2020-2021 Year in Review
by Eden Merritt
The past year saw the continuation of SINI’s Sutra Class, in which upper-level students continue their English studies by reading, studying, discussing, and presenting on the words of the Buddha. This has been the second full year of this particular class, and I am immensely proud of the growth the students have made during this time.
For the monks, most of whom are learned lopons and khenpos, studying the sutras in English gives them the opportunity to transmit their knowledge and experience of Dharma to a new audience. Some of the sutras were familiar, ones they had studied extensively during their own monastic education; other sutras were new to them. My role in this class is not to teach philosophical content, but rather to facilitate the development of their language skills in such a way that the monks are able to bridge their incredible existing knowledge with the medium of the English language.
This past year, we covered seven sutras in total: The Sutra of the Wheel of Dharma, Heart Sutra, Questions of an Old Lady, Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels, Rice Seedling Sutra, Four Factors Sutra, and Three Bodies Sutra. English translations for all these sutras have been generously made available for free through the 84,000 Project and Lotsawa House. We are deeply grateful for their ongoing mission to make the Dharma accessible for all, and their work has enabled us to make the study of sutras in English possible.
Before beginning to study a text, the class first explores an overview of the sutra, including the topic, summary, salient vocabulary, and situating the sutra within the larger context of the Buddha’s life and other teachings. While reading, students study technical aspects, such as grammar and vocabulary. They also practice creating discussion questions and leading discussions concerning the subject of the sutras. After studying, students then have the opportunity to deliver short presentations on the sutra that take the form of summarizations, teachings, or discussions.
Over the past year, it has been my privilege to assist students in their journey to building their English language through the study of the Dharma and honing their speaking and presentation abilities. I look forward to their continued growth and development.
Teaching English to Students in Level 3 Narrative Development Class
by Leila Wilson
Over the course of the winter and spring terms, Level 3 students met weekly or bi-weekly in virtual calls and small-group classes. Students focused on the following activities:
- telling their own stories using original imagery;
- writing paragraphs about their experiences during the pandemic;
- reading and interpreting poems by Kay Ryan, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Tomas Tranströmer; and
- talking about current news.
Students also wrote poems using new vocabulary and trying out more complex sentence structures. Throughout our class, students gave each other feedback about clarity, specificity, and English grammar, while centering on what it means to be learning, practicing, and helping others during a time of extreme suffering.
Following are some of the results of the writing exercises that students worked on from January to the beginning of April, before India began to experience some of the most devastating effects of COVID-19.
by Khenpo Yeshi
SINI is full of love and beauty.
This is a pure world because there are all kinds of beautiful flowers in full bloom surrounded by green trees. You can often hear the songs and calls of various birds in the garden, such as sparrows, canaries, peacocks, parrots, kingfishers, and a rooster! Many animals live in harmony at SINI: pigeons, dogs, fish, and guinea pigs. The people are often reading or in a state of meditation. They are very peaceful and live with a smile—even in today’s turbulent times.
I wish the whole world could live in harmony and peace.
SINI’s library is very beautiful and calm. It has a very special, nice, and clean design. It has benefited students and teachers. The library has great merit and superior quality.
Many amazing guests have visited the library over the years: holy great lamas have come to offer their pomelo flowers and give blessings. There are very important Tibetan books in the library. I think there are more than ten thousand of them, including rare books on the Buddha’s scriptures, Tibetan Buddhist philosophy books, Buddhist history books, Buddhist poetry books, Buddhist practice books, Buddhist meditation books, Tibetan medicine books, Tibetan mathematics books, and Tibetan logic books. We have the opportunity to learn Buddhism here, and we can use these blessed books.
In the library, it is very peaceful. There is not any noise here. It is used for meditation, chanting, Buddhist speeches, and dharma meetings. It has nice tables, computers, etc. It is all for teachers and students, thanks to Tsering Gellek la. Here we have a good chance to study but I don’t study very much. I am a very lazy man! All the other students study hard except me. Maybe it is very nice!
I am really very happy at SINI. It is my second home here. It is wonderful and very peaceful. I think in the future the SINI library will be very valuable. It is a very holy place.
Fear of the Coronavirus
by Khenpo Gyaltsen
In 2019, COVID-19 started in Wuhan. Those who lived in Wuhan to study and work wanted to return back to their own countries because they were afraid of COVID-19. I saw on the news that many people were stockpiling, because everywhere started to lockdown, so they thought it would be difficult to get food, etc. Some people even were fighting to get toilet paper in some shops. In India, the whole country was in lockdown for almost three months, from March through June. At that time, people were scared of each other, avoided contact, and didn’t want to talk too closely to others. People were afraid to travel, afraid to lose business, and to lose their jobs. Most importantly, people were afraid of losing family and friends.
