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Summer Camp in Monastery

24 August 2007

The kids engaging in serious sitting meditation are not little monks and nuns, but boys and girls at a Guangzhou junior high. While during this summer vocation, a large number of Chinese students flock to coaching schools learning English and other exam-driven subjects, dividing their time between memorising, reciting and thinking, these kids dare to retreat into a monastic summer camp, spending their time on reflecting, chanting and, trying hard to avoid thinking.

Following the conventional daily routine of Chinese monasteries, every day the boys and girls get up before dawn at four clock to begin their early non-thinking session, which is succeeded by vegetarian breakfast that includes frying noodle dishes, vegetable buns, bean rice soup, and pickled radish, and dried greens and marinated tofu.

In the morning the students learn from the monks how to deal with others in a proper manner, in the afternoon, the masters - who call the kids their fellow cultivators (tongxiu 同修) - chat with their tongxius about I Ching and Karma.

Such a circle of vege-eating, naught-thinking continues until nine clock in the evening when Chinese monasteries typically conclude their daily activities.

The opponents of the monastic summer camp criticise it as religious brainwashing exercise done to vulnerable children.

But the supporters say the camp only teaches about wisdom but not faith, as all they strive to achieve is to help the youngsters observing the natural law of cause and consequences, thus being mindful of their thoughts, words and actions, since what we do to others will ultimately bounce back to us. After all, some even argue, it is questionable whether the teachings of Buddha can ever be considered as religious, for it is never about how to submit oneself to unknown external forces, but all about how to get liberated from within through knowing oneself, and ultimately become the master of one’s own destiny.

While true disposition of the monastic summer camp may still be debatable, one thing is clear, that after a period of non-thinking, these self-driven only-child kids become much more thoughtful of others.

Today is the last day they live among the monks in the monastery, according to the report by a local media Nanfangdushibao, and it remains to be seen just how long this positive effect of thoughtful and naught thinking can last.

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