Buddhist approach to education

There appears to be some fundamental differences between Western and Buddhist approaches to education.  The Western philosophy of education, as is prevalent today, is more systematic and scientifically grounded in terms of its objectives and outcomes.  But the Buddhist view of education is a lot more open-ended and fluid.  Also, while there are fundamental tenets upon which Buddhist education system rests, they only serve as an aid to the student in discovering truths for himself.  In other words, while the Western educational model has at its core the principle of ascertaining truth through rational inquiry and systematic experimentation, the Buddhist model espouses the principle that introspection through meditation will lead to the ultimate truth. (Haskett, 2005, p.192)  Moreover, it is integral to Buddhist culture to put the ‘collective’ good ahead of ‘individual’ excellence.  Notwithstanding these basic differences, one could still incorporate certain norms, customs and cultural aspects of Buddhist education into American schools. This essay will show that not only is this exercise feasible but also rewarding for the educators and students involved.

A key feature of the Buddhist education system is its spiritual dimension.  In fact, the seeking of spiritual truth is a cornerstone of Buddhist culture.  The Buddhist system attempts to prepare students to transcend the scientific realm and into the spiritual realm.  School administrators in America might find it challenging to encourage students on spiritual quest alongside the emphasis on scientific inquiry.  Moreover, in the spiritual realm, objectives tend to be vague and instructions difficult to comprehend.  But a simple means by which the esoteric sounding spiritual quest can be incorporated in the American classroom is by breaking it down into common social principles such as co-operation and compassion.  In other words, school curricula in the United States could give grade points for students for their social skills and their willingness to help fellow students.  The Buddhist system sees education as a component of a student’s social life, as opposed to being distinct to it.  (Tat Chia, 2009, p.122)  In this scenario, ‘education as competition’ would be replaced by ‘education through sharing of knowledge and experience’.  A similar point is made even by some Western scholars like Daniel Goleman, who underscore the importance of Emotional Quotient (EQ) alongside the development of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) for overall healthy personality development.

The spate of campus shootouts in recent years in America clearly indicates some fundamental flaws in the schooling system.  By embracing the Buddhist principle of ‘non-violence’ and inculcating it in students will mitigate the occurrence of such shoot-outs.  Non-violence aligns closely with virtues of co-operation and compassion. (Shin, 2010, p.33)  American schools can include biographical sketches of world leaders renowned for the message of non-violence.  These would include Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.  A study of their life examples is an effective method for instilling the value of non-violence in American students.

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