After one year, there is now a COVID-19 vaccine, but there is also a lot of fear. Why? Because we have been creating fear in our lives since our childhoods. Even if we don’t get infected, one day we will surely die. And by that time, many of us will have lost our parents, families, partners, wealth, and our health. We will leave our lovely bodies behind and go alone to our next rebirth. At that time, nobody can protect us – only our accumulated merits and virtues can protect us.
Many things have changed from COVID-19. All domestic airports have new rules and all international airports have been closed for a long time. There are limited vehicles driving on the highways, everyone wears face masks, and people are not allowed to meet many others. Even the weather has changed during COVID-19 because there has not been as much pollution during the lockdown. We must learn many things from the pandemic about our life. Scientists say that the infection came from animals, so we should stop eating meat. This is the 21st century, so we can adapt to learning online and gather together in smaller groups in class. It is easy to learn many things online. Also, if we don’t travel too much, it will be better for the environment. If we continue using face masks, we can prevent infectious diseases. We can take care of our health, but we should not forget our beautiful villages, towns, countries, and our world.
My Feelings and Experiences During the Pandemic
by Thinley Wangchuk
I feel this has been a very terrible year because many people have had problems with food, rent, money, worry, fear, sickness, and death from COVID-19 everywhere all over the world. But I have been very fortunate because I haven’t had these problems during this time. So I have been very happy at SINI during the pandemic.
Why have I been happy? There have been two reasons. One reason is, I believe, that I have accumulated virtues or merits in my previous lives. So, I don’t have any problems in my mind or body. The second reason is I really have benefited from Semo Tsering la during this time because I haven’t worried about the requisites of life. For example, I have had enough food and drink. Therefore, I really thank Semo la and all of the teachers for teaching English to us.
I have been thinking a lot about climate change during this time. I think the climate is getting warmer year by year because we throw a lot of plastic into our environment. This has an effect on rivers and increasing greenhouse gasses. All of this pollution everywhere is very dangerous. In April and May of 2020, many countries limited air and car travel and stopped factories from working because of COVID-19. At that time, the climate changed for the better. It was not as hot, and pollution was reduced for a few months. So, I experienced that if factories would stop making so many things, they wouldn’t affect our health so poorly. I learned that if all countries work together to protect our habitat, then we can be happier and live in a better environment. I think climate change is more dangerous than COVID-19 for all sentient beings.
Yoga at SINI
by Pema Woeser
Good health is the key to happiness. “Health is wealth!”
Yoga gives the insight to know more about the self. The dormant inner powers blossom to give complete bliss and an introduction to the true self. It enables one to face things of significance. Indian sages have prescribed many methods to achieve this goal. We mainly follow the asanas and pranayamas given in Ashtanga yoga (Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayam, Pratyahar, Dharna, Dhyan, and Samadhi) or the eight main aspects of Yoga. We also cover the six supporting actions or Shatkarmas of Hatha yoga.
Practicing Yoga revives our dormant energy. These exercises rejuvenate tissues and help new cell formation. Light Yogic exercises reactivate the nervous system and regulate blood circulation. They reinstate fresh energy in the body. According to the laws of physiology, when the body contracts and expands, energy is developed and diseases get cured. This can be achieved with the help of different yogic asanas. With the practice of pranayamas and asanas, the glands and muscles of the body contract and expand, and diseases get cured naturally.
Yoga also keeps the veins healthy. The pancreas becomes active and produces insulin in the right quantity, which helps in curing diabetes and related diseases. Health is directly linked with the digestive system. The improper functioning of the digestive system is the prime cause for many diseases. Even some serious problems, like heart disease, occur due to a faulty digestive system. Yoga strengthens the entire digestive process, making every part of the body healthy and active. Fresh air enters the lungs, making them healthier, which keeps issues like asthma, respiratory problems, and allergies away. Fresh air also strengthens the heart. Yogic exercises dissolve the fat deposits which make the body light, healthy and attractive. Yoga is beneficial for both physical fitness and mental balance. Yoga also enhances the subtle senses, the intellect, and the mind. Yoga is one of the best methods to have a healthy and happy life.
English at SINI
by Khenpo Rongdol
I used to think that I just needed to know Buddhist philosophy and the Tibetan language, and that I would not need to learn anything else. I thought that because I am a monk, I just need to study philosophy and practice Buddhism. Another reason was that some of my teachers told me that I didn’t need to learn English or other things because then maybe I would become distracted from my goals, and then I couldn’t focus on my destiny. But now I think that was a mistake. I recognize English is like salt or a tongue. If we don’t have salt in food then it is not tasty, and if we don’t have a tongue, then we can’t speak. So, now I realize that I certainly should learn English. That’s why I’m trying to learn English in my daily life. Especially now, in the 21st century, English is very useful and spoken widely. It is important to know and perceive information and conditions. If we know English, we can be comfortable communicating around the world.