For me, the best thing by far about the HBMLP program was the combination of theory and practice that was offered. I really loved the high quality classes and have been given lots of new perspectives on early and (Chinese) Mahayana Buddhism that I brought home to study further on. The meditation sessions were sometimes really challenging but proved to be very wortwhile. I can sit longer now, with less pain, and my dedication to practice has increased. And with all this my inner smile seemed to have grown a little too, I feel more at ease with myself and my surroundings. In my work in prison (where I work for 2 days a week as a Buddhist chaplain) I am able to share these fruits in the talking and meditation sessions I have with the inmates. For that I still feel truly grateful.

Bart van den Bosse, Spiritual Care Worker

Leiden, Netherlands, HBMLP 2015

The program was an incredibly special time I’ll always hold close to my heart. I very often find myself talking about specific experiences or the people I met or the things I saw. I remember how we lived in nature, perched on the side of a lush mountain, I remember also being able to focus completely on what I was doing there thanks to the structure of the program, the fact that we all wore the same uniforms, and the setting. I remember taking turns leading the buddhist chants before we ate fantastic vegetarian food that cemented my veganism, and making inspiring friends with whom I still keep in touch. It was a very unique combination of devoted leaders, monks and nuns who honestly and openly taught us about their faith, a beautiful setting, and academic support to our personal practice. Naturally of course it was at times challenging, for various reasons for different people. 


The program was particularly meaningful to me as a beautiful cultural sharing experience. I have a scene in my mind of trying to focus on walking meditation while older folks taking a stroll looked along both pleased and puzzled. The community was undoubtedly curious about what we were doing and community members and monastics alike always welcomed us with open arms. One of my favorite experiences is the night, toward the end of our time there, when the monastery was completely flooded with people of all ages joining us in carrying candles and reciting beautiful words to celebrate a local buddhist festivity. But my favorite memory is of the talent exchanges we had with the monastics. Our group sang and played the piano and the guitar, and the monastics sang and played traditional instruments. It was pure sharing and joy and I came home committed to learning to play the piano. 


Ultimately, Woodenfish cemented the importance of mindfulness and meditation in my life and has allowed me to be more present and lead a better balance in all aspects of my life. I am still working on the piano, but the role of mindfulness and meditation in my life has continued to grow since that special summer.

Lina Hidalgo, Joint Degree Candidate in Law and Public Policy, New York University School of Law/Harvard Kennedy School of Government

New York, United States, HBMLP 2013

If you like it, it’s a blessing. If you don’t, it’s cultivation.” The unforgettable words of Venerable Yifa will stay with me for life, evoking all the lessons learnt throughout the month we spent in China with the Woodenfish programme. Alongside the history of Buddhism and Hinduism, and aspects of Chinese culture such as Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and calligraphy, we learnt compassion, patience, generosity, and the beginnings of wisdom. Through the practice of meditation, we learnt how to quieten the noise of our minds, and appreciate the moment of each breath. As Kim Dembrosky explained, each breath is a moment that you have never experienced before, and that you will never experience again. 


To live mindfully in the present moment enables peace of mind. It allows each of us to take a step back from our thoughts, and consider our actions, enabling us to always act from a place of good intentions. The experience showed me, among many things, that whatever I am doing, I must do it to the best of my ability. I am a student now, so I must study diligently. When I graduate this May, I must apply myself wholeheartedly to any endeavour I choose to pursue. It is the combination of this diligence and compassion that I am most grateful for.


In conjunction with the educational and personal value, the month spent at Woodenfish facilitated the meeting of 45 people from all over the world, to share opinions, cultures, and experiences. We will never have the same experience with anyone else in the world, which is part of what makes our relationships so special. The Woodenfish experience in its totality is undeniably one of the most important experiences I have had, and will ever have. It showed me the extent to which the human mind can be focussed, how much can be achieved when the mind is tranquil, even when the body is  tired, and how important it is to reduce suffering in ourselves in order to reduce suffering in others. I recommend the Woodenfish with utmost sincerity, irrespective of what you are looking for. Through the Woodenfish programme, I found confidence in my willpower, focus in my efforts, and compassion in my thoughts. The experience of the Woodenfish programme is ineffable – why not try it for yourself?

Jessica Milton, Student

Canterbury, United Kingdom, HBMLP 2014

Living inside a temple in the mountain far away from cities, being motivated my other Woodenfish classmates, I reached to an ideal environment to practice the Buddhist theory I learned. Buddha’s knowledge can be well applied to help me overcome my personal weaknesses once I really practice and experience them. Learning from Buddhist monks and nuns’ behaviors at a close distance, I got to know how they practice their beliefs and wisdom in real life, not only in books. 

To live and study with other interesting people who have the same spiritual pursuit, diverse talents and peaceful mind, I was motivated by them to keep pursuing the deeper spiritual reality. To be helped by them, and especially Woodenfish staff who are previous Woodenfish alumni, I was moved by their kindness to contribute to others without anything in return. They do this way only as an appreciation to Woodenfish’s help before. This is a really positive cycle year by year in HBMLP.

I never made so many important friends with very deep connections as in Woodenfish. Because we share our deep thoughts and common spiritual pursuits in that peaceful environment again and again, we became such close friends. Even after this event, we still keep close communication on any life issues that arise. This is a great gift in my life with those friends’ supports. 

My primary learning is to learn myself. In a peaceful environment with helpful friends, I have experienced a lot of very positive changes in my personality, interactions with others. By the influence of environment, I can grow myself significantly. This is an important confidence I learned from woodenfish.

Before I focused too much to improve myself by only my own will at the same environment without giving up. However, it is really hard and ineffective. Instead, communicating with people in the same pursuit and being in a helpful and peaceful environment in temples with monks, I transferred myself successfully and easily. I also saw my woodenish friends are changing similarly. Thus, I believe more people can overcome their own weaknesses in the woodenfish enviroument in a natural and happy way.

Mingliang Qin, Graduate Student at Columbia University

New York, NY, BIC & HBMLP 2015

The best way to learn about a religion is to live it. That is the opportunity that Woodenfish makes available to so many students every summer. I participated in Woodenfish the summer before beginning my Masters of Divinity at Union Theological Seminary. As a Christian considering religious vocations, I think it is essential to encounter, experience, and value other faiths.


Woodenfish is not necessarily an interfaith experience, but it is an immersion experience. As a Christian living in the west, where my religious culture is the dominant one, I found it necessary to get out of my own western framework to truly experience Buddhism in China. The practices that we adopted in the course of the program-- from meditation to how we ate, walked, and slept-- helped me to reorient and see the world through a different religious perspective. In addition, the program offers academic lectures on Buddhism that help inform daily practice.


I left the Woodenfish program with a deeper appreciation of Buddhism, and a strong desire to return to China. The hospitality of our Buddhist hosts was unparalleled. My emotions during the program ranged from frustrated to elated-- and that is what makes Woodenfish great. Woodenfish is an authentic experience of Buddhism without the western wrapping paper. It is a jump off the deep end, a challenge, a gift.

Heidi Thorsen, Stanford '12, Graduate Student at Union Theological Seminary '17

New York, NY, HBMLP 2014

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