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  • Including Vipassana in the school curriculum will help to produce better persons

Jun 18, 2017-

This is what a Tibetan guru has said about modern education, “The development of compassion is what is missing from schools today. Perhaps teachers are not compassionate, or maybe students are not compassionate either. But it is clear—something is wrong. I feel that we are not learning properly because we are not open to each other.” 

Developing minds

We all know that there are some shortfalls in our education system. Education means preparing children to look outward rather than inward. In other words, it encourages them to migrate to the developed countries rather than to work in their country. Individuals are taught to look outside superficially instead of inside for the development of human values. There is global interest in teaching to earn high scores in examinations rather than observing what happens inside a human mind. 

Development experts like Kamala Bhasin have said that as long as development is defined only in terms of economic gain, there cannot be balanced development. She emphasises socio-cultural sensitisation for equal participation of all sectors of society and looking inside society and cultural values. A fine example can be drawn from the fact that the least developed countries are aiming to move up to become developed countries within a certain timeframe, which is definitely guided by economic indicators rather than the development of human values. 

This is reflected in schools, in every family and also in each country. For example, statistics show that younger students are dropping out of school and educational institutions to earn money. Moreover, they are going abroad for better paying jobs, which definitely has placed socio-cultural values and harmony at risk and resulted in more disintegrated and individualised societies and communities. The Dalai Lama said, “Wealth creates a kind of cocoon around people which often brings loneliness.” This leads to depression or even suicidal tendencies in human beings. This is proven by the higher suicide rate among rich and famous people in the world.

Stephen R Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has emphasised that individuals have to first develop their minds individually before they lead others. He stresses that one should ‘begin with the end of mind’ as ‘private victory’ before reaching ‘public victory’. This may be the reason why Bhutan  introduced the Happiness Index. In 2010, the then Bhutanese prime minister Jigme Thinley addressed school principals and identified some focus areas to support the country’s primary goal to reform the education system by introducing mindfulness training and green schools.

Likewise, Finland has decided not to participate in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test but devote itself to developing humanistic nature in children. A public elementary school in Toronto, Canada experimented with the curriculum, focusing on the whole child—body, mind and spirit—under the title of Wisdom Based Education. Daylesford Dhamma School in Australia is integrating reasoning, meditation and creativity work throughout the playgroup and elementary school curriculum. They even require teachers to take a 10-day meditation course every year. 

Humanistic values

Researchers at the Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds in Wisconsin, US are exploring some guiding questions on teaching children kindness and emotional health through the Kindness Curriculum. Academic research and action research are taking place globally to improve the education system to develop humanistic values. Raja Radhi in her dissertation on Vipassana Meditation has argued very strongly about the importance of mind training for adolescents to balance their emotional intelligence. Vipassana, or insight meditation, has proved its positive contribution to the development of children and positive behaviour among adults. 

My own recent participation in a Vipassana course has inspired me to write this article as food for thought for future generations. Although the principal message is based on Buddhism, this course goes beyond any particular religion and emphasises the cultivation of human values through Shila, Samadhi and Prajna. According to the late Satya Narayan Goenka, a great teacher of Vipassana, they are not the ‘monopoly’ of Siddhartha Gautam but the tradition of all the Buddhas who have come in the past and will come in the future. These three things are embedded in all religions, so these are not from any Sampradaya (cult).

While these three things are crucial elements, education needs to develop three levels of Prajna—Shruta maya pragya, Chinta maya pragya and Bhavana maya pragya. These days Shruta maya pragya and Chinta maya pragya are over emphasised while Bhavana maya pragya is ignored. Bhavana maya pragya is what is called ‘experiential learning’. Vipassana leads us through Bhavana maya pragya. 

Just by looking at our natural breathing, it teaches us to experience different emotions, such as liking, disliking, anger, love and hatred. The daily discourse during the 10-day Vipassana course guides us to take these emotions under our own control and master delusions, aversions and afflictions. At the end of the course, it teaches us to cultivate loving kindness for all sentient beings through Metta Bhavana.

At the end of the 10-day course, I found some answers to the questions: What should education for the 21st century be like? Should we also include meditation to look inside one’s self and to understand the fact that every human being loves to be treated equal, and be respected for who they are? I feel that the Vipassana course will contribute tremendously to shaping our future generations to be responsive, respectful and reflective, not only with regard to human beings, but all sentient beings in the world.

- Tuladhar worked for Unicef Nepal as an education specialist

Published: 18-06-2017 08:46

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