Forest Sangha Newsletter October 1991

Working with Love; Three reflections
The Life of a Forest Monk; Luang Por Jun
Visiting the City of 10,000 Buddhas; Ven Vipassi
Amaravati's Child; Sandy Chubb
UK Buddhist Education: a Dhammic Perspective
Samatha Meditation; Aj Brahmavamso
California Dreaming; Ven Amaro


UK Buddhist Education: a Dhammic Perspective

A report on a weekend conference held at Sharpham House, Devon, 6-9 June 1991.

In the last decade of the twentieth century, the role of education in unlocking our true potential as human beings is coming in for ever-closer scrutiny. Shorn of its moral dimension in the West by the triumph of a secular society, education has increasingly stressed technical virtuosity at the expense of nurturing the whole being. 'We are producing human beings with minds as sharp as razors and about as broad,' lamented the last Archbishop of Canterbury, and the results of that imbalance are only too plain to see in the ecological degradation of our planet and the violence and intolerance apparent in human societies.

In the traditional Buddhist countries of Asia, especially those societies where the Theravadin form flourishes, the symbiotic relationship between Sangha and laity, monastery and school, has long lain at the heart of Buddhist practice. Although that relationship has been attenuated by the spread of Western influence, the underlying importance of values and ethics is still acknowledged - and where more appropriate to start in fostering those values but in the home and the classroom, the twin nurturers of childhood potential?

The Sangha of Western monks and nuns in the UK is now over a decade old, and we are beginning to explore new ways to develop its relationship with the wider lay community. The great success of the Family Dhamma Camps at Amaravati over the past six years has underlined one of the practical ways in which the creative energies of Sangha, parents and children, can work together in harmony for the welfare of others. The inspiration of that example has led, over the past two years, to the establishment of a Working Group of teachers and lay supporters of the Sangha, whose purpose is to explore ways in which a Dhamma School for 9 to 16 year-olds could be founded. The ligaments of what such a school might entail have already been fashioned through the drafting of a trust deed for charitable registration and consideration of both curricula requirements and the means whereby parents, teachers and Sangha can make contributions.

School is where we are taken out of life to learn about life. What we learn is usually associated with where we learnt it

Given these developments, the opportunity to meet for a long weekend at Sharpham House in Devon to discuss the wider issues raised by the Dhamma School initiative was very welcome. The conference brought together twelve individuals who have been intimately involved in the related issues of education and Buddhist practice - either as members of the ordained monastic community, or as participants in the Dhamma School Working Group, or as scholars, teachers and writers. Discussions were based around six presentations which were given more as informal reflections than as written papers. Stephen Batchelor (Sharpham Community) spoke about the Buddhist philosophy of education as manifested in the great classical universities of Buddhist India - Nalanda and Vikramashila - and the relevance of their curricula for the instruction of present-day children. Colette Bradley (Education Otherwise) and Lynette Gribble (Chair of the Management Council of Park School, Dartington) talked from their personal experience: Colette discussed the way in which parents have developed skilful means in terms of home-based education for their off-spring, while Lynette gave some trenchant reflections on the practical problems inherent in the establishment of a new school.

Barbara Jackson (Amaravati) and Guy Claxton (Schumacher College) brought the discussion back to matters of principle. Barbara asked us to consider the relationship between morality and education, while Guy looked at the nature of the learning process and the sort of qualities of resourcefulness, resilience, and reflectiveness (the new 'Three Rs') which he would hope to see manifest in any Dhamma-based education. Hazel Waddup (Head, Hangleton Primary School, Hove) then talked about her own attempts to introduce an awareness of ecology and wholeness of being in her own state-funded school.

Much of the value of the meeting lay in the informal discussions which took place around the presentations. These discussions ranged over highly practical considerations of the most appropriate way to select teachers and the nature of the relationship between the Sangha and the school, as well as rather more philosophical concerns - such as whether the concept of anatta (non-self) was suitable as a subject for investigation for children who were in the process of coming to an understanding of themselves as separate individuals. The conference was also lucky to be able to hear Michael Young (Lord Young of Dartington) speak about his interest in educational initiatives - particularly in present-day South Africa - which can bring the benefits of education to those who have never experienced school or who, for various reasons, cannot travel to school and have to study at home.

It is intended that a synopsis of the conference proceedings will be published by the Buddhist Publishing Group at Sharpham, and a more detailed record is available from Peter Carey, Trinity College, Oxford OX1 3BH.

the relentless search for truth
Those participating in the conference are very grateful to Maurice Ash and the Sharpham Trustees for their generosity in making the facilities of Sharpham House available, and to Jan Hartell, the local conference organiser, and Heather Campbell, who took minutes of the entire proceedings, for their invaluable and cheerful assistance. It was a memorable weekend.

from notes compiled by Peter Carey

Colette Bradley:
It is an odd notion that school is where we are taken out of life to learn about life. What we learn is usually associated with where we learnt it: we do not always recognise that our skills are portable.

Stephen Batchelor:
Traditionally, Buddhists have seen education as encompassing whatever skills are needed to function in the world of one's time. Likewise, in China and Japan, monasteries became not only places for the study of the Dhamma but of many of the classical arts, brush painting, geomancy, calligraphy and gardening. Buddhism has adapted its own learning environment to whatever skills are within our world; to educate ourselves and our children in ways that enable us to function within society while at the same time remaining true to our Buddhist principles. To find a balance between these two needs is the challenge of the Buddhist educator.

Barbara Jackson:
A Buddhist School is a school run on Buddhist principles, not an elitist or exclusive school for Buddhists.... It is our personal responsibility to incorporate Buddhist standards into our lives, recognising what we will and will not tolerate; where we stand on the questions of violence, sexism and racism; questioning how we impose decision-making on our children: whether we can allow them to be free; whether we expect or deserve to be respected.