Education That Works

Have you ever wondered why there are so many young novice monks in Laos, especially in Luang Prabang? Our Buddhist faith in Laos is not as strict as the Myanmar, where it’s their tradition that every Myanmar Buddhist boy average age between 7 and 13 is expected to enter the monastery as a novice for a period of a few weeks to months, it’s considered to be the most important day in the boy’s life.

But in Laos, we don’t have a tradition like that, but yet we see many young novice monks at the local temples. Back in the olden days, temples were the schools, especially if you’re poor, as there was no formal education system. This makes sense because the Buddha is a teacher, and monks provide basic lesson in both spiritual and secular subjects, and for some, this might be the only way to get an education, not just in the olden days, but also in today society.

During my visit to Laos and Thailand, after we got stranded at Suvarnabhumi Airport, we went back to Vientiane Laos to catch our flight back home, and we stayed at a hotel that’s not too far from Wat Mixay. I didn’t get to take a picture of the entrance, and this is a borrowed photo from here.

wat-mixay

My dad and I passed the temple gate, and saw school children playing in the temple ground and thought that the school must be nearby. We visited the temple and that’s when I realized that the school is at the temple, kind of surprised me at first because I didn’t expect to see this at all. The children are very happy.

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The Greatest Secrete In The World

If everyone had to pay a large amount of money to learn Lord Buddha’s Pathway to happiness, t is very likely that very many persons would pay ever so gladly, in order to learn how to overcome ignorance and sorrow, and find the right road to Wisdom, Peace and Happiness. But there is no charge at all for teaching this plan for thoughtful living and as a result, many foolish individuals think it of little value just because it is free. Thus, it is that the Lord Buddha’s Dharma remains a “secret” insofar as most people are concerned. Such individuals are their own enemies, because they are “trusting to luck” for happiness and peace of mind and heart.

Quite often, we see booklets on Buddhism printed for free distribution. Very many of these booklets are never read, just because they are free. Yet these little pamphlets and booklets contain the Master Plan of Life and if the teachings outlined in them were carefully studied and followed, the readers would reap enormous benefits. In this age in which we live, we so often hear people say, “What am I going to get out of this?” Usually they refer to material benefits, such as money, position, health and so on. The answer to give to a person who wants to know what he can get from following Lord Buddha’s teachings is, “You will have better health in both your mind and body, as a result of sensible living. You will even be more successful in business because of better thinking. You will gain peace of mind and calmness of heart, what more could any sane person wish?”

Remember that this “greatest secret in the world” remains a “secret” only because so many people are too thoughtless to gain for themselves “the treasure that is greater than all other treasures.” They rob themselves. Those that read are making the greatest of all studies: How to live well and happily.

  • This is based on Buddhist Sunday School Lessons, by the Venerable Sumangalo

The Eightfold Path

The way to find happiness is like a road or pathway. In fact, it is called “the Noble Eightfold Path.” Everyone knows a road or pathway is meant to be used for traveling on. A path that cannot be used is of no value to us. Lord Buddha’s Noble Path is for our use every day of our lives. It is called the “Eightfold Path” because we must always remember eight things as we walk on this road of life.

Everyone who is trying to follow Lord Buddha’s teaching ought to know these eight points by heart. They are not hard to memorize and if we begin young, we find that traveling on Lord Buddha’s Noble Path is ever so much easier than it will be if we wait until we are old. The Eight points are:

  1. Right Understanding
  2. Right Aims
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Actions
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Meditation

Once a long time ago, there was a caravan route over a large desert. By day the sands were so hot that they were burning charcoal. There was no water to drink and there were sharp stones and thorns to hurt the feet of those who strayed off the right path. Wise travelers carried with them plenty of water and food and always employed a very experienced guide who knew the right path and could lead the caravans safely through all the many dangers of the desert.

But a certain foolish traveler decided to cross the dangerous desert without a guide. Soon he strayed off the right path. The sharp stones cut his feet, the thorns scratched his body and him and his camels soon drank up all their water. Just when they were almost dead from thirst, heat, and injury, they were rescued by wise travelers who had followed a good guide.

The desert is this world; the dangers are the troubles and sorrows that come to all of us. The good guide is the Lord Buddha, and the safe road across the desert is the Noble Eightfold Path.

  • This is based on a book called Buddhist Sunday School Lessons by The Venerable Sumangalo.

