By Ashley J. Ward
On November 10, 1998, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously voted to proclaim the first decade of the twenty-first century, an �International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2201-2010)1. The UN made this declaration specifically for children because they are the most vulnerable individuals and most likely victims of violence of all kinds. However vulnerable they are, children are also the leaders of our future. It is by educating and empowering children that we can achieve this culture of peace and non-violence. The idea of education as the means for developing a culture of peace and non-violence is reinforced by a statement once made by Gandhi, �If we are going to bring about peace in the world, we have to begin with the children�.
As there are many impediments to a culture of peace and non-violence it will take great efforts to achieve the same. It can be achieved through collaborative efforts between families, colleagues, neighbours, classmates, governments and all other people in our world. Everyone can be involved in creating a culture of peace; even if in a minor way, there can be a major impact. If peace is achieved in all of our families there would be positive consequences of this seen in our societies, which would continue to extend throughout our world. If peace is reached in our schools and classrooms and children can extend a peaceful way of living into society, we will see the leaders of our world develop into individuals who understand how to resolve conflicts, have respect for other people and lifestyles, and who work towards the alleviation of poverty while contributing to a peaceful, productive, society.
Impediments to a Culture of Peace and Non-violence
To be able to live a peaceful and non-violent life, an individual must first have their basic survival needs met. They must have food, shelter and water. Alleviating the poverty of our people in our world is one of the first steps to creating a culture of peace and non-violence. For this to ever happen, it has to be a worldwide effort, however it can start with individuals and on a small scale. The simplest step is sharing your own time and resources to help others. This can be done in our own lives, in our homes, at our workplaces, in classrooms. If everyone contributes a small amount of their time and resources to the cause of alleviating the poverty of others, there would be a drastic change in the number of impoverished people in our world.
Another impediment to peace is intolerance of other people. Intolerance can be to differences of race, religion, cultures and lifestyles. Through education this can be changed. By educating children about different religions, races, cultures and lifestyles in our world we can help them to understand the similarities between everyone. They will understand how insignificant these differences are, how they are not a reason for discrimination or prejudices. We can promote respect and tolerance of others.
Impact of Media
The media is a very influential source of information and learning. Peace journalism needs to be promoted and people need to question what they see and hear from the media. In North America, during the last several years, the media has begun to have greater impact on people�s way of thinking, especially children. This is evident in many areas, such as how children view violence. The media tends to glamourise violence in several different mediums, through music, television, the Internet, movies and also children�s toys and games. In the past, when technology was not readily available to children, these topics were not such regular occurrences in children�s lives. Now, the most common children�s hobbies are playing video games, watching television and movies, listening to music, and surfing the net, all of which often contain themes of violence. The Internet has made it possible for children to access any information they want and without adult supervision they are able to view violent and even pornographic websites. Video games are also contributing widely to depicting violence as fun and exciting. The most popular games among youth include soldiers in war scenes to players as game members and criminals who may even purchase a prostitute for more points in the game. However, it can be thought that these are only cartoon like depictions and therefore children may realize that these ideals should not be extended into reality. Having real life role models who are involved in violent behaviour is particularly detrimental to creating a culture of peace. In music, the most popular songs often contain theses of violence, gang behaviour, criminal behaviour, and even violence towards women. With children striving to be like their role models that are involved in violent behaviour or just singing about it, how they know that this behaviour is widely unacceptable in our societies? When they are sensitized to conflict and violence, and even view it as exciting or glamorous, how can they understand the impact of violence on real lives?
Canada�s Commitment to Creating a Culture of Peace and Non-violence
In 1974, Canada was party to the U.N. Declaration and Integrated Framework of Action on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Democracy. Canada signed the document and made a pledge to act on certain obligations, such as including peace education in our formal and informal educations systems. The Canadian government has made certain obligations to the United Nations with respect to peace education, and the United nations International Year for a Culture of Peace, Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World, and UNESCO Culture of Peace Program suggest institutional changes to which the Canadian Government is a signatory2.
Although the Canadian government had made its commitment to the United Nations, after research, I have not yet discovered any formal government policies on peace education. Provincial school boards have worked toward the inclusion of peace education in school curriculums, for example, the province of Nova Scotia ahs integrated peace education into the social studies curriculum for certain grade levels. New steps have to be taken to ensure that schools across Canada and in other countries include peace education into lesson plans and daily classroom activities.
