Gratitude for a Rewarding, Adventurous, and Challenging Semester
The week before the Thanksgiving break was DRBU’s last week on campus for Fall 2021. On Wednesday, Students, faculty, and staff shared what we are grateful for at an open-mic during lunch in the courtyard. Many expressed their gratitude for this incredibly rewarding, and at the same time, greatly challenging semester during the pandemic. The students were the most active to grab the mic. A few highlights are captured here along with some added background on the students.
Sehen (BA’25) told a few jokes as usual before he turned to everyone and said his “thank you.” Before this semester started, Sehen wasn’t sure if and when he could make it to campus because of his visa issue in his home country Sri Lanka. Leaving his family in Sri Lanka and coming all the way to DRBU at age 18, the journey itself was an adventure.
Sanju (MA’23) expressed her appreciation for those with whom she shared conversations, discussions, classes, walks, or practices together. After graduating from St. John’s College—a Great Books Institution—Sanju taught seventh grade math for a year before coming to DRBU. Writing is one of her spiritual practices in the morning to gain insights and mental clarity. She has a vision to dedicate a period of time to writing in her Grandma’s humble abode in a village in eastern Nepal overseeing Kangchenjunga mountain.
Alex (BA’24) shared how grateful he was for his cohort and the support he received from his classmates. He was delighted to meet other DRBU students, faculty, and staff on campus. Alex connects to his voice in a profound way and values deeply how he uses his voice through speaking or singing. This semester, he explored channeling his voice into chanting during the live-streaming of the Guanyin session at CTTB and the Medicine Buddha Repentance at Gold Mountain Monastery. This opened him up to a new form of spiritual practice that deeply resonated with him.
Quinn (BA’23) shared the challenges that she experienced this semester. She wished it was not the last week on campus because she felt now she had more mental space to make better use of this community living and to learn and grow together. Before coming to DRBU, Quinn lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was through the classes offered at the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery that she found out about DRBU. She has an aptitude for Sanskrit and enjoys Indian classics.
Blake (MA’23) took some time to express gratitude to each person there and what they’ve brought to the DRBU experience. He thoroughly enjoyed the class on the Sixth Patriarch’s Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra, purchased his own copy, and plans to take it with him on life’s journey. Before coming to DRBU, he graduated from Pomona College and studied embodied philosophical practices on a fellowship around the world, which eventually brought him to monasteries and then to DRBU. Besides writing a novel, he does a lot of yogasanas and sitting in his spare time. He also thoroughly enjoys working on the farm.
Rachel (MA’22) spoke in tears, “There's no place that’s perfect, but DRBU is pretty close to it. I think this is because everyone does their best each day to arrive with pure intentions and be the kindest versions of themselves. I’m really grateful this is where I ended up and that this place exists.” Rachel visited DRBU campus when she was deciding between pursuing a PhD in neuroscience and studying at DRBU to deepen her understanding of Buddhist philosophy and gain more clarity on what direction she needed to go in life; she chose the latter.
Sehen was moved by Rachel’s words and grabbed the mic again. “I've complained a lot. I know a lot of people have been like, ‘Oh, I'm tired. I'm exhausted, kind of drained…’ and then it just reminded me that it's really about the heart, the sincerity that we all put into the experience. When we're all in the good place, we all see the goodness in each other at that moment. The root of all of it is just that intense love that we all have for this place, and what we're learning, and how we interact with each other. I know I joke around a lot, but I'm really, sincerely grateful for everyone.”
A student expressed his deep gratitude toward the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. It was the Venerable Master’s vision and effort from the very beginning that helped establish the guiding principles for the liberal arts education at DRBU, making what DRBU is today possible and continuing to guide DRBU’s future.
Dr. Sue Rounds, the President of DRBU, said, “As I look out at this wonderful gathering I am very grateful for our beautiful courtyard, which is the result of hard work by some of our former and current students. I’m glad that we have been able to gather here as a community this semester and share food and conversation with each other. And I am grateful to each one of you for everything you do to make DRBU such a special place.”
A faculty member shared how different this year was for her compared to last year. Just coming together and being in the students’ presence, she felt they are like family and DRBU is like home. She was really grateful for being together during this very trying time globally and for the students’ tremendous trust in the program and their decision to come all the way to DRBU from around the world.
Doug, a senior teacher at DRBU, spoke at the end. He described the DRBU education as an incredible adventure because the students trust themselves to something that’s so unusual and so different. “What I really appreciated is your own internal work. But it's all with a goal of trying to help people on a larger scale. And the balance between the Bodhisattva vows for the larger world and your own process of working through your own stuff is a conscious, kind of rhythmic struggle.” He then talked about the significance of the Thanksgiving break and the following winter break. “You’re not leaving for a break, [but] continuing the semester in a different place. Most people learn more or as much [during the break] as they learned while they were here. Because you get to take back whatever you're working on here to the environment that you've come out of and actually see what's going on in that transformation.”
He continued to express his gratitude for the students. “Being here with you guys, working through that transformation in yourselves, we get to continue to work on it in ourselves. Every time I see a little bit of that freedom opening up [in you], I'm very happy. And not only am I happy for you, but I get to experience that vicariously. Every one of you is just an incredible adventure in life. And I'm really inspired by every one of you. Thank you very much!”
The open-mic has ended, but the question remains: What makes us grateful? Misfortune does not seem to take away our gratitude. Very often, it may even have increased our gratitude. Then gratitude must come from a deeper place that’s beyond the external conditions, favorable or unfavorable. May that deeper place continue to ground us in gratitude in the coming years.