Buddhadharma and Modern Education

by Venerable Shi Fazhao

The Buddha’s teaching has to be applied in our daily life. Be it eating, dressing, standing, walking, educating or making merry, one needs the Buddhadharma, and even more so for the governing of the nation and the whole world. As said, “the Buddhadharma is all phenomena”, the point is whether or not you know how to apply it.

Sun Yat Sen said, “Buddhism saves the world and the Buddhist education is the mother of philosophy. To study Buddhism corrects the bias of Science. Einstein said, “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description.

Shakyamuni Buddha taught for 49 years and spent his life educating the masses with the objective of teaching sentient beings to ‘stop evil and practice virtue’ and to break through confusion to enlightenment. He worked to transform the ordinary to the saint and to change our land of filth into a pure land. It was His wish that all sentient beings leave afflictions and transmute pain into joy and create a peaceful and happy global village.

Buddha’s whole life of education was perfect. The dharma doors are vast and innumerable, all meant as antidotes for the different afflictions of sentient beings. He used different methods to teach and transform different individuals, whether they were saints or sinners, intelligent or ignorant, rich or poor. For those who received the Buddha’s teachings, there was none who did not gain realisations and attain liberation.

Buddhadharma – the Heart of Education

Buddhist education is the education of the heart; it is the education of the next generation to become Buddhist with right views, able to contribute to society. Thus, we must first understand the principles of Buddhism. Besides imparting knowledge, it transforms hearts. All our suffering comes from discursive thoughts, seeking, and the unsettled mind.

Buddhism is meant for realizing one’s true mind, to cease all seeking and to return to the clear, peaceful self-nature. The next step is to realise that all sentient beings are inter-dependent and inter-related. This helps us to be more compassionate and unbiased and to transform afflictions into purity and peace. All these can be achieved through learning the Dharma and practicing meditation.

Samadhi Enhances the Power of Observation

Different individuals learn different skills and in one’s professional life, one could possess sharp observation powers but in the other arenas of life, one may not have the same sharp wisdom. Through practicing meditation and attaining concentration, no matter studying, working or doing any other action, one is able to maintain attention and concentration.

A still heart sees every detail and understands the whole picture. It is thus able to make the best decision and come to the best solution. In order to teach and transform sentient beings, one must observe their dispositions; have clear wisdom and sharp observation skills to pick the most suitable method for them.

Character Is the Foundation of Morals

People are different from beasts because of the emphasis on character building and morals. There are many ways to enhance one’s morals. Character building is the foundation of a person’s morals. If one does not take one’s integrity seriously, how are we different from beasts? Buddha’s moral education included verbal teaching and teaching by example; depending on students’ learning ability. Using different teaching methods, He inspired all.

There are many ways to develop our moral character, such as keeping precepts. From keeping precepts, we could develop our character; we can also practice other Dharma methods such as reciting the Buddha’s name or meditate. The Buddha taught love, compassion, joy and letting go but the most powerful is still ‘patience’.

Not Having the Slightest Resentment

According to the Sutra on the Bodhisattva’s vows, when the Buddha was practicing in the past, he was scolded by 500 scolding-experts. No matter where the Buddha went, they would follow Him and ridicule Him. The Buddha did not have the slightest resentment but was always observing with compassion. The practice of patience finally won Him peerless enlightenment. This shows that patience can help develop one’s character and is an important practice for enlightenment.

Today’s youths are hot-headed and will turn violent at the slightest provocation. Even after learning the Dharma, they are like Su Dongpo who was ‘blown across the river by a fart.’ Su Dongpo was an avid student of Buddhist teachings, and often discussed them with his good friend, the Zen master Foyin. The two lived across the river from one another: Su Dongpo’s residence on the north side and Foyin’s Gold Mountain Temple on the south side. One day, Su Dongpo felt inspired and wrote the following poem:

I bow my head to the heaven within heaven
Hairline rays illuminating the universe
The eight winds cannot move me
Sitting still upon the purple golden lotus

Impressed by himself, Su Dongpo dispatched a servant to hand-carry this poem to Foyin. He felt certain that his friend would be just impressed. When Foyin read the poem, he immediately saw that it was both a tribute to the Buddha and a declaration of spiritual refinement. The ‘eight winds’ in the poem referred to praise, ridicule, honour, disgrace, gain, loss, pleasure and misery – interpersonal forces of the material world that drove and influenced the hearts of men. Su Dongpo was saying that he had attained a higher level of spirituality, where these forces no longer affected him. Smiling, the Zen master wrote ‘fart’ on the manuscript and had it returned to Su Dongpo. Su Dongpo had been expecting compliments and a seal of approval, so he was shocked when he saw what the Zen master had written. He hit the roof: “How dare he insult me like this? Why that lousy old monk! He’s got a lot of explaining to do!” Full of indignation, Su Dongpo ordered a boat to ferry him to the other shore as quickly as possible. Once there, he jumped off and charged into the temple. He wanted to find Foyin and demand an apology. He found Foyin’s door closed. On the door was a piece of paper, with the following two lines:

The eight winds cannot move me
One fart blows me across the river

The Ability to be Patient with Insults is the Mark of a Practitioner

The Buddha said, “A practitioner who is unable to be patient with insults, who is unable to treat vicious attacks as ambrosia is not a practitioner.”

Patience is patience in both positive and adverse situations. When others are unkind to us, it is easy to notice and return to mindfulness; whereas in good circumstances, to maintain stillness of the heart is not as simple. For example, seeing delicious food, attractive men and women… these are all good situations but to let the heart remain still without any greed is not easy. Buddhist sutras have stated that it is difficult to bear with attractive forms and desires. But to be able to bear with it with mindfulness will give one a sense of coolness and liberation.

