From Thailand: Leadership training from a global monk

This is the 3rd of this week's blogs from the California School Leaders in Thailand.  They are participating in an international post-graduate leadership program in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Phra Saneh Dhammavaro is as far away from what we imagine what a global leader would be.  He is modestly clothed with an orange robe, and has very little or no use for anything else except for a pair of footwear.  After spending a few hours with him, however, we were floored as our preconceived notions were instantly shattered.  He speaks with the gentlest of voices as he shared his thoughts and described his way of life.  What he was really doing was speaking to our hearts as leaders.

We listened to Phra make comparisons between our western way of life and his practices, beliefs and ideals.  He shared with us the importance of establishing balance between mind and body.  As visitors, we took care of the body's needs satisfying the senses with Thailand's sights, food and massage.  Phra challenged us that the mind equally needs the same attention.  From this message we were reminded that sometimes leaders must remove and place themselves above tangible material things and non-tangible items such as politics and competing ideas that clutter decision-making and focus on what is right.

He talked about world events and offered a simple solution to everyday crisis and social ills that are readily applicable to our day-to-day lives as school administrators and most importantly our personal lives. Following the way of the Buddha, he suggests, "Instead of finding fault in others, look to your own misdeeds."  He implored us to look within our own selves and strive to find UNDERSTANDING as a way to avoid conflicts.  While this idea is not new, it is often forgotten in the context of our everyday lives and our work at schools.  Towards the end of our time together, he asked us to meditate with him.  We closed our eyes and listened to him describe a happy place free of hate, violence and pain.  He then filled the void full of love, peace and comfort- an ideal environment we strive to achieve as educators.  In closing our eyes, our consciousness opened we were reacquainted to the reasons why we entered this profession.

In search of a place for training on global leadership, one might look towards a metropolitan city such as London, Tokyo, or New York.  Perhaps Chiang Mai should be included in this list.  Thailand's 2nd largest city of is dotted with Thai wats or temples reminding its citizens of Buddhism's ancient and lasting legacies.  Its people especially the Thai monks, at first glance, are seemingly unaware of things taking place around them and probably have nothing to offer to us.  All of our notions were immediately dispelled after meeting Phra Saneh Dhammavaro, Director of Academic Affairs at Buddhist University in Chiang Mai. It seems as if he has known us for while, where we came from and the weight of the baggage we carry.  The way he framed and made sense of our work in the context of our world demonstrated not only his knowledge but also his understanding.  And in doing so, he moved some of us to tears as we realize how much further we need to go not only as leaders, but most importantly as human beings.

Daniel Gumarang, School Improvement Facilitator, Los Angeles Unified
School District and
Craig Knotts, Assistant Principal, Celerity Nascent Charter School
Participating in the Thailand for School Leaders Program

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