoples, of cultures, of social systems, political systems, economic systems, and has tested and challenged the character and strength of each and every individual from the most prominent and powerful to the most humble and vulnerable.  As in all disasters, this pandemic has brought out the worst and the best of humanity.

Even though, as a Buddhist, I understand the concept that change is the only real constant, I am old enough to have come to the realization that we people chafe against change. We don’t like our routines, habits, and comforts—which define our very identities—being interrupted; we react to and struggle against any change that would threaten our identity, and we habitually distract ourselves from perceiving the subtle, relentless changes that occur from moment to moment. And so, this huge change has been a difficult experience for everyone.

DRBU faculty, staff, and students have no less been struggling to adapt and adjust to the situation.  In some ways, you could say that adapting to this situation has been more difficult for DRBU than most other educational institutions.

Why do I say that?  Because DRBU’s very Mission, Goals, philosophy, values, and pedagogy were designed for small classrooms, shared inquiry of classical texts in the form of books, and direct human interaction and communication, in which the collective intellectual energy generated in the classroom is palpable and helps to deepen and stretch the consciousness, perception and understanding of each participant—an experience in which 1 & 1 is more than 2.   
In a school where laptops and iPads are not allowed in the classroom, online classes in cyberspace has been the antithesis of DRBU’s values and self-identity. How could such a university’s mission, goals, values, philosophy, and pedagogy possibly be achieved in cyberspace?
Perhaps, this is even more true of Campus Life, which is all about providing material support, such as housing and food, physical and psychological support through health services, emotional support through student activities and community building—how could these function in cyberspace?
DRBU had gotten to the point in its development where its programs had been assessed and tweaked and its administration had become a smoothly operating system, in which many of its functions had become somewhat routine. This rude interruption to DRBU’s trajectory has been mind-bending, paradigm disturbing, and mentally excruciating to say the least. It put into question the very existence and future of the DRBU that had thus far been conceived and developed.
And so it was that in March, the University faculty, administrators, and staff had to make a tough decision almost overnight to send our students home and discontinue in-person classes.  Even though many of the sacred texts we study in DRBU teach about non-attachment and the delusional nature of ordinary existence, I must confess that we have been attached to that miraculous, satisfying, and joyful experience of group and personal learning and transformation, and to the amazing DRBU community that had come into being. It was painful to send our students home.
The Campus Life team members had to scramble and tap the depths of their ingenuity, energy, and consciousness with the most heartfelt concern and care to assist each and every student to a safe haven where they could weather the storm of the pandemic while continuing with their studies.  Since March, they have not paused to rest, but have spent every moment and every last drop of energy to adapt and prepare for a Fall Semester of hybrid classes and a hybrid Campus Life!  They have had to interview each student to understand what they would individually need in order to continue or begin their studies in DRBU.  They have had to create a Covid-19 safety plan for the small group of students who must be on campus at SC in order for them to study.  And they have had to find creative ways to provide student activities and to bond together a community of students and faculty in cyberspace.
As Dean of Students, I have always appreciated and been impressed by the CL team’s dedication, concern for students, and unselfish giving. This year has certainly tested and challenged their sincerity and commitment to the values of Compassionate Care.  As a Buddhist nun, I would acknowledge that they have all passed this test along the Bodhisattva Path.
I believe that DRBU could not have planned and prepared better for a successful semester under the daunting circumstances we find ourselves in.  May we all be graced in response to the sincere efforts that have gone into preparing for this semester; and, may each and every one of us grow from this experience and be safe and well until we reach the light at the end of the tunnel.