A Focus on Techniques Used in Canadian Schools:
As educators of children we all have a role in teaching children about peaceful behaviour. We need to be positive role models for children by showing them peaceful ways of thinking and behaving. Cora Weiss, President of the Hague Appeal for Peace, while describing the Global Peace Education Campaign at the recent U.N. Millennium Forum, enforced the need for peace education initiatives3. She discussed the importance of the �The 4 E�s in school curriculums � reading, (w)riting, (a)rithmetic and reconciliation which will help children confront their biases, redirect their aggressive behaviour, learn to negotiate, and discover non-violent peaceful means to relate to one another4. Peace education needs to be included in school curriculums and it needs to be rated at the dame importance as common subjects such as mathematics or science. Children need to learn about peace to be able to live and interact in our world, and peace education teaches valuable skills for their futures, as well as the future of our world. It is through peace education that a culture of peace and non-violence can be reached.
In Canada the topic of peace is to be covered in each elementary school grade through our social studies curriculum goals and outcomes. Teachers strive to include peace education in daily classroom activities and we also do specific lesson plans covering the topics of peace education, such as studying peaceful movements or specific individuals who have had an impact on the development of peace in our world. Some of the ways in which peaceful behviour and understanding is developed through daily classroom activities in Canada are as follows:
Teachers act as role models each day in the classroom. The educational philosopher John Dewey perceived the role of the educator as teaching basic values of peace and non-violence as correct social behaviour5. He stressed that learning should be by doing, teaching should be done in an instrumentalist way, as opposed to authoritarian teaching methods6. Teachers need to demonstrate peaceful living and behviour and teach in ways that allow children to actively learn and express themselves. Teachers need to display peaceful behaviour at all times and particularly when managing a classroom. This should be done in the way a teacher acts, not just in the way a teacher tells the students to act. Gandhi had said �My life is my message� meaning that you have to actively live what you are saying you believe in, it is not enough to just talk about it. This is what we all have to do to create a culture of peace and non-violence!
Physical discipline technique should not be used in homes or schools as it only creates fear in children. Voice raising is another discipline technique that should not be used in homes or schools. If teachers constantly raise their voices, then students will follow this example and do so as well. There are many other strategies that can be used to discipline students and catch student�s attention such as hand clapping, or asking the students to raise their hands and then not speaking until each child has done so. Consequences can be developed for breaking rules as alternatives to physical discipline or yelling. Other consequences, such as the removal of privileges, give children time to think about what they have done, work out alternative solutions if the situation were to occur again, and learn how to non-violently deal with their anger. Treating students respectfully is important as well. If a student is treated with respect by their teacher it gives them encouragement to treat others with respect as well.
Setting up classroom rules on the first day of the year is a way to begin establishing a peaceful environment in the classroom. This is done by asking the students to collaborate together on what rules they think need to be in place in order for the classroom to be a peaceful and productive working environment. The teacher may ask the children to describe or draw what a peaceful classroom looks like and then later these can be used as a reminder to the children. As well as developing the rules, the children with the teacher�s guidance, should also decide on the consequences for breaking the rules. This way there is no misunderstanding about what is unacceptable behaviour and the students have determined and agreed on what are appropriate consequences for breaking a classroom rule. By involving the children in developing these rules and consequences students have a means of actively participating in the development of a peaceful classroom. This idea can also be used with children in the home as an alternative. A parent has to simply decide what the rules and consequences for breaking them are.
Reward systems are commonly used in schools and classrooms in Canada. These reward systems come in various forms but the end goal is always to encourage positive behaviour. For example, in an elementary school in Halifax, Nova Scotia there is a school wide reward system in place. Students receive yellow forms from their teachers if they commit what is considered a minor offence (such as disruptive behaviour or uncompleted work) and a red form for what is considered a major offence (such as use of inappropriate language or anything involving violent behaviour). Three yellow forms are equivalent to one red form. The principal keeps track of the forms given to students. The students who receive these forms each time had to have a meeting with the principal to discuss what happened and how future situations can be handled better. The parents would also have to sign the form to show that they knew what had happened. At the end of each month there was a reward for the school children such as a school trip or an exciting event organized at the school. Any students who had received a red form that month were not permitted to attend the reward day, and instead had to complete schoolwork in their classroom. The reward system is working well. At the end of the school year the number of red forms was down significantly as compared to the start of the year. Students were encouraged to behave appropriately by this system, wanting to join their peers and enjoy the reward day as the others were doing so. Students worked together on conflict and behaviour issues, helping each other make better choices so that all could attend the reward day. The children had the opportunity each month to participate in the reward day, based on their choices and their behaviour.
