The children’s parents flew in from Tennessee and Georgia to honor the accomplishments of T.J. Sithavong, 13, of Sandy Springs, Ga.; and Suriya Ben Vongratsamy, 13; Boris Sariya, 14; and Jasmine Soompholphakdy, 11 of Murphreesboro, Tenn.
The fourth boy, Thavorn Phaengphan, 14, is from Broussard.
The boys were housed in a mobile home usually reserved for visiting monks. Jasmine stayed with her grandmother, Amone Vongratsamy, and two other ladies, Thavone Katmanivong and Ginda Maple, who have chosen to spend the remainder of their lives living like nuns just across Kompackee Lane from the temple, where they practice chanting and meditation daily.
What the young Buddhists learned amounts to a short course in ethics and life skills, such as being virtuous, learning how to avoid false friends, and how to focus their minds through meditation. They also learn a number of chants in Pali.
“It’s a foundation in Buddhism,” said Ajahn (abbot) Ariyavamso. “Their understanding of what they memorized will grow through the years, and they will be better prepared for life because they know from practice and from experience what mental discipline involves.” He said the basic tenets of Buddhism are morality, mental discipline, and an ongoing search for wisdom. He added that it emphasizes practical philosophy and psychology rather than dogma and doctrine.
Part of that discipline involved pre-dawn chanting followed by 45 minutes of basic meditation, which in their tradition requires maintaining a laser-like focus on one’s breath.
After a typical American breakfast, they studied the 10 Perfect Mental Qualities, such as honesty, self-discipline, compassion, determination and equanimity. Then they took a nap before taking a full noon meal including chicken, noodles, rice and fruit.
After lunch, they studied for two hours, then took instruction from Ajahn Ariyavamso. Later, they studied again until it was time for evening chanting followed again by 45 minutes of focused meditation.
“I enjoyed the chanting,” said Phaengphan. The mental quality he valued the most involved generosity and service because, he said, his father Sam frequently shared garden produce with an impoverished elderly neighbor.
Phaengphan plans to join the Air Force when he completes high school, and is interested in agriculture. Sariya chose, “May I be enthusiastic, energetic, and never giving up the good.” He added the hardest part of his training was having no solid food for dinner. His academic grades in his favorite subject, science, have been A’s and B’s.
Sithavomg said that since he had low tolerance for anyone who criticized members of his family, he choose “May I be patient, tolerant, and forgive other’s wrongs” as his favorite mental quality. An honor roll student, he plans to become an architect.
Vongratsamy said that being honest, trustworthy and scrupulous were important to him because “a lot of people need to be honest.” He had trouble getting up at 4 a.m. “because I’m not an early bird. And I like to snack. And it’s hard to learn so much in such a short time.” He is an honor student who likes math and science. He hopes to go into business with his father repairing computers.
Soompholphakdy said she didn’t know much about Buddhism except the chanting in Pali before she took part in the course. The Buddhist quality of patience and tolerance are important to her, she said, “because sometimes I get angry.” She likes art and is interested in architecture.
The Meditation Temple offers free instruction in meditation to those interested. According to recent scientific studies, meditation enhances cognitive ability, improves one’s immune system, and reduces the severity of a number of physical and emotional problems, including depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Recent findings are available at www.sciencedaily.com/