Note: Due to potential political risks for some of the participants in this program, personal student data has been withheld.
The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) annual School of English for Engaged Social Service (SENS) – a transformative three-month learning program to nurture young adults and mentor them as community leaders and agents of compassionate social change – held a graduation ceremony for its 2023 cohort on April 8, in the lush gardens of INEB's Wongsanit Ashram and training campus just outside Bangkok.
In his keynote address for the occasion, SENS Program Academic Director Ted Mayer praised the hard work, dedication and sincerity of the 16 students who participated in this year's program, hailing from Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Tibet and Vietnam. — and especially those for whom participation was undertaken at considerable personal risk: “This is your program and we want to hear ton voice! Mayer pointed out.
“First of all, I would like to thank the Jungto Society and Venerable Pomnyun Sunim for making the effort to be here today from Korea. We really appreciate your presence,” observed Mayer. “Jungto Society provided a full scholarship this year, which enabled us to bring in a student from Myanmar. This gift will never be forgotten. The Jungto Society also donated 25 copies of this recent book by Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, life here and now. Thank you so much!
“Thank you also to our two friends Westbrook and Fon from the Regional English Language Office (RELO) of the United States Embassy in Bangkok for providing two full scholarships. I want you all to know that RELO has been one of the kindest, most considerate and consistent supporters of our program. I really like you a lot.
“I would like to deeply thank the donors and donor organizations who brought all of our students from Tibet—four students this year. You have no idea how much effort it took to bring four students from a country where it's hard to even get a passport. And I honor and share my respect for all of you Tibetan students who have succeeded here.
“Similarly, I want to express my thanks and respect to our students from Myanmar who also faced incredible hardship just to be here. We should not live in a world where traveling from one country to another is a dangerous exercise. This is not how we want this world to be.
“Thank you also to so many Vietnamese students who have contributed to your tuition from their hard-earned savings. It really helped a lot. I would further like to thank Somboon Chungprampree, the Executive Secretary of INEB, for also providing a full scholarship, and the many other people, some of whom are here today, who have generously contributed. That's why we were able to bring 16 students here this year.
Hosted by the INEB Institute, a non-profit institute of higher learning, INEB's annual SENS program integrates English language training with self-awareness and interpersonal support, linked to understanding social and ecological challenges. , in order to train young adults in leadership. With a focus on sustainability – for the planet, for society, and for the human spirit – the program seeks to engender among its students the diverse skills and personal qualities necessary to engender personal, social and ecological resilience. This year's intensive 12-week course, with climate justice as a key theme, kicked off in Thailand in January.
Mayer's speech then focused on the 16 young leaders gathered for their graduation: “For the students, I want to thank you for having dared to share you. To share your beauty and your struggles. To share your confidence and your embarrassment. And thank you for trying, it's so important and it takes courage. Thanks for being honest. Thank you for your unreserved willingness to help each other, and me, and others here. It is all of us together who have made this space a safe place. Thanks for your part in this.
Concluding his opening words, Mayer shared some final thoughts that deeply touched everyone present: “I want to add that this SENS course, I think, has been the most successful ever. This is our seventh in-person course and our eighth course if you count last year's online SENS program for activists in Myanmar. I think that was by far the most successful in terms of what we did together and in terms of what you got to see in your field trips and workshops, and in terms of how you were able to grow.
"Part of (why all of this is so remarkable and helpful) is because our neighboring country (Myanmar) is in the midst of horrific violence comparable to the situation in Ukraine, yet many people don't know it. . . . . And I'm sorry to say it's even to the point that one of our students from Myanmar, about 5-6 weeks into the course, learned that his childhood best friend had been shot dead by the army of his country. Why does he need to suffer this? Why does anyone need to suffer this? It shouldn't happen, but it does.
“So what can we do to face these realities while seeing the beauty that is there and the things we can do. . . ? I believe the global economic and infrastructural system is collapsing right now. We know that global warming is creating an untenable situation. It's also very real. . . .