Schools in Canada often have peer mediator programs. In each classroom in the upper elementary levels a teacher is asked to choose three or four students to act as peer mediators for that classroom. A member of the schools� staff, usually the guidance counsellor, the trains these peer mediators. They are trained in conflict prevention and resolution and it becomes their role to use their new skills in the classroom, on the playground, even outside of school. When a conflict develops between students these peer mediators try to help the students to resolve the issue before it develops into a greater problem. Peer mediators work with teachers to resolve conflicts, often through group meetings between the two individuals in conflict, a teacher and one or two peer mediators. Peer mediator programs have taught children the skills they need for conflict prevention and resolution. Often having a peer classmate help resolve an issue can be much more effective than having an authority figure doing so. It teaches children the skills needed to live peacefully and how to resolve conflicts without violence. These peer mediator programs have been very successful in resolving conflicts and often the peer mediators share their skills with other children and even family members.
Many Canadian schools also have what is called zero tolerance policies for violent behaviour. This means that there is a consequence in place for violent behaviour and if a student violates a rule, there is a consequence that immediately applies to that student, regardless of any reasons why the student may feel the act was justified. For example, there may be a zero tolerance policy for physical fighting with the consequence of suspension for 2 days. If a student is involved in a physical fight, the consequence will always be a suspension of at least 2 days, even if they were just defending themselves and do not feel they deserve the consequence. Zero tolerance policies cause students to understand what is acceptable behaviour. They are aware that there is no tolerance for this behaviour in school, which can be extended into understanding how there is no tolerance for certain behaviours in our society and world.
Teaching children empathy is something that we are striving to do in Canada. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person�s position and understand how they feel. There are different ways to teach children this and one way that has been effective in the Canadian education system is creating awareness in children about other people and conditions in the world and through this developing an understanding of diversity and concern for human rights and justice. Reading children books about world issues is one simple way to promote discussion and thought on issues they may not face in their daily lives but should still be conscious of, for example, books about what life may be like for children in other parts of the world where there is war can be a real eye opener for children who all their lives have lived in a peaceful society.
Inclusion is a major goal for the Canadian education system. We strive to include all children in classrooms and activities, despite whatever differences or difficulties may be present. For example, in the past 15 years there has been a move from having students with exceptionalities in specialized classrooms and schools (for example, disabled students or students with learning disabilities) to having these students in the general classroom with other children of their age group. Canada is still a multi-cultural society with a high number of immigrants from various countries around the world, mainly people from countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Classrooms in Canada are usually very mixed in terms of ethnicity, religion, races, and cultures. It is very common for a teacher in an urban setting in Canada to have a classroom consisting of children of many different abilities, cultures, family backgrounds, religions and even languages. Inclusion of all students is promoted because it has benefits for all involved. A student with a disability gains from the opportunity to interact with other children, whereas the other children acquire experience and appreciation for diversity. However, t he able to have so much diversity in one classroom and have everyone working together takes patience. A friendly open-minded atmosphere has to be created so that everyone feels safe and comfortable with each other. All opinions have to be respected as well as individual differences tolerated. By exposure and understanding of differences, children become more open-minded, tolerant members of society.
The above ideas are just some of the small steps towards a culture of peace we are taking in schools in Canada. By putting ideas like this into practice we are hoping to create ideas about peaceful living for the children of our society. It is also important to do specific lessons on peace related topics to help children understand why peaceful living must be extended from the classroom to society and to the world. The importance of peace education in schools cannot be denied, as well as the need to have all people of our world involved in creating a culture of peace and non-violence. If everyone considers how they can make an impact on the creation of a peace for world and then acts on these ideas great changes can be made. Starting with the children of our world is one way to get closer to the goal of a culture of peace and non-violence. Our children are the leaders for our future and it is through them we will create a culture of peace.
- United Nations General Assembly Fifty-third session Agenda item 31, 19th November 1998.
- See Notes for a Speech to the Canadian Peace Researchers & Educators Association (�CPREA�) Annual General Meeting June 3, 2000 by Robert Stewart, C.A., C.M.C., Director, Canadian Centers for Teaching Peace. http://www.peace.ca/visionsofacdnpeaceinst.htm
- See Notes for a Speech to the Canadian Peace Researchers & Educators Association (�CPREA�) Annual General Meeting June 3, 2000 by Robert Stewart, C.A., C.M.C., Director, Canadian Centers for Teaching Peace. http://www.peace.ca/visionsofacdnpeaceinst.htm
- See Notes for a Speech to the Canadian Peace Researchers & Educators Association (�CPREA�) Annual General Meeting June 3, 2000 by Robert Stewart, C.A., C.M.C., Director, Canadian Centers for Teaching Peace. http://www.peace.ca/visionsofacdnpeaceinst.htm
- Charles Howlett. �The Pragmatist as Pacifist: John Dewey�s Views on Peace Education� Teachers College Record, Vol. 83, No. 3, Spr 1982, pp 435-51.
