Steven Cokeng — What I Learnt in the Monastery

I was first invited by one of our family friends, Lolita Lutanco, to join a meditation class in Ocean Sky Chan Monastery in 2004. I was then 20 years old, and wanted very much to study Chinese culture and practices, like kung fu, qigong, wushu and the like. Knowing that there would be monks in the temple, I was very excited to take a glimpse. Upon checking it out, the volunteers of Ocean Sky informed me that they were only offering meditation classes, which was perfectly fine with me since I really wanted to be involved in activities related to Chinese culture.

When I started my first meditation class, I found out that the monks were also teaching Buddhism as part of the curriculum. I was a college student back then, and had a lot of spare time; so I was able to quickly complete the beginners’ class followed by the intermediate class, then the advance class, and finally the sutra classes. I have also decided to repeat the classes once I was done with the levels. I really don’t know what kept me going to study in all those classes repeatedly. All I can say is I am really happy that I have completed them all.

In the process, I learned a lot of Buddhist teachings like the Four Noble Truths, Eight Fold Path, Twelve-fold Causal Chain, Six Paramitas, the Heart Sutra, the Sutra of the Eight Realizations of Great Beings, and the Surangama Sutra. I also understood the true meaning behind the putting up and burning of yellow and red tablets as part of our offerings. There are also many teachings that can help improve the way we think and act in our daily lives, which greatly enhance our personality in order to achieve our goals in life.

One of the basic teachings I can share is the law of causality. The logical equation goes like this: Cause + Condition = Effect. This means that for an effect to occur, it needs both causes and conditions to be present to get what you want. For example, I wanted to study Chinese culture, but there were no schools that taught meditation. So how could I learn then? I had the cause in mind to study, but no condition or no school for me to enroll in. In the end, it took a long time before I was able to study meditation and Buddhism.

I am really thankful for what Ocean Sky has taught me through the years. As a sign of gratitude, I make it to a point to help out in the monastery. Currently, I volunteer as an acolyte and work to make sure things go well during ceremonies. I am also responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of the Chan Hall. By helping out in the monastery, I realized that there is actually plenty of work to be done in order to complete a single ceremony. A lot of preparations are needed like putting up the liturgy stands, preparing the censers and the tablet stands, arranging the tablets, arranging the meditation mats and many more things.

In helping out at the monastery, I realized I am applying what I’ve learned from the meditation classes. When working with fellow volunteers, I soon notice other people’s shortcomings. With this, I can cultivate by accepting their faults, and have longer patience. I not only learned tolerance but soon, I became a team player, and worked well together to accomplish everyone’s goal, which is to help the monastery and let more people learn about Buddhism.

Lastly, let me share with you my favorite quotation regarding how one should regard his past, present and future: “If you want to know your past, look at who you are now. If you want to know your future, look at what you are doing now.”