“I have the impression, looking at the students, that I am not saying goodbye today. I know physically you're all leaving, but we've already started working together, and it's not going to stop there. I feel it very strongly. It's not just me; I don't even push. I feel it from the students, who have told me that they are interested in continuing our work.
“This job involves paying attention to what really needs to be done. World leaders don't do that, I'm sorry to say. They pay attention to power, to gathering resources, to carrying out their projects, but often they do not pay attention to what needs to do, but you all are!
One by one, the 16 remarkable students of INEB's 2023 SENS transformative learning program took to the podium to introduce themselves, share about their challenges and personal growth, and their aspirations for life after SENS.
As the occasion drew to a close, guest of honour, revered Korean master Seon (Zen) and social activist, and patron of INEB, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, was called to the podium. The Venerable took the opportunity to congratulate the students for their courage and dedication in taking the SENS course, and offered some thoughts on the occasion for the students to take with them on their way home:
“A great master of long ago once said: If I am aware of my mind, I am the Buddha. If I'm not aware of my mind, I'm just a sentient being. . . . The state of mind without suffering is called the Buddha. If your state of mind is that of suffering, you are only a sentient being. So we have to maintain our mind as one without suffering. . . .
“The Buddha's teaching is very simple; there are three main characteristics: first, recognizing the truth as the truth. Second, the Buddha's teaching is simple – knowing the truth as truth is the easiest way, if it's hard, it's not the Buddha's teaching. Third, the Buddha's teaching can be applied to daily life; there is no teaching of Buddha without daily life.
“But the way the Buddha's teaching is shared has changed a lot over the years. It got harder, it got fuzzier, and it became something outside of everyday life. They call it Buddhadharma, but it's not really – it's just a religion called Buddhism. I hope you will not become followers of this type of Buddhism, but rather become true Buddhist practitioners and follow the teachings of the Buddha.
“If your spirit is in pain, heal it. This is Buddhist practice. If society is sick, society must be cured: if there is discrimination, or war, or poverty, these are the diseases of society and we must cure them. If you are true disciples of the Buddha, of course, you must work to heal society. . . . If you look for the reasons for this disease, you will see that it comes from people's ignorance, from those who cannot see the truth as the truth.
The INEB Institute was established by INEB with the aim of creating a model institute of higher learning offering curricula that incorporate progressive learning practices and strategies with an emphasis on peace and reconciliation, environmental healing, alternative education, sustainable economy and capacity for spirituality. growth and leadership. Embodying the principles of Socially Engaged Buddhism, the institute's primary goal is to help young people rediscover their fundamental nature of interdependence while developing the skills to become agents of genuine social change.
“Our vision is that positive and lasting social change must be grounded in transforming how each individual perceives their connection to our world and all of its inhabitants. We welcome students from all countries, regardless of age, profession and social or religious status,” the INEB Institute said.
The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) is a global network of individuals and organizations committed to promoting and working for social justice, environmental sustainability and world peace.
INEB was established in 1989 by Professor Sulak Sivaraksa and a group of Buddhist leaders and scholars seeking to apply Buddhist teachings and principles to contemporary social and political issues. Through its global network, the INEB strives to promote understanding, cooperation and connection between inter-Buddhist and inter-religious groups, and to actively address pressing global issues such as human rights, the resolution conflicts and environmental crises.
Based in Bangkok, INEB has implemented a wide range of social projects and outreach programs aimed at overcoming suffering and empowering vulnerable communities through Dharma practice and social engagement, such as education and training, community development projects, advocacy and lobbying efforts, and interfaith dialogue.
The network also champions the importance of environmental sustainability and responsible use of natural resources, and has promoted sustainable development practices in various communities.
INEB emphasizes the importance of developing an ethical Dharma-based approach to its work and encourages its members to work collaboratively and respectfully with individuals and organizations on the basis of shared values and aspirations.