- See John Dewey (1859-1952), Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 2001. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g2699/is_0000/ai_2699000097
By Mitch Bogen
"Daisaku, let's establish a university, Soka University. I hope this can be achieved in my lifetime, but that may not be possible. Should that be the case, Daisaku, I'm counting on you to do it." In that instant, a bright flame, the dream of Soka University, was kindled in my heart.
– Daisaku Ikeda, recalling the words
of his mentor Josei Toda
We must send the sparks flying!
From the hearts of youth!
Using the flame within!
To educate is to kindle the soul's flame!
– Daisaku Ikeda, "The Dawn of a
Century of Humanistic Education"
Those of us interested in education hear a lot these days about “how the brain learns.” Might it also be beneficial to discuss “how the heart learns”? I think it would, since education of the most ambitious sort will not be achieved by relying on knowledge or intelligence alone. What I mean by ambitious is a learning process that is ongoing and inclusive in scope and noble and compassionate in character. In other words, education whose objective is the cultivation of what Mahayana Buddhists call “the greater self.”
In his 1993 lecture at Harvard University, "Mahayana Buddhism and Twenty-first Century Civilization," Center founder Daisaku Ikeda says that "the 'greater self' of Mahayana Buddhism is another way of expressing the openness and expansiveness of character that embraces the sufferings of all people as one's own. This self always seeks ways of alleviating the pain, and augmenting the happiness, of others, here, amid the realities of everyday life." (1)
When we think about how to actually go about educating in support of this ideal, it can be helpful to consider another, closely related, core principle of Mahayana Buddhism. In the same lecture, in a section called "Interrelationship of All Things," Ikeda describes a vision at the heart of the Lotus Sutra: "[E]ach living thing manifests the enlightenment of which it is capable; each contributes to the harmony of the grand concert of symbiosis." (2)
From an educational, as opposed to strictly Buddhist, or spiritual, point of view, this vision is recognized in the teacher or mentor's ongoing dedication to helping young people discover their interests and to encouraging them to believe in their capacity not only to excel in their studies but also to make uniquely valuable contributions to our world.
In this essay, I will explore what it means to educate for the greater self by bringing Daisaku Ikeda's contemporary expression of Soka, or value creating, education into conversation with various philosophers and educators (including the Americans Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Dewey), who, while not specifically invoking the greater self of Buddhism, also advocate a vision of learning that begins with the individual and expands outward to include all of life in its sphere of concern.
After considering some of the philosophical foundations of this expansive vision, the essay will look at ways that the love of subject matter and learning itself can lead an individual to transcend provincial concerns while enriching oneself and society as a whole. The latter sections of the essay will look at the crucial ethical dimensions of educating for the greater self, examining how educators can help students develop a love of humanity and our world that transcends narrow self interest in the cause of alleviating suffering and contributing to the happiness and well being of all.
Knowledgeable readers will note that this essay's vision of education is not a particularly welcome one in today's test-driven American school systems. This difficult reality does not, in my view, diminish in any way the vital importance of educating for the greater self. It might even make it more vital.
It might seem counterintuitive, but from the perspective of the humanistic educator it is precisely the focus on individual interest, insight, and passion that enables a learner not only to become happy but also to make a valuable social contribution. In this view, a concern for individual growth is no obstacle to the common good. No one has ever made a more compelling case for this faith than Ralph Waldo Emerson in his seminal essay of 1841, “Self-Reliance.”
To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. … In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. (3)
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. (4)
Unless our contributions to both our own happiness and social well being emanate from our inner self, we will be less able to add to, expand, or improve upon the status quo. The inner self for Emerson is the self that is discovered through deep introspection and careful attention to one's inner life. Skeptics in Emerson's time said that such introspection, if not guided by the precedents and strictures of established religion, would open the self to the temptations of demons and devils. Emerson demurred: "I will so trust that what is deep is holy." (5)
We each have the equal right to have our unique potential educated.Emerson's ideas, fairly abstract and non linear in expression, nevertheless laid the foundation for a distinctly American educational philosophy and pedagogy, developed first, in the late 19th century, by figures such as William James, and later, in the early to mid 20th century, by the great philosopher and public intellectual John Dewey. Dewey is particularly well known for his thoughts on democracy and democratic education. Jim Garrison of Virginia Tech University says of Dewey's perspective: "[He] explicitly says that we need to understand that we are not physically or intellectually equal, ... but we are morally equal. We each have the equal right to have our unique potential educated, [so] that we can each make our unique contribution to society." (6)
In the context of Soka education, we would say that the passive imitator or follower would be poorly positioned to add value either within his or her own life or within the wider community. This is why Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who originated the concept of Soka education in early 20th century Japan, insisted that the best education cares little for “the piecemeal merchandising of information.” Instead, it “would rather place people on their own path of discovery and invention.” (7)
Ikeda fluently melds Buddhist, Emersonian, and Deweyian perspectives in a message to the Center honoring the September 2009 publication of Creating Waldens: An East-West Conversation on the American Renaissance:
If we dig deep enough within the great earth of each person’s life, we find flowing there the same underground channels of empathy and compassion. This source gives rise to an immense range of human diversity, in which each of us is endowed equally with a unique role and purpose in this symphony of life. Our struggle to return to this source is thus central to bringing about a genuine renaissance for all people. (8)
If a person’s process of education and development is based on deep self-awareness and a genuine love of a given subject, discipline, or endeavor—as opposed to self-interest or personal ambition alone—the self that emerges can be understood as the greater self. However, if our learning is motivated only by the need to do well on a test or by a specific vocational objective, our commitment to learning might end with the achievement of that goal. If we are motivated by love for a particular subject or discipline, we can still achieve our academic and vocational goals, but we also can advance to places unimagined by our initial attempts at envisioning a future.
Each of us can cultivate this creative, adventurous, and expansive way of being. Recall that for Emerson, great figures such as Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Goethe, all of whom are exemplars of achievement, are unique only insofar as they have developed to a greater extent the inner qualities available to all humans. Thus, Emerson identified them in the title of his book of 1850 as "representative men." In his essay “The Poet,” published in 1844, Emerson explained the dynamic this way: "… the poet is representative. He stands among partial men for the complete man, and apprises us not of his wealth, but of the commonwealth." (9)
This is why we can say, for example, that the greatest jazz artists did not even play jazz. Duke Ellington is arguably the greatest of all the jazz artists, and certainly, if an aspiring musician wanted to discover the essence of jazz, you could do worse than sending them to Ellington’s voluminous recordings. Nevertheless, the venerable jazz writer Nat Hentoff recalls that in their many conversations, “Duke Ellington told me not to listen to music by categories." Instead, he urged: "Hear the individual!" Hentoff tells us that the same held true for the great Charles Mingus, "who said of his compositions and performances that they were—and still are—'Mingus music. I'm trying to play the truth of what I am.'" (10)
Paradoxically, by being true to the beauty of the music they felt in their hearts and heard in their minds, as opposed to conforming to a pre-set vision of what jazz is supposed to be, Ellington and Mingus came to exemplify the art form as a whole. (11) Bear in mind, however, that our achievements need not be so public or trail blazing as those of these musical innovators. I can think of no greater success than to have lived one’s life with passion, curiosity, originality, honesty, and integrity and to have it be said in remembrance: “There was a human being.”
A favorite memory from my years of teaching world religions at a small Boston college occurred one morning just before class during our Buddhism unit. As my student set her backpack down beside her desk, she said the words humanistic educators like me most want to hear. “Mr. Bogen,” she said, “After class on Monday, I went straight to the library to find everything I could about Zen!”
It is the spark of interest that provides the motivation to be a lifelong learner.My conviction is that the spark of interest that motivated her in this manner was more important than any fact, or even any nugget of wisdom or understanding, that I might have imparted during our class sessions. Knowledge and understanding gained are important, to be sure, but it is the spark of interest and curiosity that can grow into a flame of love capable of guiding and lifting us, individually and collectively, to places and achievements beyond even our most optimistic expectations. It is the spark of interest that provides the motivation to be a lifelong learner.
Not everyone shares my conviction. In popular discourse this type of education, which owes a great debt to Deweyian pedagogy, is known as child- or student-centered education. A great many people take this to mean that kids simply "do their own thing," with no supervision.
Jim Garrison explains the problem with this perception. “One of the common misunderstandings of Dewey,” he says, “is that student centeredness just lets the student ‘run amok.’” In fact, explains Garrison, “there is a discipline here, but it’s an internal discipline.” If you’ve ever watched a student “engage in something that genuinely interests them,” he adds, you can see that their interests “propel their inquiry.” Student-centered teaching, he continues, means that the teacher knows the student well enough to recognize these displays of interest and to encourage growth by connecting the student to subject matter of interest to them. (12)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist best known for his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience, concurs, and expands on Garrison’s thought.