Buddhism a Religion of Freedom and Reason

The main purpose of religion is not to ensure escape from punishment or gain a reward but to help one become perfect and to end physical and mental suffering and be free from unsatisfactoriness.

The Buddha also wanted to cultivate humanity according to certain moral and ethical codes, discipline, and character. This is to be achieved without resorting to temptations provided by promises of heaven or to fear by threats of hell fire. That is why this religion is described as a religion of freedom and reason. The Buddha encouraged us to learn with an open-mind to investigate and to understand the world. We must accept nothing at once on mere faith. The Buddha says, “Do not accept anything through mere faith because it will make it difficult for you to understand the truth, because that faith can make you a blind follower.

This kind of blind faith can lead to religious fanaticism. People react emotionally to their religious authorities rather than deciding rationally whether something is true or false because they have not developed analytical knowledge in their minds to understand why they should uphold certain moral practices and why they should keep away from certain immoral practices.

For instance, when a boy cannot understand things properly, a father or mother threatens him. If he is very mischievous, they can even beat him and warn him not to make mistakes. Because of that fear, the child may stop doing mischievous deeds but he is not helped to realize why it is wrong and where the mistake is. That only creates fear of punishment. Again, when they ask a child to do something and if he refused then the parents will bribe him with the promise of a reward. The child may do it, but again without understanding why. It will be easy for him to revert to the wrong way of thinking or action without understanding. Similarly, we should not introduce religion through reward and punishment, without allowing people to have proper understanding.

If we try to introduce religion through punishment and rewards, people will not understand the real validity and main purpose of religion. That is why in Buddhism there is no threat of religious punishment. The duty of a religion is to guide, educate, and enlighten people.

Punishment is the duty of the law of the land. Religion should not undertake the role of the law to punish people. Otherwise, there will be fear but not understanding. This is the nature of the Buddha’s teaching and why we regard him as a free thinker.

  • This is based on “Buddhism For The Future, “by Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda.

Buddhism and the Free Thinkers

Many so-called free thinkers are actually not “free” thinkers, but they are lazy to think. Just because they do not want to think seriously and ponder about the meaning of their existence they say they are free thinkers. There is no room for these kinds of thinkers in Buddhism. Buddhism encourages people to think freely but deeply and without bias.

The Buddha is a teacher, and has given full freedom for (wo)man to think freely without depending on the concept of a god, a Buddha or any teacher to understand the truth. That is freedom. According to some western thinkers Buddhism is known as “the religion of freedom and reason.” Freedom however must be guided by reason. Otherwise, people can abuse that freedom. For instance, if a government gives full freedom for people to live or to do anything according to their free will I am sure that within twenty four hours, they can ruin the whole country. This is the danger of giving freedom without first developing reason in the minds of people. We must follow the same principle in practicing religion.

Although some people say that the freewill exists for (wo)man to exert, we know that without proper training and guidance the use of that free will can lead to disastrous consequences. A child may have free will, but it has to be taught not to play with a live electric wire.

The Buddha emphasizes that free will is not a gift from any external source. It is intrinsic to us. Human behavior, human character, humanistic minds are characteristics which are developed over many life times. Whether we are cultured or uncultured, civilized or uncivilized, religious or irreligious, good or bad, wicked or kind, depends on our mental habits which we developed life after life in the past. These characteristics are not given by anybody.

Religion becomes important to guide and direct (wo)man’s way of thinking by giving proper guidelines. The purpose of religion is to help a human being train his/her mind so that s/he develops understanding and acts in a morally responsible way. S/he does good because s/he “knows” that is the right thing to do, not because s/he wants to avoid punishment or receive rewards. Religion is an aid to individual development.

Why should we not depend on anybody? If we are going to stop our evil, wicked, selfish thinking fearing that there is somebody to punish us, we will never give a chance for our mind to cultivate understanding, kindness, compassion. People also sometimes do good deeds or provide some service to others in expectation of a big reward. If this is the motivation, they will not develop sympathy, understanding according to the true meaning of these words. They become selfish avoiding evil deeds to escape punishment or do good to get rewards. This is selfishness. The Buddha did not advocate this. If heaven and hell were both closed down, how many people would remain religious? Buddhism however encourages moral behavior without reference to heaven or hell. This is the uniqueness in the Buddha’s teaching.

  • This is based on “Buddhism For The Future, “by Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda.