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Opportunities and Challenges for Buddhist Education

2009年04月01日 09:29:00 佛教在线 点击:0

Bhante Chao Chu

Preisident of Los Angeles Buddhist Union

We share a concern that Buddhist education faces many challenges as it incorporates the social attitudes of the international community to which it now belongs. Among other things, it must learn to incorporate the technologies of the 21st century to maximize the impact of the teachings while bringing them to as many ears as possible. In reflection on the past it is clear that the Buddha himself used all techniques available to him in spreading the Dharma of his day. This is reflected by his use of analogies, repetition, gestures, and even on occasion employing the tool of ‘silence’ to convey his message. He mastered the skill of teaching in due course, ‘speaking at the level of understanding of his audience.’ The limitations of a confined geographic area for his ministry were overcome by the power of his message and by the sangha who would transmit the teachings across the whole of Asia in the ensuing centuries.

We all agree that the monastic and Dharma teachers communicate the message of the Buddha to the world. This message, or Dharma transmission, is always influenced by the school and tradition of the training, of the individual monastic. We must ask how much these influences color or even dilute the original teachings. The training of a Dharma Teacher will always reflect the culture, and the system of study under which he/she was ordained. In the past, this has not been a matter of concern, but we now must ask, ‘how long will the monastic trainee remain with the confines of his ordaining culture?  Will his training equip him or her to be effective in other cultures or countries? Can a restructuring of monastic training help the trainee deal with the reality of modern values and access to communication technologies in developed countries?

For example, the ethnic, cultural, and sectarian practices that work well in one’s own cultural community will not necessarily be effective elsewhere.  As in America the cultural overtones of the teachings from some areas may not be meaningful. This is further complicated by the problem in developed countries, of several different Buddhist traditions within one locality. The would-be Buddhist student often feels that he is hearing conflicting messages, leading to the incorrect belief that there are many Buddhist religions. It is not as before when the teachings could be reviewed and caressed as the scholars worked tirelessly to make them consistent. Today any new interpretation or analysis can be communicated to thousands or tens of thousands within the hour. While this phenomenon is an unbelievable asset, there are new concerns never envisioned historically.

Our purpose here is to identify some of these issues and seek possible strategies and solutions to resolve them. It should be emphasized that the consistent training methods and content that we seek will not subtract from traditional teacher training. It is intended to add a dimension that will expand the interest and understanding of Buddhism worldwide. All too often a monk or nun is totally unprepared to communicate in any environment other than their original community. This is not an insurmountable problem and it should be addressed without delay.

Background

We realize that many prospective teachers have college educations today. Many do not. This unequal footing causes a disparity that will be reflected in their methods and message to all students. All should have a foundation of basic general education at college level.  Frequently they will travel and interact with people of other societies, in keeping with the Buddha’s advice to “go forth for the benefit of many, for the comfort and happiness of many.” Thus Dharma teachers must be prepared to participate meaningfully in the global change occurring minute by minute wherever they are assigned. As an example, in the U.S., most young people have no background in Buddhism unless they are aware of the teachings from Asian-born parents. Dharma teachers must have the background to speak with them at their own level and to help them understand how the Dharma applies to their society and lifestyle.

Many ethnic Buddhist training programs for Dharma teachers and curriculums are highly reflective of their specific culture and society. This creates and ever widening gap between modern social structure and traditional culture. They may not be meaningful to a teenager in the U.S., or Europe.

The differences are easily understandable, but might it not be a matter of interest if world Buddhist leaders were to establish a guideline for monastic training? A uniform agenda of education would not interfere with cultural or traditional aspects but would serve as a framework of training in common areas of Buddhism. It could combine the elements of basic Buddhist teachings in a way that is effective and with a degree of consistency. This consistency is the goal of our approach.

Again, it is important to understand that this recommended system of training would serve as a guide only, not a mandate or an attempt to impose conditions that may conflict with existing practices or standards.

In many situations there is a clear need for improved training. In some candidacies there are instances where little or no training at all is employed. Untrained sangha cannot be expected to propagate the Dharma or have a positive influence on the community.