Education should not be an obligation, but rather a privilege you earn by showing that you are curious about some part of the world. You get your education through that curiosity. The role of the teacher would then be to find the material that would allow the student to explore his or her curiosity. Because no matter what you are curious about, if you are really curious, you will have to learn everything else. Whether the topic is bugs or stars or singing, there are connections. There is mathematics behind the music and chemistry behind the animals. Once students are hooked on their interest, the teacher should be the gatekeeper to the enormous richness of information in the world. (13)
A popular slogan in contemporary education is that "knowledge is power." This idea is too superficial. The value of knowledge depends on the value of the purposes that guide its acquisition. Daisaku Ikeda argues that "information learned from a digest for nothing but the purpose of passing an examination is certainly but knowledge for knowledge’s sake." He uses the example of literary study to illustrate larger purposes. Reading great books, he says, "is an opportunity to make connections with the spirits of the outstanding writers and in this way to improve and broaden one’s self toward further development.” (14) This is exactly how the study of a particular discipline can foster the development of the greater self.
Student-centered learning done poorly actually does amount to students “running amok.” But done well, with proper structure and guidance, pedagogy that helps us expand outward from the foundation of interest and curiosity can contribute greatly to the happiness and well being not only of individuals but also society as a whole. Following our interests, we are able to transcend our restrictive assumptions and ascend to greater levels of achievement, thus increasing the value we contribute to the world.
All education that emphasizes the sparking of interest and the building of connections in an effort to transcend barriers of any kind—be they in math class, on the playing field, or in one’s home life—can be considered spiritual education. When we dedicate ourselves to the lighting and nurturing of the inner spark in others, we engage in a process that is inherently spiritual, as opposed to "religious" in any formal sense.
We are talking about an inner change of heart and perception that intensifies our sense of connection with and commitment to the world.That said, as noted in the introduction, there needs to be an explicitly ethical dimension to any educational process that seeks to cultivate an expanded, greater self. The purpose of teaching and learning for the greater self certainly does include, as we have just discussed, the facilitation of individual fulfillment and the unique social contributions made possible by that process of fulfillment. But the ultimate purpose is to nurture in ourselves and others a sense of allegiance to the well being of all humanity and the planet that sustains us. In a sense we are talking about global citizenship. But we are also talking about something more subtle and vital here—an inner change of heart and perception that intensifies our sense of connection with and commitment to the world.
In the specific context of Buddhism and Soka education, the cultivation of the greater self begins and ends with this universal allegiance. “The pedagogy of value-creation,” says Daisaku Ikeda, “was born from the spiritual light of compassion and love for humanity.” (15)
Ikeda also delineates a critical outcome for Soka and Soka-inspired education. When learners are immersed in an atmosphere of inclusion and connection, says Ikeda, “they go beyond petty egoistic thinking to become total human beings who, while considering the whole of wisdom, relate their own lives to the fate of all humankind. I am firmly convinced that cultivating excellent human beings of this caliber is the true purpose of education.” (16) For Ikeda, this kind of thinking will help us offset the negative effects of the kind of "compartmentalized learning" that, unfortunately, dominates educational systems today in the developed world. (17)
To achieve an expanded sense of self, specific obstacles must be addressed and certain ideals promoted. Put simply, our greatest challenge is to overcome what we might call “us and them” thinking. In his 1996 talk at Teachers College, Columbia University, Ikeda's thoughts on this matter were unequivocal.
"Goodness" can be defined as that which moves us in the direction of harmonious coexistence, empathy and solidarity with others. The nature of evil, on the other hand, is to divide: people from people, humanity from the rest of nature. (18)
In the 1993 Harvard lecture, Ikeda explained how the Buddha modeled for us a way out of the impasse presented by our self-imposed isolation and close-minded biases.
The conquest of our own prejudicial thinking, our own attachment to difference, is the guiding principle for open dialogue, the essential condition for the establishment of peace and universal respect for human rights. It was his own complete release from prejudice that enabled Shakyamuni [Buddha] to expound the Law with such freedom, adapting his style of teaching to the character and capacity of his interlocutor. (19)
Ikeda is adamant that this "pathology of divisiveness" is "not limited to individuals, but constitutes the deep psychology of collective egoism, which takes its most destructive form in the virulent strains of ethnocentrism and nationalism." (20)
In the next sections I will look at several core factors in the “conquest of our prejudicial thinking.” These include addressing our shadow self, practicing self-reflection, developing the humility to understand and learn from others not like ourselves, and the nurturing of a reverence for life that encourages both compassion for the suffering of others and joy in their happiness.
