An article by Jakob Leschly about the philosophy and future of The Siddhartha School.
In recent years, many Western Buddhists have contributed to the establishment of modern schools in traditional Buddhist cultures. However, so far not much has been done to establish Buddhist schools in cultures where Buddhism is only now taking root. Although the former initiatives will enable youth, mainly Asian, to obtain an education according to Western standards – ultimately providing them with autonomy in a commercially oriented world – Buddhist education for children is conspicuously lacking, in both East and West. A group of Buddhist parents in New South Wales, Australia, is making a difference. They are working to establish The Siddhartha School – a secular school based on Buddhist principles. Inspired by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, the group feels a strong impetus to share the wealth of the Buddha’s heritage with the next generation. Jamyang Khyentse himself says, “After teaching Buddhist philosophy in both the East and West for many years now, I realize it is time to think seriously about future generations, and how we as a community can best prepare them for the challenges and opportunities this life presents.”
The school has drawn inspiration and much positive input from the Shambhala School in Nova Scotia, Canada. In 2007, Shambhala School teacher Jackie Mitchell visited the group in Australia and shared her experiences. During her three-week stay she facilitated workshops, lectures, and discussion groups, addressing many aspects of school administration, curriculum development, classroom meditation, and discipline.
The School’s Philosophy
The principles of the schools center on the Buddhist thesis of interdependent origination, the view that all phenomena exist on the basis of causes and conditions. This perspective of understanding encourages critical analysis and reasoning, and it also points to our responsibility and empowerment in creating auspicious causes and conditions for our own lives and for the world we live in. The conditions for becoming a good and balanced human are not something vague or arbitrary.
At the recent conference “Happiness & Its Causes 2008” in Sydney, monk, scientist, and best-selling author Matthieu Ricard spoke about Buddhist principles in secular education: “Based on an understanding of reality as the interdependence of cause and effect brings a sense of universal responsibility. Children can see that opening up and having concern for others is a win-win situation, as opposed to closing oneself in selfish pursuits of happiness which is a lose-lose situation. It could be useful and reasonable to bring such a perspective and practice into education, without the Buddhist label, but with the core of the training the mind and considering these trainings as skills. Happiness is a skill, emotional balance is a skill, compassion and altruism are skills. And like any skill they need to be developed, that’s what education is about.” Jamyang Khyentse says, “It is my hope that we can help children develop a broader understanding of the world around them as well as their internal world and how the two are so closely related. I feel certain that this new model of primary school education will be of great benefit not just for the children and families involved but can have a far-reaching effect on the world at large.”
The Future of Education The Siddhartha School is not an isolated phenomenon – it is a translation project to bring the wealth of Siddhartha’s universal insight and ethics to future generations everywhere. It is therefore in the interest of Buddhists and like-minded parents and educators all over the world to gather around and support this effort. Jamyang Khyentse has stated his intention to establish similar schools in other countries, with The Siddhartha School as a pilot project for a global movement in education.
Jakob Leschly is a meditation instructor and translator living in Australia. He serves on Khyentse Foundation’s Grants Review Committee and is on our editorial team.