cafe public intellectual



It was my first time to go on a field trip with my students and my first time too to a Buddhist temple in this country with the grandeur and reputation of Seng Guan Temple. I did not know what to expect but I was hoping really hard that my students would see the activity as a pilgrimage and regard the journey as part of the whole experience of the visit. I was surprised and moved by their response; almost all of them wanted to come despite the sketchy descriptions I gave them before the trip. Most of us opted to commute via the LRT.   While we were walking towards the temple, I was silently asking myself if I made the right decision to let them go through commuting as we wove our way amidst swerving pedicabs, jeeps and trucks, and with the intense rays of the sun beating down on our backs. But along the way we encountered blessings—that waft of cold air fromMetropole Hospital where we stopped for a while to cool down our overheated bodies and that brief stopover to sip frozen Tang and Coke.

Seng Guan Temple was everything I imagined it to be.  When I entered its hallowed doors I just knew I made the right decision of bringing my students there, and I, coming along with them. As a firm believer of meaningful serendipity the auspiciousness of my decision, the date of the visit, and the class itself were not lost on me now.   Of course, I am not turning superstitious as some Buddhists are wont to be but I firmly believe that cosmic forces do work in our lives and what we implore with passion towards the heavens are granted. Aren’t all the events in our lives part of the endless turning of the karmic wheel which we are all subjected to, and because we are highly intelligent beings, aren’t we capable of reflecting on the amazing and beautiful connections we make with people or places or animals?  As our guide patiently toured us around the temple, I heard a most tenuous sound. It was like a sigh of a click that fit contentedly but the hum was barely perceptible as if it travelled a great distance, maybe from a distant galaxy or ancient past, summoning with it the colors of gold, red, orange and yellow which bounced all over the great hall where a thousand Buddhas reposed.

I must admit, I teach more from gut feeling than skill so I try always to learn new things that will make me a better teacher.  Teaching is my calling, even if sometimes I struggle against it because it demands so much from me. Yet on this fateful afternoon and as I gazed at the excited faces of my students I resolved to myself that I would be teaching for the rest of my life and I was exactly where I wanted to be.  All these realizations tumbled off of me shortly after that pilgrimage to a temple in the Philippines. I climbed Adam’s Peak, a holy pilgrimage mountain for Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus in Sri Lanka, and it was an experience of transcendence.  Seng Guan though was a homecoming —it acknowledged my deep connection with Chinese culture which has become so deeply integrated into my own Filipino culture. More importantly, it allowed my students to see me in a different light—as one who can be like them. I certainly was, on that temple visit.  I was a fellow pilgrim.




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