It is axiomatic for both Mahayana Buddhists such as Daisaku Ikeda and American philosophers in the Emersonian tradition that authentic, long-lasting change in our world proceeds from the inside out. Internal health and awareness, or as Thoreau phrased it, the cultivation of "self-culture," is the foundation for broader human flourishing. Here is Emerson, from "Self-Reliance":
It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views. (21)
Here is Ikeda from the Teachers College lecture:
It is my view, however, that, the root of all of these problems is our collective failure to make the human being, human happiness, the consistent focus and goal in all fields of endeavor. The human being is the point to which we must return and from which we must depart anew. What is required is a human transformation—a human revolution. (22)
In that lecture, Ikeda goes on to observe that “the struggle to rise above … egoism, and live in larger and more contributive realms of selfhood, constitutes the core of the bodhisattva's practice. Education is, or should be, based on the same altruistic spirit as the bodhisattva.” (23)
In addition to this Buddhist framing, Ikeda invokes Jungian thought to help us understand the core challenge in cultivating the greater self. “The failure to acknowledge and reconcile oneself with the existence of an opposing ‘other,’ says Ikeda, “is the basic flaw in an apathetic, cynical approach to life, in which only the isolated self exists.” (24) This ‘opposing other’ is also known as the shadow self, which represents unacknowledged aspects of ourselves that we then can project onto people or groups of people whom we blame for various ills.
We can recognize this lesser self in the tendency to blame.The Mahayana Buddhist teacher and author Pema Chodren has written extensively on this topic. “We habitually erect a barrier called blame that habitually keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us, and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things we don’t like about our associates or our society.” (25) She adds: “Blame is a way in which we solidify ourselves.” (26) The self defined and solidified in this manner is the lesser self. We can recognize this self not only in the tendency to blame but also in a reflex reversion to fear and suspicion in the face of the unknown. (27)
This restricted orientation can have severe consequences. “The ‘self’ lacking identification with the ‘other,’” writes Ikeda in his book Soka Education, “is insensitive to the pain, anguish, and suffering of the ‘other.’” Lacking such compassion, he continues, this restricted self “tends to confine itself to its own world, either sensing threat in the slightest provocation and triggering violent behavior, or non-responsively turning away in detachment.” (28)
The individual life lived in this manner is at best impoverished, and at worst, fraught with needless, never ending conflict. The same can be said for entire cultures—national, religious, and otherwise. Whatever one might think of the wisdom or justice of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, it is fair to say that only a nation whose self-image often depends on the denial of its own shadow could launch a deadly military campaign based on the principle of “shock and awe”—and then turn around and claim that said invasion was intended to reduce terrorism. The United States, of course, is not alone among the nations of the world in pursuing policies and putting forth rationales that can be perceived as less-than-enlightened.
Practicing Self-Acceptance, Modeling Self-Reflection
The path to expansive compassion begins with self-acceptance and self-reflection. The way forward, says Pema Chodren, “starts with being willing to feel what we are going through. It starts with being willing to have a compassionate relationship with the parts of ourselves that we feel are not worthy of existing on the planet.” (29)
For Nichiren Buddhists, compassionate self acceptance does not entail seeking to deny or negate the lesser self and its "inordinate" attachments and desires that can contribute to suffering and a sense of unworthiness. Rather, through the motivating power of the greater self, says Daisaku Ikeda, "the desires and attachments common to all human beings" can be redirected toward personal and social well being and "the advancement of civilization." (30)
The work of self acceptance is inner work, often highly personal in nature. For reasons of privacy and sensitivity, much of this task is best carried out within the parameters of one’s intimate relationships, one’s faith community, or some other circumstance that allows for emotional vulnerability and direct counseling.
In school or other more public settings, a teacher or mentor can help people along the path of compassion through the modeling of desired attitudes and behaviors. If students can see that their teacher is serious about global well being without being self-important, that can mean a lot. If they see that their teacher is genuinely curious about the world and his or her own ongoing learning, that can mean a lot, too.
Of all the qualities a teacher can model—and teach—self-reflection is among the most important. In an article called “Many Ways of Educating and Understanding Spirit,” education professor Aostre Johnson of Saint Michael’s College describes what self-reflection can mean in classrooms. Self-reflection, she says
is the ability to look deep into ourselves, to understand our own motives and emotions, to reflect on our lives, and to set and monitor our life goals. … This self-reflective quality can be developed in students as they make significant choices about their own learning, reflect on its purpose and direction, and assess it critically and thoughtfully. A self-reflective capacity is supported by an intellectually challenging environment that allows for solitude, silence, and intensive but relaxed concentration. (31)
Teachers can reflect on their classroom choices and even on choices they have made in their own lives. It’s important to demonstrate that it's not a sign of weakness or confusion to admit mistakes or express that another direction might have been more fruitful than the one chosen, either in the curriculum or in private and public life. The shadow self thrives when ideas or conversations such as these are considered off limits.