They are frequently detrimental to the image of Buddhism. Their inability to effectively communicate the message may even have an undesirable effect on their students as they struggle to resolve conflicting information. Their education and preparation may well be the result of good intentions but often they do not have the tools needed to provide effective training. Our recommendation herein would provide a template for monks and nuns who have the responsibility for training others with recommended reading, Internet resources, and personal guidance when required.

Historically, monastic training was determined by the culture, the locale, and the background of the supervising monastic. This is rapidly being replaced by a global community with instant communication and technology that can share information with instantaneous ease. This progress could not be imagined even a few years ago, but it makes possible the sharing of information that can revolutionize education of Dharma teachers. Are we taking advantage of these resources in an organized and cooperative way?

A system of study can be designed and administered by a committee of qualified sangha and made available through the Web and other resources. This would insure all future monastic would commence their journey on an equal footing. The benefit to future Buddhists would be immeasurable.

Buddhist leaders and leading Buddhist organizations should confer and agree upon a standardized form of training for all Dharma teachers. It will include various forms of practice but in the context of a basic, uniform set of principles that will apply globally. They would also develop a standardized form of screening applicants based upon criteria that can apply universally. This goal is not impossible. It is achievable and will provide a standardized foundation for the development of consistency in Buddhist education.

Issues that should be considered in the development of a uniform program would possibly contain the following training issues to be considered:

● Classroom instruction focused on general education with a minimum number of hours to insure a good overall knowledge of academic studies.

● Standardized textbooks and study materials wherever possible, in appropriate language. Sangha must agree to put aside old arguments about which practice is correct or best. Basic teachings are not so different in various traditions.

● Research Projects: Teaching future Dharma teachers to learn techniques of information gathering, paper preparation, presentation skills etc. Writing, especially, should be encouraged.

● Examination: Oral and written reviews to determine the level of understanding attained by the trainees to monitor the progress they are making.

● Meditation: The worldwide interest in meditation requires that all teachers be well grounded in various meditation techniques, their use and their understanding. As with all mind-related subjects there is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding. Future teachers should be prepared to lead this practice in the right direction.

● Language: In addition to the local language, if the future teacher knows he will leave his community he should begin his language study early. As with commerce and business, English is a useful tool and is becoming a universal second language. Most Asian countries encourage the study of English and it should be considered as a desirable second language to learn. For monks and nuns coming to the U.S., their inability to read, speak and write English will confine them to their ethnic community. They may be ineffective even in that environment without proper training as many students within that ethnic community may be second or third generation, with fully developed language skills.

● Diverse teaching: whenever possible teachers from differing backgrounds should be invited to teach future monks and nuns. This exposure will broaden their view and equip them for missions and teaching in varied locales.

We understand that there are situations where resources are scarce for the implementation of all the recommended training. We should consider that the Internet can be a valuable tool in achieving a desired standardized training program. Other Buddhist organizations have initiated such programs already, with varying degrees of success.

In the discussion and development of this program, it would be useful to establish a web site to function as a center for communication; a forum for questions and answers and other contributions by a committee appointed by the Buddhist leaders and organizations. This instant source of guidance can help insure that certain level of uniformity can be realized.

What we have described is a new approach to training for monastic and other Dharma teachers. We have seen the erratic methods that have led to inaccuracies and misunderstandings when unprepared teachers attempt to propagate the Dharma.

There is common ground for all Buddhists and by identifying that ground and then developing a training routine Buddhism can help to insure its growth for future generations. What we need is a cooperative spirit open minds to sit down and address this fundamental need.

Lay Education

Further consideration should be given to development of Buddhist education and teacher training for lay practitioners. The decline, world-wide of interest in monasticism points to an increasing number of lay teachers who will be helping to carry the burden of Buddhist education. This is occurring in Buddhist Centers presently and they should be encouraged to participate in any program such as we are suggesting here. To ignore the development of this phenomenon, is to risk a tarnishing of true Buddhist teachings with occultism and other esoteric practices. The only way monitor their propagation of the true Buddha Dharma is through inclusion and urging parallel programs.

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