Schoolchildren attend Buddhist weekend retreat
Vongkhamsy Primary School has introduced Buddhism classes into its curriculum, with children immersing themselves in the fundamentals of the religion for two hours a week, taught by monks.
Monks demonstrate an alms procession.
School officials say it is an effective way to instil Buddhist values and teachings at an early age, when children's minds are highly impressionable.
Last weekend, the school brought 124 students from levels two to five along with 22 teachers for a stay at the Dongmakkhai Forest Temple in Xaythany district, Vientiane, for two nights and three days.
The goal of the visit was to provide students with a deeply immersive experience in the teachings of Buddhism that go beyond the usual two hour a week class they receive at school.
The three days of their stay centred on various activities, including alms processions, meditation sessions, and the teaching of core Buddhist precepts such as the merit of parents.
The group arrived at the temple around noon and took their belongings to their accommodation. Then a bell rang, calling them to assemble in the temple grounds.
The monks asked them to sit together in a circle. They explained to the children why they had come to the temple and informed them of the basic rules of their stay. After that they proceeded to lunch.
In the afternoon, the bell rang again to call the children and teachers together. This bell signalled the start of their study of Buddhist practices.
First, the monks taught them how to pray. The prayers included veneration for the Buddha, and also how to bestow good blessings upon family and friends. Next, the children sat cross-legged and began the difficult process of learning to meditate.
In the evening, teachers and students watched on in silence as the monks and their novice pupils prayed to the Buddha.
Everyone went to sleep by 9pm in strict adherence to the disciplined life of the temple. They were promptly awoken at 4am for morning prayers, which lasted about an hour.
Next, the monks went to collect food from the local villagers while the children and teachers cleaned up the temple grounds.
After breakfast together, the monks taught the students the practise of “walking in peace” ( nyang chong kom ).
Principal of Vongkhamsy Primary School, Ms Khamsy Souvatdy, said she has participated in several education projects at this temple and finds the student retreats very helpful in introducing them to Buddhist values and practices.
“The monks here have helped us to teach the children about Buddhism in school. Now I'm so happy to have the opportunity to bring my students and staff here so they can learn such important lessons,” Ms Khamsy said.
“We also asked some parents to join us in the activities and I have received positive feedback from them about the experience,” she added.
“I have listened to the teachings on the merit of parents many times, yet I still cry each time I hear them. We saved the last night for these special lessons that Buddhism teaches us regarding our parents.”
On the final morning, the temple conducted an alms procession and many students' parents joined in the ceremony.
“I believe this training will help my students to follow the correct path in life by living the teachings of the Buddha. It will make them better students, children and adults in the future,” she concluded.
By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update November 26, 2016)