Learning Buddhist Living: HALA 2018

My first *official* job as a librarian was in Guang Ming College, a free college established in 2014 by Fo Guang Shan, a Chinese Buddhist organization in the Philippines. I have long been interested in Buddhism even before that, and one of the reasons I worked there is because I wanted to learn more about it. It's been two years since I left, and I still wanted to learn more. I read books, but I wanted to experience meditation and learn more about the teachings. The college is currently located in Mabuhay Temple in Manila but will eventually move to a new campus in Tagaytay, Cavite.

Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple in Manila, Philippines has an annual program called Humanistic Academy of Life and Arts (a.k.a. 'HALA'), a free educational program lasting for 3 months. This program started in 2007 and we're now on Batch 13. I was interested since it includes a month-long retreat in Taiwan, which will be on July. I applied and fortunately, I got accepted. We started last May 1, and the program will last until early August. It wasn't that hard to adjust since I was already familiar with the culture, I know the people, and some were glad to see me again!

Basically, we learn about Buddhism in the program and try the minimalist Buddhist lifestyle. For those unfamiliar with Buddhism, it is a movement started by the 'Buddha' around 2,500 years ago. Siddhartha Gautama was a prince who renounced his worldly life to search for the solution to suffering. After six years, he attained 'enlightenment' and proceeded to teach what he knows to others. He taught the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eight-fold Path. It is more complicated than that, but I think his most important teachings are on impermanence, emptiness, and non-attachment. Buddhist scriptures are called 'sutras' and Buddhist monks and nuns work to propagate the dharma or Buddha's teachings.

Everything here has a rigid schedule and you really learn discipline. Buddhists believe in 'no killing' and we are only allowed to eat vegetarian food, which is actually quite good and healthy! We have classes on various topics and have many varied activities. We have classes in Buddhist studies, Chinese culture, Buddhist scriptures, Vegetarian cooking, even singing and dance! There were originally seven of us (four from the Philippines, three foreign students) but we're down to six right now. By the end of this month, we will be in Taiwan until August and I am excited to visit another country again.

A Typical Day in the Temple:
We have to wake up early and put on our Hai Qing or robes. We have a morning prayer at 6:30 AM, and breakfast is at 7 AM. Everything is done in order and in silence, especially the meals. Everything has a specific order to how you arrange the plates and how you line up to go in or go out of the dining hall. After breakfast, we have exercise, usually Tai Chi. We time to do our chores, then we have classes before lunch again at 12 PM sharp. On the afternoon, we have a couple of classes and chores again. Dinner is at 6. We meditate at 8 PM and call it a day by 10 PM.

I will soon write a more detailed post of the deeper aspects of sitting meditation, working meditation, and the silent meal. I just wanted to write something here because I haven't written a blog in a long while and each day here is such a unique learning experience. I have learned a lot from the people I've met here and we're still planning many things to do together. We already have our visas and tickets for Taiwan and of course, I will write about that soon.

I know that the word 'Buddhism' might not be understood by some people. Since it's another 'religion', people tend to have a closed mind. But in my experience here, we are not being forced to convert and I view Buddha as just another great teacher philosopher similar to Socrates or Plato. If you keep an open mind, the teachings are meaningful, profound, and true. In essence, what it teaches complements the basic teachings of most major religions. I'm just here as a student to study it and learn more about it.

Anyway, I have a lot more to write about my experiences here in HALA so stay tuned!

Some photos:
Who says vegetarian food can't be good? Some dishes for our cooking class.

Our dorm rooms (girls)

Table arrangement

At the Main Shrine of Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple with the White Jade Buddha from Myanmar

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  1. hi! do you know if there is any active Buddhist community in Iloilo??? :)