Buddhism Online

Concept and Direction in Buddhist Education for the Young Generation
Author – Thích Tuệ Sỹ Viên Minh translated to English

The Vietnamese Buddhism is witnessing a myriad of disturbing changes and unexpected altercations that have never been seen before in history. From organizational structure, to sangha’s ritual activities, to death and wedding ceremonies, etc…

The Vietnamese Buddhism is witnessing a myriad of disturbing changes and unexpected altercations that have never been seen before in history. From organizational structure, to sangha’s ritual activities, to death and wedding ceremonies, etc… the movement nowadays is to endeavor hastily western features   and values, consequently surrendering beautiful traditions of old. Additionally, the influence of a social consumerism and the constraining political dominance give rise to numerous social ailments due to the lack of foundational morality among people of worldly supremacy and religious authority. This sickening condition in society no doubt affects the formal education of the young generation nationwide as well as in Buddhism, in a very negative way.

When we talk about today’s youth of Vietnam, we invariably have to visualize two straight lines that coincide and meet at the specific point in the world of consumeralism. Although these two groups of young Vietnamese people – one in Vietnam, the other abroad – are both subjected to a schooling model equivalently patterned after the western world, but because of their socio-economic difference based on political power preference instead of a naturally developed tendency, they are quite dissimilar. This distinction is so phony that it is like someone submerged in a muddy pond without knowing where to hang on for escape. The young generation of Vietnam seems to be uprooted, and has potential of loosing its foundation and its direction if really deracinated. The young Vietnamese Buddhists are of no exception; they’re faced with difficulty in overcoming this trend.

I want to stress one point – when I spoke of loosing direction, I mainly concentrate on the national and ethnic standpoint. The young Vietnamese’s who live abroad only need to momentarily forget their originality, or rather just set aside this distinction, can definitely find their personal direction the moment they set foot into higher education – at colleges and universities. In another word, the young generation of Vietnamese who live elsewhere outside of Vietnam is not quite uprooted, just acclimatized to it. For example if one to grow the tangerines that are native of the south, in the northern region - who knows what luck one gets; the fruits might be sweeter and edible, or more sour and sickly looking because they aren’t in their natural habitat. The young people in Vietnam are like tangible trees that still attached firmly on their country roots. But they are eager to change, to move, to fly away because of external attraction and influence, so more than likely they are easily snapped and lost footing. The majority of the young’s know very little about our history, about our ancestral founding fathers, how they love, what they think, what they do to assert valuable equality in spiritual essence with the world.

The young Buddhists on the other hand, still try hard – or so we think - to connect to their roots of traditions throughout their years of growing up, but because of the lack of responsibility and negligent leadership from their superiors, they are subjected to unintentional misdirection; just like a physician, for lack of knowledge to correct treatment, would prescribe sleeping pills to just temporarily pacify his patients… They – the superiors - incidentally cause the young individuals to set aside their provisional pain and bitterness which in fact should be guiding them in choosing their direction in life. Outside of this calamity, there is also the power of politics and the necessity required of the young’s to serve their country in avant-garde collaboration for protection of the regime. Because of it, no formal religious instruction is possible and permitted for the young people anywhere outside of the temples’ main gates. Meanwhile, even insides the temples, the learning process is also limited with the teaching of impermanence and non-self as not survival means, nor as natural and social development or destruction; but as a grayish panorama of life because their despondent and aging superiors, forlorn and tired from victories and defeats, have lost all sense of purpose in life.

In a society where most of the spiritual values are being squashed and destroyed, some of the young people find themselves opportune on the governmental powers or corruption moneys of their families to perversely behave and follow in the same footsteps of their elders in most large cities; others bury themselves in books to earn their rudimental education so that they can be turned into loyal slaves to the already filthy rich bosses; the rest might just accept their fate, their poverty, their illiteracy and consent with resignation to the disgrace of the whole backward and poor country. In this situation, any organized groups of young people who thirst for a direction and ideals in life- such as the Young Buddhist Association – tend to be flagged as social challenge, and considered as potential threat or menace to the regime. If such administrative regime cannot control these groups in favor of its own dark and sinuous ambition, it might as well be inclined to misuse them to benefit from “selling one’s country for seeking one’s honors.” So could it be just a dreaming fantasy when we try to gather up our own young people for the purpose of teaching them the Dharma and nothing else? Because, what we have done, nonetheless, would be like rounding up the fawns into one place for ferocious tigers to easily manipulate their grips.

