Updates from Brazil, Germany and Australia including two new videos from the Siddhartha School. At Khyentse Foundation’s inception, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche shared a long-term goal of establishing international, nondenominational schools for children with curricula based on Buddhist principles. The Foundation has identified a number of projects that are in alignment with Rinpoche’s vision.
For several years, the Brazilian government has required presentation of religions other than Christianity in the public schools. State ministries of education are responsible for implementing this requirement, but the ministries work with private entities to develop curricula and to organize the special training for public school teachers. Chagdud Gonpa Brazil has become the first non-Christian member of the Board of Religious Education, which coordinates the activities of the private entities for the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Ianina Munarski and Christine Boedler are the Buddhist representatives on the board, and they have made useful contacts with municipal education officials.
The first trainings of public school teachers have taken place, and to support these trainings, an outline of Buddhist curricula and teaching methodology has been drafted. As it evolves, this training outline will be refined and expanded:
* To create teaching modules on basic Buddhism for public school teachers.
* To train lamas and senior Buddhist practitioners to answer the questions of school children whom they receive in their centers. Khadro Ling in Río Grande do Sul already receives hundreds of school children each year, and Odsal Ling in São Paulo can expect similar visits now that its temple has been constructed.
* For use at Sítio Esperança (Hope Farm), a Chagdud Gonpa Brazil educational and community project in the state of Minas Geráis. Sítio, formerly a cement factory, was nicely renovated by the sangha and currently is used for children’s camps; for Projecto Florescer, an agricultural training project run in collaboration with a Brazilian organization for special needs children; and for after-school enrichment programs. The original intention was to start a school, but this proved too complicated as a first step. However, there is still the aspiration to establish a school–either a completely Buddhist school that leads to a shedra education in Brazil (Sítio is an excellent location for this purpose) or a school for the community that incorporates Buddhist values.
* As part of the curriculum for a independent, private school, perhaps located in Porto Alegre. To establish such a school is the long-term objective of Ianina Munarski, whose aspiration is to provide high-quality education based on Buddhist principles at the fundamental, medium, and superior levels–a Philosophic Academy. The methodology will stimulate the interaction between the school and the community.
Since 2004, Doris Wolter of the KF team in Germany, as coordinated and overseen the teachers’ training for Buddhist religious education in German schools for the German Buddhist Union. In 2006 the GBU started a program for teachers of ethics (a new school subject in Germany), and for non-teachers as well. The program invites speakers from all the main Buddhist traditions in the spirit of inter-Buddhist dialog. The next two weekends will be October 8, 2008 in Leipzig with Dr. Alex Berzin and FJ Litsch on the “Four Noble Truths” and December 8 in Berlin with Alfred Weil and Yesche Regel on “Violence and Peace.”
Doris will represent this project of GBU at a conference on “Buddhism and Ethics,” during a panel on “Buddhist Ethics and Young People” in Bangkok in September 2008. The German Buddhist Union will hold a conference on “Paths into the Future” in October 2008 for children, teenagers, and parents. The conference will offer many events, such as meditation classes, clown classes for children, and seminars for parents about new education.
In 2005, Rinpoche recommended that King Ashoka be used as one of the role models for the Siddhartha’s School children’s programs. Shakti Burke wrote a children’s musical based on the king’s life with the idea of videoing the kids performing the songs. They filmed and recorded the first song, “I Am the King Ashoka,” during a children’s day in late 2005.
The second song, “Hatred Ceases,” is also based on the life of Ashoka. It was written in 2003, around the time of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which served as an inspiration. The verses are based on a booklet by the Dalai Lama. Shakti compiled a “study guide” summarizing the Dalai Lama’s arguments, which in turn draw from Shantideva, and then asked the students to write their own rap songs based on the material. A young Australian rap artist, Karuna Bajracharya, answered a notice in the Gentle Voice aimed at young people who might like to get involved. Karuna, then 24 years old, has his own rap recording outfit. While visiting his father in Nepal, Karuna studied Tibetan art at Sechen Monastery in Kathmandu. He had already released his first rap album and has a second on the way. Karuna came to Byron to meet Eva Thomas and Shakti and to attend Rinpoche’s teaching in 2006.
In March 2007, Eva and Shakti put on a Siddhartha’s School children’s day in Kyogle, facilitated by Karuna, to record “Hatred Ceases.” Karuna brought with him professional recording equipment and a great energy for working with young people. The younger kids put down vocal “soundscapes” that they invented themselves, with Karuna’s encouragement. The older kids paired up to cover the verses. They spent the morning learning, arranging, and rehearsing, and later took turns recording. Wearing earphones that played a sample of Karuna rapping the soundtrack, they performed several takes of their lines with complete professional concentration and commitment. “It was a fun and rewarding experience,” says Shakti.
Around the same time, Shakti had met a community volunteer, Ron Way, at the local technology centre (Kyogle CTC). Ron, who has 40 years of experience as a director and producer in Australian film and television. Ron asked if could he come along to Karuna’s workshop and do “some quiet filming.” Ron’s “quiet filming” turned into the visuals for the “Hatred Ceases” video clip that he then edited to Karuna’s soundtrack.