The Buddhist Way of Education

The Lord Buddha is the Greatest Teacher of Gods and Men alike. During the Buddha's journeys into India and many other parts of the world, he has systematically designed his teachings to the intellectual aspirations and spirtual understandings of individuals whom he had come into contack with and to adapt it to their varied cultural backgrounds. This article, which is originally written by a Japanese scholar of Buddhism, Prof Sui Ye Hong Yuan, examines how the Buddha was able to educate and lead thousands of his students from varied family backgrounds with vast intellectual differences to achieve from mundane happiness to successive spiritual progress culminating towards the ultimate goal of supramundane experience, and his emphasis on cultivating mindfulness meditation.

The Blessed One's approach to education can be broadly classified into 2 ways, the ekayano magga and the anupubbi katha. From the scriptures, the suttas and the vinaya pitakas, the Buddha often talks about the beginner and the advanced level of spiritual attainment. He introduced different levels of teachings and approaches to suit individuals of different intellect and wisdom and to lead them towards the ultimate summit of knowledge and liberation.

The ekayano magga path refers to the direct meditative practice, which consists of the meditational teachings of the Buddha and of taking practical steps to practice and adopt them through experiences to achieve spiritual levels of attainments.

The anupubbi magga refers to the gradual path approach, as the individual progress gradually from his perspective of religious understanding, background and belief. Depending on the individual intellectual level and at different level of spiritual attainment, different concepts are introduced to meet that level of understandings and spiritual developments.

The education system of present society is similar to that of the anupubbi katha path. For example, the teaching of mathematical concepts. At the primary school level, students are taught simple arithmetic. Students at the upper and post-secondary school level are introduced to more advanced concepts sucg as modern mathematics or further mathematics concept depending on their intellectual level and aspirations and their ability to grasp these concepts. As one advances the academic ladder right up to university, mire sophisticated and abstract ideologies are being introduced. Again, depending on their inclination, students are channelled to different streams or to one that they are best suited to excel.

The ekayano magga path, however, is little known or emphasized in today's educational context. In the olden days, much of the learning was based on memory, little children of three to four years old were able to memorise and regurgitate volumes after volumes of great philosophical ideas which they knew very little of but yet had to subscribe to. With experiences and the passing of time did they come to realise the significance of what they had learned in those younger days.

Let us now examine from the sutta's perspective, how the Buddha teaches the ekayano magga path. Ekayano magga means the one sole way, which refers to contemplation on the four foundations of mindfulness. In the long discourses, the Mahasatipatthana Sutta states : " There is the one sole way, monks, for the purification of beings, for overcoming sorrow, lamentation, grief and despair, for reaching the right path, for attaining enlightenment, namely the four foundations of mindfulness."

These are common verses found in various buddhist scriptures. Besides emphasizing on the four foundations of mindfulness as the one sole way to enlightenment, the Buddha also gave teachings on developing the four right efforts, the six recollections and the noble eightfold path, as objects of practice and contemplation. He taught his students to practice morality, develop their minds by concentration and insight meditation, right up to the summit of the spiritual path.

In the scriptures, however, the ekayano magga way of expressing the truth is not used. One can only assume that the goal and method of practice are similar to that of the anupubbi katha.

One begins on the path of an ordinary undeveloped spiritual practitioner to that of an advanced meditator. He progresses to become one with the lineage of enlightened beings, the stream winner, the once-returner, the non returner and the perfected one. These realisations are the fruits of their practice and are also similar, and so is their experience of insight. The silent Buddhas and the Fully Enlightened Buddhas also seek enlightenment through similar method.

Then, how do the enlightened ones realise the truth from the same practice? One can assume that they had all realised the truth by comtemplating on subjectssuch as the four noble truths, the nature of the five aggregates and so sorth and the development of the five faculties (confidence, energy, mindfulness, concentration, wisdom) etc. He contemplates on subjects like the establishment of the four foundations of mindfulness up to the development of the seven factors of enlightenment(mindfulness, investigation of states, energy, joy, bliss,concentration,equanimity), the noble eightfold path, mindfulness of breathing etc. The scriptures mentioned other subjects of contemplation too but primarily practise is to realise the four noble truths and the nature of the five aggregates, that every nature is subjected to the same phenomena - rise and fall.