Of course in order to continuously develop, a nation needs its youth. Buddhism also needs the young people to carry on its accountability in helping all sentient beings. According to this task at hand, the Buddhist education geared toward the youth doesn’t mean bringing them insides the temple walls in order to segregate them from bars and nightclubs, and all the rest of temptations and debauches. But the basic principle of a Buddhist education is to teach a way to morality and a method to enhance one’s own spirituality.

Applied Morality

First of all we will discuss the need to train one’s morality. There is no pushing and cramming in the moral codes, no prohibition or banning any actions such as ‘you got to do this…’, ‘you can’t do that’, etc… The young people tend to do whatever the social trend and peer pressure of the moment suggests. The challenge here is to guide them and help them avoid the harmful elements of the era, and not mistaken on errand directions and wrong movements. Therefore, there is a need to establish a safe mobile environment for them to belong. What could be a safer and better environment than their established bodhi mind? And its mobility is the “non-attached, un-pillared” characteristic of a Bodhisattava. We will discuss more on these two issues shortly.

In this day and age, some individuals grow up in a peaceful nation, get acquainted with luxurious and prosperous life of large cities and metropolitans; they are free to acquire a good social education and eventually settle in stable lifestyle. The majority of them does not experience or never face indigence and disadvantage as those in their age groups in less developed areas. When they have no chance to cope with destitute or confront hardship, it would be hard for them to recognize the substance of life; they would not comprehend the true meaning of the ability and the need to survive. So bringing Buddhism to the young’s also means introducing them to the reality of survival. And that is the true sense of Bodhi mind: “wherever there is danger, I vow to be there as a bridge; wherever there is darkness, I vow to come as a torch.” It might be just a far-fetched promise, even rather impractical to some. But it sure is the diamond ground on which young people can settle their foundation and assert their direction as concrete values for their individual life.

As far as the mobility aspect of this, it got to be wide open and not bound and restricted inside narrow spatial societies, so that young people can expand their gaze far into the distant horizon, further out then their prejudice and traditional self-contained world they live in. They need to be taught to always stay prepared and ready to take off and move on. Turn up anywhere in this universe, maybe to the inner world of real sufferings, or to places where true happiness can be tested. Mobility also equates adventure. When modern societies construct so many large cities out of necessity, modern life might be more stable, but the adventurous attribute of all young people is also stamped out. When they are older, the need to venture out to seek new pleasure and replace their daily monotone is inevitable.

The so-called characteristic of ‘non-pillared’ or ‘non-attached’ of a bodhisattva has some difference. It is neither anchored down on birth and death cycle (samsara), nor affixed in nirvana. It is a feature of liberal-mind, and of not being tied down on any tradition or value. Young people truly need to have access to this liberal-mind and generosity. They should have the ability to evaluate the significance of world civilization, and choose for themselves the appropriate direction and path within the harmonious development of all the civilizations, despite their difference in religion, belief, tradition, perspective, opinion, and even in the manner in which they carry their daily lives.

Develop Spirituality Recognition

Now we reach the second item of our discussion: how to develop and enhance the ability to recognize and maintain spirituality. Here we talk about the learning experience through traditional dharma teaching and research. The holy Three Baskets (Tripitakas) of Buddhist doctrine are an cosmically vast treasure of knowledge, based on the basic teachings of the Buddha about the value of life, the nature of suffering and happiness, upon which numerous laws and regulations were devised, mostly pertaining to nature and ecology, but also to social, psychological, mental, linguistic aspects, spanning through many epochs and geographical spaces with diverse historical and traditional backgrounds.

Of course we all know that throughout the entire history of all world civilizations, still presently existing or already eradicated, there is not a single original doctrine that was not somewhat over-turned or altered by later generations. Some doctrines were formed, then overcome, and extinct for good. Others were over-turned but survived the altercation and revived. But none can maintain their original aspects without modifications; some were severely changed to the point that if compared to their origins, they would look rather like monstrosity. Only the Buddha teachings, which based on the law of impermanence – everything changes - so the matter is now stands on the suitability to the truth and to the individual level of understanding, and not on the subject of overturn or extinction.

Young people, following in the Buddhist traditions and learning the Dharma, should not become just researchers and readers of the Buddha’s teachings. They ought to practice and live these teachings themselves in order to be able to use their acute and skillful thinking process to evaluate and directly assess the nature of life. Dharma learning should not in anyway interfere with world studying, and Buddhist wisdom should never infringe and conflict with worldly knowledge. The only difference is learning the Dharma begins from the true nature of human sufferings from which genuine happiness can be derived. Compassion and wisdom are the two features – like a pair of wings – that are able to carry the young individuals through limitless spatial freedom of life.

                                                                Viên Minh (The Buddhist Translation Group)

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