Self-fulfillment comes from Benefiting Self and Benefiting Others

Modern people nowadays talk about achievement in terms of instant success. But that does not mean that we have to be attached to success in everything we do. Just like the sun and the moon that shine without asking anything in return, a sense of achievement is not about self benefit. Broadly speaking, self-fulfillment comes from benefiting others besides benefiting self.

Wisdom is not cleverness. Cleverness comes from learning and experience while wisdom flows from within. Real wisdom is to understand cause and effect, emptiness and Buddha-nature. To understand these principles is wisdom, even if one is illiterate. Intelligence quotient does not measure wisdom. It is but the worldly standard of measuring intelligence.

Experience is Wealth

There are enviable people who lead a smooth life and there are those whose lives are full of difficulties which they are able to surmount and that is really admirable. Experience is wealth. There is no permanence in all phenomena and we have to treat all failure and injustice with a still heart and everything will be fine.

The Buddhadharma is the panacea for all difficulties and suffering. Thus, practicing the Dharma is most important. Happiness and suffering are experiences and the result of positive and negative actions. We have to try our best to let go of evil and cultivate virtue. The function of the Buddhadharma is to help the world, to dissolve suffering, to purity our body and mind, purify the society; to increase our love and compassion and to enhance our wisdom. Only Buddhism can help us to cross from the sea of suffering to the shore of safety; from the dark nights to the light.

Gaining Liberation from Suffering

Although birth, old age, sickness and death are inescapable phenomena, facing them and in the process using our lives to do something worthwhile is quite rare. Most people only pursue wealth, fame and love to satisfy their desires; to seek security, thus having conflicts with others and going against the wishes of heaven, all of which results in unspeakable suffering.

Very few people realize how short life is. Life is so vulnerable and the environment is full of risks. If we could use compassion and wisdom to educate ourselves and care for all sentient beings and to face the reality of birth, old age, sickness and death, and to deal with natural and man-made disasters, we would be able to gain liberation from suffering.

The Importance of Purifying the Heart

Buddhist education places emphasis on purifying the heart and changing people’s attitude about pursuing material gratification. In everyday life, we have to have the Buddha in our heart and follow the Buddha in our actions.

The principles of Buddhism emphasize on having a quiet and unruffled heart amidst fluctuations of life and not to chase blindly after fame, glory and other selfish aims. When we receive so much benefit (from the Dharma), besides having gratitude, we should motivate ourselves to delve more deeply into the Dharma; to support the Dharma and to be like the Buddha Himself who was tireless in teaching sentient beings.

Everyone is Equal

The whole society is like a big machine. Every screw has a function and a role to play. Every individual in the society is the same. Each one has an important role to play; the only difference is whether one is playing front or backstage. If everyone in society plays his part to the best of his ability, the society will be a happy and peaceful place.

When any part of a machine is defective, the machine will be faulty and may even be unable to work. Similarly, when any member of the society ‘malfunctions’, our lives will be very difficult. We all hope that the society will attain truth, virtue and beauty and be strong and prosperous. We have to put in effort to take care of it and to educate every single sentient being.

Harmony Amongst all Religions

Now is the time for all religions to work towards selfless love, acceptance, contentment, discipline and a noble character, every religion has an important role to play and thus we have to recognize and strengthen mutual understanding. Every religion in the world should make a contribution towards the welfare of mankind. I believe that Buddhism which has flourished for 2500 years will play a major role in the modern society. This is because the fundamental Buddhist principle of interdependence amongst all phenomena is very close to the basic concept of modern Science. Not only is the content of Buddhism inspirational, it emphasizes on peace and harmony of the heart and this is the true spirit of the happiness of contentment.

I hope to use my limited strength to spread the spirit of the Buddha’s love and compassion. May the Buddha’s power bless you and may you purify all stains of self-cherishing to care for others more than yourself.


Great article and meaningful.

Hi, @jeremewong … The essence of Buddhadharma in simple form. It helps to give people a more significant understanding towards this profound subject. Cheers… I certainly gain a better knowledge through reading it. :blush::slight_smile:

sharing this article that talks about the deficiencies of our education system as we move into the future:

Highlighting some portions:

Many pedagogical experts argue that schools should switch to teaching “the four Cs” – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. More broadly, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasise general-purpose life skills. Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, to learn new things and to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations. In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products – you will above all need to reinvent yourself again and again.

To survive and flourish in such a world, you will need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance. You will have to repeatedly let go of some of what you know best, and feel at home with the unknown. Unfortunately, teaching kids to embrace the unknown and to keep their mental balance is far more difficult than teaching them an equation in physics or the causes of the first world war. You cannot learn resilience by reading a book or listening to a lecture.

This article made me think back on the teachings of Buddha and how they are so ahead of its time and how it is still so relevant today.

Learning the ability to see the truth and to cultivate mental strength is so much more important than learning some other secular skill or knowledge - I am getting more sure of this direction as I progress in my Buddhist studies.

Venerable Ru Jun talks about how a Buddhist education can overcome the limitation of modern education:
(from the 0:44 min mark)


My learning from this portion:

  • if our observation tool is flawed, everything we observe will be flawed and the decisions that come from it can be questionable.
    e.g. a rose tinted glasses will give everything else a tint that is inaccurate
  • modern education is about inspecting and making decisions based on external parameters. This is not ideal as the person making the decision has many wrong assumptions and misconceptions
  • Buddhist education is about inspecting our own “observation tool” first, checking if it is flawed and correcting it. This will improve our ability to make the right decisions!