Everyone who teaches has those special moments that happen every so often, moments that cause them to pause and realize what a joy it is to teach.
This is not only true for career teachers but also for many of us who during our lives have through our words or actions inspired another individual in a meaningful way.
I taught English in Nepal and Buddhism in my homes in America for decades, not professionally, but to share my knowledge. In Nepal, I rented a room near the Swoyambu Stupa and taught English to the kids who lived around the stupa, mostly the sons and daughters of priests and young Tibetan monks.
In America, I owned homes in Santa Monica and Hawaii and taught Buddhism once a week on Wednesday from 7-10 p.m. For me teaching is giving back what I have received.
The rewards of teaching were evident every time I taught. My spirit is always lifted after I teach a class.
However, over the years, there were special moments that have lingered, and I will share two of them.
During the 10 years I lived in Nepal, our family visited my father every three years and would stay a month in Santa Monica. After we moved permanently to the States, we travelled to Nepal every few years and still do.
While returning to Nepal and sitting with my wife and two small children awaiting our flight in the International Terminal at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) there was a person quite some distance away, smartly dressed in a suit and tie staring at me. I played with my kids and chatted with my wife, snacking, and passing the time, all the while busy with the usual frivolous activity one does during the hours waiting for long-hauler flights, all the while under the watchful gaze of the smartly dressed Asian man who seemed to have found in watching me his own way to pass the time. His prolonged gaze did not fail to perk my curiosity, and delightfully that curiosity was destined to be satisfied.
The young man got up from his seat and approached us and with palms together kneeled before me. He didn’t utter a word but instead spoke five letters with an assured pause between each one: “T” “A” “S” “H” “I.” Then he said: “You taught me how to spell my name.” Twenty years had passed since I taught Tashi his name, and now the little munchkin I taught in Nepal is reminding me why it was all worthwhile.
Another incident happened more recently. When my kids were still in elementary school, my daughter, Mudra, had a close friend named Liz, now, both in their 30s and still best friends. One day Liz’s mom, who I hadn’t met, dropped Liz off for a playdate when we lived in Santa Monica. Michelle came to my guest house where I maintained a shrine room and introduced herself. She was taken away by the beauty of the shrine room and had never even seen one before. As she stood appreciating all the thankas and statues, I dropped a mala in her hand.
Michelle had never held a mala before and asked me what to do with it. I told her to recite “Om Mani Padme Hum” and count on the beads. I also invited her to come to my Wednesday night classes, which from that day on she attended for years, never missing a single session. Michelle was a great student and eventually became a popular teacher herself and today has her own following.
Our family moved to Hawaii and Mudra entered high school. My class moved there too. After our move, Liz and Mudra were only to see each other every few years and we didn’t see Michelle for 15 or so.
On Oahu, Mudra has the habit of going to a Korean temple every Saturday. It is a large temple complex in Honolulu with a Great Hall of the Buddha where weekly lectures are held. Because of Mudra’s upbringing in Nepal, she knows to always bow to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, when entering a monastery. She would even do that in the shrine room of our home when entering. But, during the large public gatherings at the Korean temple, it was not the custom to bow, and Mudra followed along with everyone else.
It happened one day that Mudra was sitting in the assembly in the Great Hall with a large gathering of people waiting for the lecture to begin. Everyone was seated and the abbot had not yet appeared to lecture when a women walked confidently to the front of the hall and bowed three times.
After bowing three times the women turned around to find a seat in the audience. Mudra, who was just then admiring how brave the women was (and her respect for tradition) realized to her surprise that it was Liz’s Mom, Michelle. Mudra’s excitement to see her was only matched by the lesson her example offered not to follow the crowd and to honor tradition, proving herself a mentor as she had been while growing up.
So, you see, when you teach, what goes around comes around.