News and Tribune

October 4, 2013

An enlightening subject

Buddhist monks visit Community Montessori


NEW ALBANY — In a room full of teen spirit, four guys sat with high schoolers for a serious conversation on Nirvana, but no one was talking about the finer points of 1990s grunge rock.

Buddhist monks from India visited Community Montessori on Wednesday to teach them about some of their traditions, but also to let them see how some Buddhist teachings can be universal regardless of religion.

Tenpa Phuntsok, one of the monks from the Tashi Kyil monastery in India, said school is a good place to learn, but there’s a lot students can find out if they look for it on their own.

“Our hope coming the United States is to promote some of our ideas of love, compassion and kindness,” Phuntsok said. “They have a good amount of wisdom in what they learn in school, but we hope we can teach them beyond that.”

The Montessori school — which follows an educational method that allows students to explore what they want to learn with some guidance from teachers — invited the monks to visit while they were in the area.

The monks held two sessions with students. High school-age students listened to one of the monks talk about Buddhism through another who served as a translator. They also asked questions about their lifestyle and teachings.

Alex Keim, a sophomore at the school, said he thought it was interesting to hear from people who not only live in another country, but dedicate their lives to Buddhism.

“I’ve always enjoyed studying religions,” Keim said. “I think I’ve taken four seminars here. I liked what they had to say about ignoring anger. I get angry sometimes and I’m not very good at ignoring it.”

Phuntsok told students that even though they may have their own religion they choose to follow, they can still apply some of the concepts of Buddhist philosophy to their daily lives.

Younger students made sand art and sculptures with the monks.

Barbara Fondren, director of the school, said though the appearance was scheduled on the fly, she thought it presented students with another opportunity to expand their understanding of the world and the people who live in it.

“We believe that learning happens everywhere all the time,” Fondren said. “We try to foster learning in lots of ways; you never know when that pivotal ‘ah-ha’ moment is going to happen.”