Buddhist approach to education

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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.

The Buddhist education system emphasizes reverence for the mentor/teacher. Conventionally, having evolved in a monastic setting, the chief monk would be regarded by students as an enlightened soul whose guidance is sought after at each stage of learning. It would also serve the interests of students in America if they make it the norm to pay more respect to their teachers. The most prominent of contemporary Buddhist teachers, His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has been an active promoter of the infusion of eastern spiritual methods into western institutions. Far from being absorbed into methods of Buddhist education, the Dalai Lama

“calls for reason, common sense, and an open mind. These qualities are badly needed in our world where fundamentalists and fanatics are hijacking religions and showing hostility toward modern science. The Dalai emphasizes to the millions of fellow Buddhists worldwide the need to take science seriously and to accept its fundamental discoveries within their worldviews. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama also invites scientists to have an open mind and not to blindly reject insights derived from ancient traditions just because we do not understand their inner workings.” (Sorkhabi, 2006, p.21)

Hence, in conclusion, an American school curriculum with key features of Buddhist educational philosophy included, is not only possible, but much wanted in our day and age. As aforementioned points clearly suggest, western educators have strong incentives for importing salient aspects of the Buddhist system within the curriculum and the classroom. They can encourage students to exhibit qualities such as non-violence, compassion, reverence (for the teacher), introspection (through meditation), etc, which are integral aspects of Buddhist culture and custom. (Sullivan, 2010, p.185)


Chia, J. M. (2009). Teaching Dharma, Grooming Sangha: The Buddhist College of Singapore. SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 24(1), 122+.

Haskett, C. P. (2005). The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Education of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk. 192+.

Shin, R. (2010, May). Why Does the Buddha Laugh? Exploring Ethnic Visual Culture. Art Education, 63, 33+.

Sorkhabi, R. (2006, March). The Dalai Lama Converges Buddhist Thought and Modern Science. World and I, 21,.

Sullivan, B. M., Wiist, B., & Wayment, H. (2010, June). The Buddhist Health Study: Meditation on Love and Compassion as Features of Religious Practice. Cross Currents, 60, 185+.

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