Venerable Prof. Geshe Ngawang Samten Director/Rector, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies Sarnath, India
The Buddha has addressed all of the challenges that humanity faces. So long as samsara exists, and so long as beings suffer, Buddhism is relevant and quite useful for elevating them from suffering. Buddhist education is not for immediate purposes – for providing jobs or other things like that; Buddhist education emancipates beings from suffering. Therefore, first of all, I think it is extremely important to understand that Buddhist education now being provided around the world, in many of these institutions, just like any other modern discipline – they do not have the characteristics of being Buddhistic in nature. Buddhist education is quite different from what is being provided in the modern education.
The modern world is facing many problems, fundamentally, due to the development of its education system. The modern education is totally extroverted, and the people who are trained through this process of education cannot introvert themselves – cannot understand their life. They cannot understand themselves or the world around them – becoming a mere biological machine.
So I would like to quote one statement from His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, which has become quite popular and sometimes printed on t-shirts and in many articles – about the paradoxes that modern society faces: “We have bigger houses but smaller families, more conveniences but less time; we have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgment; more experts but more problems; more medicines but less healthiness; we have been all the way to the moon and back but we have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor; we build more computers to hold more information than ever but we have less communication; we have become long on quantity but short on quality; these are the times for fast foods but low digestion; tall men but short character; steep profit but shallow relationships…”
I think these paradoxes that we face at the moment are at the global stage or global level. Such paradoxes are primarily, as I had said earlier, because of the existing education systems that we all have. Therefore, I really want to urge all of our Buddhist universities, scholars, teachers and students to not be infected by the disease of modern educational systems. Our Buddhist education should not be infected, rather the Buddhist educational system should give directions to the modern education system.
In Buddhism, education, as I have said earlier, is not for an immediate purpose, but for the total emancipation from suffering. Therefore, the very motivation behind the entire education system and the people who come to give education and who come to receive education should have the motivation of bringing peace into a person and bringing transformation into a person rather than obtaining some information – just as modern education is completely based on the transformation of data rather than the realization and transformation of the person. Buddhist education is primarily based on the transformation of the person. In Buddhism, we have the three [trainings], in the real sense – this is education. How can these transformations be brought about? The Buddha has rightly pointed out, and he has given during his lifetime, the [three trainings]. This is why we have the Tipitaka – the three vessels, the three containers of these three [trainings].
First of all, the person should have moral ethics, proper understanding of moral ethics. They should abide by the moral ethics; and thereafter, they can have meditational processes. Meditation processes do not necessarily mean the person has to go to a remote forest-cave for meditation, but mediation can be done at any time, can be done by lay people, can be done by students while they are attending their classes. So therefore, Buddhist education is all about transformation; and through meditation, one can realize the reality of external and internal phenomena-worlds – and through that, one can understand reality and further develop and cultivate wisdom. Therefore, the core element of Buddhist education is transformation, and as the Buddhist education should not be confined to the written walls of Buddhist institutions and Buddhist society. It should have a better interaction with other disciplines. In the past, in ancient Nalanda and other great Buddhist monastic universities – the great scholars interacted with the leading, prevalent, different disciplines in India. Similarly, now we should have interactions with different, other disciplines: science, western philosophy, social sciences, and many other things – so that we can have these similar interactions.
Buddhism does not need to fear from science, Buddhism does not need to fear from postmodernism. Whatever is based on rational ground is acceptable for Buddhism, and can have interaction. So, therefore, as His Holiness, the Dalai Lama has been having interactions constantly for the last twenty years with the scientists, and the scientists accept that Buddhism has given science a new direction for the world of science.
Finally, Buddhism can provide lots of proper direction to various sciences: ecology, economics, and as we have been discussing, to governance, to bring real peace to society. Real peace is possible only through transforming individuals within the society; and this transformation can be brought out through proper education and training of the students – and for that, in Buddhism we have different criteria for teachers and for students. Students should also ponder upon these subtle issues, so that Buddhist education can become a unique in itself, which can provide directions to the other disciplines around the world.