The scriptures mentions a way in which the Buddha teach Yasa, a lay follower the gradual path (anupubbi katha),by first explaining to him the benefits of performing acts of charity, of keeping morality and the fruits of being born in heaven.

Subsequently, the Buddha expound to him the faults underlying in being attached to sensual pleasure and the benefits of early detachments. When the layman Yasawas ready for higher spiritual understandings, the Buddha would then teach him the fundamentals of buddhism, the four noble truths. In essence then, we see that there are no differences in practice. Whether one chooses to contemplate on the four noble truths, the four foundations of mindfulness, the five aggregates, the philosophy and experience are similar and thus constitutes the right path of Buddhism. The difference, however, lies in the practitioner's own character and intellectual capacity. From this point onwards, the Buddha would introduce the teachings to the layman Yasa in successive stages.

The teachings was initially meant for people who did not have knowledge of the laws of cause and effect. The Buddha would emphasize to them the need to be generous towards the poor and the religious monks. He also taught people to be discipline and to observe the five precepts: namely to avoid acts of killing living beings, stealing and lying and adultery. With the accumilation of past merits and the observance of the moral precepts, one would be reborn in the heavens after death.

When the Buddha knows that Yasa had a purified mind, freed from mental hindrances, joyful, happy and full of faith, he imparts to him the knowledge of all Buddhas most sublime teachings, the four noble truths. Like a piece of white cloth being thoroughly cleased of impurities and dirts, it is able to absorb varied colours. Similarly, when asa's mind is pure, he is able to receive the various teachings from the Buddha. When he realises that whatever all phenomena has a nature of rise and fall, his mind is freed from defilements, attaing the purified eys of wisdom.

On the other hand, if one does not practise generousity and break the moral precepts, he will be reborn in the lower realms of existence. Thus the laws of cause and effect dictates that doing good deeds result in good returns and evil actions read evil rewards. The first stage is to eliminate wrong views of not believing in the laws of cause and effect, and the second stage is when the mind becomes receptive to the essence of the teachings, the higher philosophy will be taught.

Besides, human lifestyles evolves around many enjoyments which results in the danger of being attached to such sensual pleasures. The essense of freedom is to be devoid of such attachment. Thus, if one still clings to and is unable to detach one's mind of sensual pleasures, one is not ready or receptive to the advanced level of Buddhism. Rather than teaching that person detachment, it is better for him to realise that for himself and come to term with it.

For those who are able to accept the teachings and understand the philosophy of dependent origination, they will certainly realise the wisdom of Buddhas and their eyes of wisdom will be eliminated. Regarding Buddha's global philosophy and life's philosophy, this is the initial stage of realisation. At the later and more advanced stages, it means seeing the deeper aspects of the path.

People who has just realised the eyes of wisdom and attained to realisation would naturally teach the truth from his own experience, transforming theory into direct experience. Initially, when the Buddha attained enlightenment, he taught the four noble truths to his first disciples, the five monks, thus enlightening them on the right path and practice. Subsequently, he taught them to realise the true nature of the five aggregates, the impermanent, unsatisfactory and empty nature of the bodily and mental phenomenon.

The supramundance path requires the meditator to contemplate with a clear comprehening mind and to reflect on the nature of the aggregates. From this point onwards, he realises insight. Emptiness is realised through comtemplation and listening to the discourse on the four noble truths. This way of developing faith and wisdom can be found in the scriptures. From contemplating on the four foundations of mindfulness, reflecting on the repulsiveness of the body, recollection on death, the four immerasurable thoughts, the four formless absorptions and mindfulness of breathing, one progressively develops the seven factors of enlightenment. From contemplating on the breath, one enters into developing the four foundations of mindfuless, then to developing the factors of enlightenment. In that order, he successively realises the highest knowledge and liberation. From this process he purifies himself through virtue.

Pali Buddhism, the Theravada Buddhist tradition has seven stages of emancipathion of practise. The Mahayana tradition advocates the three causes of Noblehood, cultivating the three good roots, seeing, practising and leading to stages of Noblehood. Such complicated spiritual practises emphasizes on the fifty-two stages of cultivating the bodhisatta path. This can be a said to be a more complicated and comprehensive approach of the anupubbi katha or gradual path.

by Asoka Lai Hoe Peng , 6a Lorong 10 Geylang, Singapore 399039

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