2005 Student-Faculty Fellows: St. Mary's College Of Maryland
Thailand: Engaged Buddhism
Mentor: John Schroeder, Philosophy and Religious Studies
Students: Christopher Kalman, ’07; Allison Mull, ’05; Claudia Peknik, ’06; Sarah Posey, ’06; Erica Schuetz, ’07;
My experiences mentoring the students in Thailand was an exceptional experience both professionally and pedagogically. As you can read from their individual projects, the breadth of their research into different aspects of Engaged Buddhism was quite expansive, from living at an alternative school in the jungles of Western Thailand (Sarah Posey) and living with a group of nuns in a monastic environment (Allison Mull) to participating and living within a large sustainable community run by a group of Engaged Buddhist monks (Chris and Erica). Their own experiences were rich and transformative, and it was rewarding for me-as a teacher-to help facilitate these experiences for them. Moreover, the Freeman-ASIANetwork Student/Faculty grant allowed me to initiate a dialogue between my own college and Thailand, such that I could bring my students to learn about Buddhism in Thailand, and then bring that knowledge back to my institution to stimulate further academic interest in the study of Asia in general.
Chris Kalman and Erica Schuetz
Engaged Buddhism in Alternative Living Communities
The majority of my personal research in Thailand was carried out at the Engaged Buddhist community of Pathom Asoke. The goal of my research was to observe and reflect upon the intricate workings of an alternative community in an Engaged Buddhist context. This meant taking part in the daily life, chores, and activities of the community. During the day, I did everything from cooking to cleaning to working at the tofu factory to teaching English classes to talking with monks. The work of the community generally slowed down at around five or six at night, which is where the second part of my project came into play. Each night I would make notes on what I had seen, experienced, or thought that day, and then reflect upon these observations.
Thai Bhikkhunis and Engaged Buddhism
While traveling and researching in Thailand, I was most fortunate to live and study at Wat Songdhammakalyani, home to a community of Buddhist women who are deconstructing traditional gender roles in Thai Buddhism through their work to revive the lineage allowing full ordination for women. Steadfast proponents of the philosophies of Engaged Buddhism, members of this sangha have also founded a shelter for women and children, called The Home of Peace and Love. Fully involved in temple life during my stay, I observed the manners in which activism and Buddhism intertwined in the life and practices of these women.
Development and Progression of Agriculture and Sustainable Living in Thai Rural Communities
My trip to Thailand allowed me an opportunity to expand my knowledge about Buddhism and the social issues that affect the country. I explored Buddhist concepts before moving on to my own project that was based on organic farming and building adobe houses. While my project did not work out as planned I was able to eventually move to another community and complete my experience. From both places I gained valuable insights and sources of comparison which ultimately enabled me to see a small piece of these villager’s culture and lives.
Engaged Buddhism in Alternative Education
I set out to study alternative forms of education in Thailand in an Engaged Buddhist context. My time was spent at Moo Baan Dek (The Children’s Village School), a community of 200 children and adults, living and learning together as a community modeled after A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School in Great Britain. I participated in teaching and learning in this village for two weeks, engaging in all the activities of the community. I kept a journal during this experience in which I recorded my ideas and feelings about the relationships that I formed with the people that I worked and played with and my thoughts about the alternative pedagogical practices utilized at the school. Now, home again, I hope to continue to relate to others in the peaceful, caring, and patient way that I learned in my village in Thailand. I also hope to further develop the skillful means needed to inspire children to participate in a respectful and open community of philosophical inquiry.