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May 24, 2013 / A Mindful Traveler

Happy Vesak/Wesak!

Sunrise Over Luang Prabang

The First Sunrise of 2013: Luang Prabang, Laos

Today is Vesak/Wesak, the anniversary of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death.  It’s the holiest day of the year for Theravada Buddhists.  As most Buddhists in Korea follow the Mahayana tradition,  it’s an entirely personal observance for me here, which feels somehow fitting.

As the school year draws to a close, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the concept of anicca (impermanence).  Being an expatriate has allowed me to meet a number of new people in a relatively brief period and to quickly develop deep relationships with them.  The same factors that facilitate these fast friendships likewise create similarly swift partings.  In the coming weeks I’ll be saying farewell to a number of people I’ve worked with on a daily basis for a year or two whom I may never see again.

Teaching, especially teaching English, similarly lends itself to close relationships that come to an abrupt end.  I’ve been fortunate this year to teach many of the same students I taught last year.  Although I’ll teach a handful of them once again next year, the vast majority of my students will be unfamiliar to me.  I’ll see most of my old students in our school’s halls, but it’ll be a strange feeling; in a number of cases I’m the only high school English teacher they’ve ever had.  As we enjoy our last few classes together I’m reminded of this haiku by Basho:

“Even in Kyoto,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Hearing the cuckoo’s cry –                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         I long for Kyoto.”

At the same time, particularly since my 10th grade students are currently reading Walden, I’m inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s American reinterpretation of the Buddha’s challenge: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.  There is more day to dawn.  The sun is but a morning star.”

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