Young Voices: Breaking expectations

Young Voices is a special project by Buddhistdoor Global bringing together insightful essays written by high school students in the United States who have taken courses based on experiential learning rooted in Buddhist teaching. Inspired and running in parallel with BDG Beginner’s mind project for college students, Young Voices provides a platform for these high school students to share essays expressing their impressions and perspectives on their exposure to Buddhadharma and its relationship to their hopes, aspirations and expectations.

Lesley Tan wrote this essay for his “Listening to Buddhists in Our Backyard” class at Phillips Andover, a high school in Massachusetts.

Let go of expectations

Looking at the beautiful dining halls and dormitories I saw on the Phillips Academy website, I had imagined that my life here was going to be perfect. Nonetheless, I hadn’t quite anticipated the pressures that clouded my original designs. After four years at this boarding school, I often feel that every student is competing to be the smartest, most accomplished, outgoing, and attractive person on campus, driven in large part by their ambition to get accepted into the best colleges in the world. . This competitive culture shapes social hierarchies, and cliques form based on proximity to Andover’s “ideal” student, who is both extremely intelligent and sociable in the eyes of others. During my first two years, I felt unworthy of the friendship of my peers. I didn’t feel smart, sociable, or attractive enough, so I was afraid of being rejected. In response, I learned to make “meaningful connections” rather than true friendships, to “just get things done” instead of engaging in meaningful, impactful work. I felt crushed under constant pressure to conform to this image of the “ideal” Andover student without investigating the values ​​I truly aspire to embody.

During the tumultuous period of the publication of university admissions decisions, I had the privilege of visiting Buddhist temples with a group of five of my classmates, as well as Andrew Housiaux, director of the Institute Tang, and Chenxing Han, author of Be the refuge. Instead of taking five classes for the spring term, as is often the case for most other seniors, we opted for an experiential learning program that replaced our usual course load. Every day for eight days we visited Cambodian, Chinese, Thai, Tibetan and Vietnamese temples across the Merrimack Valley. We spoke with monks, lay people and scholars to learn more about Buddhism through conversations and direct experience.

At the Vietnamese Tinh Vien Quan Am pagoda, a nun told us: “No one has do anything.” She went on to explain that she never imposes Buddhist teachings on anyone, nor does she try to force others to visit the temple. There was nods and “MMSagreed around me as we sat on patterned red carpets. At the end of our visit, the nun went to the altar which contained a Buddha statue, glass lotus flowers and neatly stacked gold trays with oranges. She gave us each an orange, explaining that it is a Buddhist tradition for visitors to take the fruit each time they leave the temple. I was struck by his generosity, offered without the expectation that we would reciprocate or change ourselves unless we were ready to commit to such a transformation. I thought about what it means to give others and myself the space to be and to become without too much outside pressure.

In other temples I visited, I also encountered enormous generosity and felt free to accept myself as I am. At the Chùa Tường Vân Lowell Vietnamese temple, the abbot, Venerable Thích Tâm Hy, and the organizer of the youth group, Dr. Tham Tran, graciously welcomed us. Fri. Hy chanted Buddhist scriptures and Tham translated lines of wisdom written on pieces of paper we took from a small golden container. They offered us tea, flan and goji berries while sharing their personal stories. I received their generosity by simply being a person on this planet. I didn’t need to prove myself through grades or accolades to experience such kindness and acceptance from others.

Immersed in these temples and teachings, I questioned my own values. Andover inspired me to value personal achievement and social status above all else. However, the monks and lay people I met and exchanged had common values ​​that are often talked about but rarely embodied in the competitive environment among my peers: genuine kindness and community. From offering wisdom to offering oranges, I felt immensely inspired to reconsider my outlook on life as an individualistic pursuit, and instead refocused on creating meaningful connections and contributing. to my communities.

Instead of comparing myself to my peers at the schools I had accepted, I started thinking about my intentions for college, which ultimately helped me decide which school to go to, especially after thinking about the words of the nun: “No one has do anything.”

Instead of feeling pressured to choose a school that others consider to be more prestigious, I instead thought about which school would be best for me. College then moved away from an aspect of identity that shapes how others might view my intelligence and social status, to being part of a future in which I can realize my new values ​​of community and of kindness.

In the end, I chose a school with a lower ranking, but which corresponded better. I have the wisdom gained from visiting Buddhist temples to thank for guiding me away from how I want others to perceive me and toward determining what I really want to live for the next four years of my life. life.


Han, Chenxing. 2021. Be the Refuge: Raising the Voice of Asian American Buddhists. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

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