In a very simple sense, Buddhist teachings show us how to acknowledge the existence of suffering, understand that our desires cause this, manage these desires and eventually seek freedom from the suffering by following The Noble Eightfold Path, or The Middle Way. Many schools in Asia, and across the globe that have adopted Buddhist philosophy, structure their curriculum and extracurricular activities around these principles in order to mindfully guide their students on their path through education. To see how this may look in practice, read until the end.
The full story
Buddha was born as a son of a wealthy king some 2,500 years ago in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal. After 29 years of living in luxury, he left the palace for the first time. Outside he saw ordinary people and immense suffering. He decided to live a simple life, spending most of the time amongst holy men or meditating. His goal was to solve the mystery of suffering.
The four noble truths
Over the years Buddha came to the realization that we suffer because we desire things to be more than what they are. He spoke of 4 Noble Truths:
1. There is suffering
2. Suffering is caused by our desires
3. We can manage our desires by changing our perspective instead of trying to change our circumstances
4. We can free ourselves from suffering by following The Noble Eightfold Path, also known as The Middle Way
The middle way
The Middle Way teaches us to consume in moderation, cultivate self-discipline and strengthen our mind through meditation and mindfulness. So we become aware of our thoughts and actions and realize that nothing is permanent. We can then understand that everyone is exposed to suffering and as a result become more compassionate. With enough practice we can let go of all negative desires and free ourselves from suffering altogether. We reach full liberation of the mind.
Buddhist schools around the world
Buddhist schools in Thailand, India and around the world bring introspection into the lessons and activities of their national curriculum. Since Buddha believed that wisdom is rather a habit, and not an intellectual state of mind, learning by doing is key. But students also practice concentration and learn life skills like farming and skillful communication. To build intrinsic motivation, children get individual feedback instead of reward and punishment.
Students learn to understand and manage their emotions. An angry girl identifies the causes, warning signs and transient nature of her feelings. She might realize that we are not being punished for our anger, but by our anger. A boy that aced a math test reflects on his success. He understands that hard work pays off, but also realizes that he should not be too proud, because it separates us from others and creates loneliness. He learns to be modest.
Daily rituals help the students to practice mindfulness. In the morning, students meditate in front of a shrine, chant Buddhist virtues and send out feelings of goodwill to all living beings. Sometimes students visit the community to experience the pleasure of giving and to see that some are suffering . They understand that nothing is permanent, not even life itself.
The goal of a Buddhist Education is to spark our curiosity for lifelong learning through reflection. So that once we grow up, we understand the consequences of skillful speech, we learn to enjoy the simple things in life and we find inspiration and wisdom in our own thoughts. Just as Buddha said “conquer anger with non-anger. Conquer badness with goodness, meanness with generosity and dishonesty with truth.”
“Buddhism explained amazingly! Your videos are a good motivation for everyone and that too managed in such a short time! Bravo!”– Mansi Dubey
- Panyaden International School – get inspired
- Life in the mindful classroom – a study published in the Journal of Social Issues
- Democratic School Education – another alternative summarised by Sprouts
- Montessori School Education – Sprouts
Most mindfulness practices can be adapted to shorter activities that are easy to follow and fun to do. Why not try The five senses exercise, where you ask your students about the physical and mental space they are in at that moment:
- What are the five things they can see?
- Four things they can touch?
- Three things they can hear?
- Two things they can smell?
- One thing they can taste?
This is a great exercise for reconnecting with the present when one feels overwhelmed with emotion. It calms our rampaging thoughts by making them focus on completing a specific, clearly defined task and that allows us to reconnect with what is around us as opposed to what is happening inside our heads.
If your students find it fun, why not have a mindfulness month, where your class does short exercises every day? Let the students choose their exercise, and perhaps let those who are already engaging with the practice lead an exercise of their own. For exercise ideas, check out this compilation of Mindfulness exercises for kids in the classroom.
And most importantly: don’t forget to take part too!