In June of 1957, the senior members of the Youth Circle of the Penang Buddhist Association formed a committee to explore the possibilities of forming a Dharma school to convene each Sunday morning for the systematic instruction of Buddhist children in the truths of our religion. Fifteen members of this committee volunteered to prepare themselves to take over teaching duties. This group of volunteers found no great lack of material suitable for instructing adults in the Dharma, but when they turned their search towards lesson material for children, they found a most startling lack of anything remotely approaching the needs of a modern Sunday school. A certain amount of Buddhist literature for children was found in Chinese and Japanese language presentations, but there are few Chinese in Malaya who are completely at home in written Chinese. Moreover, even the children enrolled in the Dharma classes are well versed only in colloquial Chinese, in Penang usually the Hokkien dialect, and the terminology of Buddhism, when expressed to them in Chinese, might as well be in classical Greek or Hittite. Most of the children of P.B.A. members attend English-language schools and are better adjusted to any system of study that is carried on via the language-medium of English.
The Dharma-School General Committee intensified and broadened the search for suitable lesson material in English. The task was somewhat like looking for a lake in the Sahara Desert. Such material as we found was published from fifty to seventy-five years ago and tended to be of the dry-as-dust variety. Moreover, these so-called “lessons for children” bristled with terms in dead languages. The Jataka Stories, too, were found to be largely valueless, even for amusement, to children of the modern world. Such morals as they point up are either rather thin or else far-fetched and unrelated to the lives of normal human beings. Practically all books and pamphlets offering instruction to beginners turn out to be written for adults and, almost without exception, they contain altogether too much terminology in dead languages, a fact which seems to take the holier it is. The committee, not desiring to lend any encouragement to a continuation of this naïve tradition, decided to prepare a series of systematically conceived lessons aimed at the level of understanding of our own Dharma-school children, whose average age is twelve years.
We are quite well aware that these lessons are less than perfect. We shall be only too happy to consider suggestions from our well-wishers and, in future editions, we hope to have more material, particularly story-material, for inclusion. We shall be most grateful for any such help offered to us.
For an opportunity to work on these lessons in a quiet place, undisturbed by the many distractions of Penang, we are greatly indebted to Mr. Lim Sin Hock, who very graciously placed at our disposal, for several weeks, his commodious, comfortable and beautiful beach-villa at Tanjong Bungah. Our sincere thanks are also due to President Yeoh Cheang Aun, Honorary Secretary Fong Yet Mai and the Directors of the Penang Buddhist Association for having provided us with a plenteous supply of food and all other supplies necessary to our task. Mr. Ong Phoot Aun greatly facilitated our work by making available to us as many typewriters as we could use. We are grateful to Mr. Ong.
Mr. Tan Gin Chong enabled us to give our full attention to this work by assuming responsibility for supervising all the domestic arrangements at the villa. “Uncle Gin Chong”, as he is known to the members of the Youth Circle, is a true friend of the Buddhist youth and he has our heartfelt thanks for his kindly and keen interest in our welfare.
The advisers of the Youth Circle have earned our affectionate appreciation of their kindly attitudes towards our efforts. We are happy to thank Mr. Lim Say Eng, Mr. Khaw Cheng Joey, Mr. Lim Eng Joo, Madame Goh Quee Ee and Madame Ho Guat Joo. Likewise we extend our gratitude to the genial Mr. Lim Teong Aik, the honorary interpreter for P.B.A., for aid in rendering difficult Chinese terms into English and for his unfailing faith in us.
For the line drawing that are specially drawn for each lesson, we are grateful to Mr. Andrew Lim who gave us his talented services gladly and freely. The fine spirit shown by senior officers of numerous of the leading Buddhist organizations in Malaya, Thailand, Singapore, England, Hawaii and the United States has been most heartening to us and we are grateful to them for promising to accept the finished work in a charitable spirit. We offer our kindest thoughts to Mr. Tan Keng Lock of the Singapore Buddhist Union, Mr. Lim Tat Tean of Selangor Buddhist Association, the Buddhist Youth Circle of Malacca, Miss Pitt Chin Hui of Maha Bodhi School of Singapore, Miss Tan Siew Eng of the Phor Tay School in Penang, Dr. Ong Liang Seang of the Perak Buddhist Association, the Reverend Fun Yin of Everlasting Light, a Buddhist monthly magazine, Singapore, and Mr. Yap Kim Fatt, also of Singapore, who is well-known for his activity in promoting Buddhist youth movements.
Outside South-East Asia, we owe thanks for much encouragement to the Venerable Ernest K. S. Hunt of Honolulu and to the Reverend James E. Wagner of the same city. Many of the poems used in these lessons are from a book of devotions originally compiled by Dr. Hunt. The Reverend Jack Austin, Editor of Western Buddhist, of London, has warmed our hearts by expressing complete confidence in our ability to carry through with this task. We can only hope the finished product will not leave him with a let-down feeling. We are deeply appreciative of encouragement from almost all the Buddhist organizations in the United States, and notably the Friends of Buddhism Society of Washington, D.C., the Friends of Buddhism, New York City, and Golden Lotus magazine of Philadelphia. Our sincere gratitude to all these exemplary Buddhists. May their tribe increase!
We should be very remiss, indeed, if we failed to express our thanks to the many hundreds of parents of the youngsters in our P.B.A. Dharma school for the encouraging “egging on” they have given us to get at these lessons at all costs. “At all costs” has meant discontinuation of all lectures and sermons for three weeks, temporary recess of the Senior Dharma-class and a temporary complete abandonment of the usual daily activities of each of us engaged in this compilation of lessons.
We wish it to be clearly understood that we do not offer this course of study as being “the last word” in Buddhist thought. We totally disclaim any ideas of infallibility. If this result of our labours offends anyone, we ask that person the help us with constructive suggestions. Finding fault is so easy; giving constructive criticism is quite something else. It’s that “something else” we, the undersigned, are after.
MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY!
(The Venerable) SUMANGALO
Cheah Kim Swee
Tan Seng Huat
Tan Kheng Huat
Lee Keat Lye
Oh Seong Tit
Tan Song Kean
Lim Swee Leong
Chuah Beng Hock