Offering the Gift of Listening
Learning to listen is equally vital to the process of developing one’s greater self and the greater selves of others. When a teacher listens intently to students’ ideas and responds with interest and respect, that teacher gives them a great gift. This respectful attention encourages students to trust the worth of their own insights while also encouraging them to extend this gift of respect to others. The potential social impact of this generosity can hardly be overstated, suggests Ikeda, who places “the dialogue of spiritual openness” at the heart of our efforts in pursuit of peace and global well being. “The key to such dialogue,” he says
is devoting our very lives to listening and learning from those different from us. This humble willingness to learn is profoundly meaningful, invariably fostering deep, empathetic connections. Not only does this resonance enable us to understand others on a deeper level, it acts as a mighty impetus for our true self—our greater self—to flower within us. (32)
In the US, a significant philosophical obstacle to this "humble willingness" is found in an interpretation of “American exceptionalism” which holds that America and Americans are unique to such a degree that to even suggest that we in the US might learn something from another culture is considered unpatriotic. In this worldview patriotism is synonymous with tribalism. (33)
According to cultural anthropologist Nur Yalman, this close-mindedness is not the result of the absence of education but the prevalence of education that glorifies a particular form of the lesser self.
It’s very easy to use educational systems for creating tribal mentalities. We have seen a lot of that in the 19th and 20th centuries, in which people essentially, through education, glorified their own particular, narrow histories and identities. [This is] a very dangerous process, which sets people against one another. (34)
Professor Yalman's remedy tracks closely with Ikeda's emphasis on humble listening. All our endeavors, says Yalman, should hinge on the cultivation of empathy, which he defines as "being able to think into the mentality of other people." Indeed, citing Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he insists that empathy is nothing less than "what makes us human." (35) If Yalman's take on empathy is more focused on the intellect than perhaps we are used to hearing, we should understand that it takes not just an open mind but also an open heart to even desire in the first place to understand the experiences and motivations of others.
Cultivating Reverence for Life
Open hearts and open minds are joined most intimately when we cultivate a deep sense of reverence for life. Aostre Johnson explains what the spirituality of reverence might look like from the teacher's point of view. A teacher can communicate "a sense of wonder, awe, appreciation, and love for our universe and all creatures in it. [This sense] infuses ... teaching with an excitement for learning, for exploring, for sharing, and for encouraging these emotions in ... students." A teacher can also perceive and nurture the potential for great compassion inherent in all of us. "Imagine the effect of seeing each student as a potential Buddha or Mother Theresa," she says. (36)
Ikeda often remarks that we should never build our happiness on the unhappiness of others.Daisaku Ikeda says that reverence for life itself is central among the values that can "truly unite humanity" and "link ordinary citizens in genuine solidarity." Pointing to the shared wisdom of indigenous worldviews, Ikeda urges us to "awaken people to a sense of connection with all forms of life with which we currently share this Earth, as well as sense of oneness with future generations." (37) Ikeda often remarks that we should never build our happiness on the unhappiness of others. Not only is it cruel or insensitive to proceed with our lives in this manner, but, in the end, happiness obtained this way will prove to be an unsustainable illusion.
Whitman valued our intrinsic interconnection so much that he chose to open his masterpiece Leaves of Grass with words in praise of that truth: "I celebrate myself, / And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you." (38)
Our fates are bound up with one another. Ecologists and other scientists speak of the biological interconnection of all life. Economists and scholars of all kinds study the intensifying interconnection of economic, social, and political systems that characterizes the process of globalization. And because of innovations in technology and communications, we are better able now than at any point in human history to perceive and understand the effects of our choices and actions on others—anywhere on our planet. There is no excuse for not knowing now. It follows that there is no excuse for not considering the ethical dimensions of globalization in any academic course of study. (39)
From a religious or spiritual perspective, reverence for life is manifested in the best aspects of all our religious traditions. It is in Buddhism's concept of "dependent origination," however, that we encounter the closest analog to the scientific and social understanding of interconnection. "In Buddhist terminology," writes Daisaku Ikeda,
'dependent origination' (Jpn. engi) describes [life's symbiotic] relationships. Nothing and nobody exists in isolation. Each individual being functions to create the environment that sustains all other existences. All things are mutually supportive and interrelated, forming a living cosmos, what modern philosophy might term a semantic whole. (40)
It is this understanding that provides the foundation for the two core aspects of Buddhist compassion contained in Daisaku Ikeda's definition of the greater self cited in the introduction to this essay: The compassionate greater self, says Ikeda, always seeks not only to alleviate the pain of others, but also to augment the happiness of others, "here, amid the realities of everyday life."
Sharing In the Happiness of Others
Religious and social organizations often are at their best when offering relief and assistance to those in need. Of course, as Jane Addams showed and insisted, aid to the downtrodden should never proceed from a feeling of condescension, but rather from a feeling of common cause. (41) For Ikeda, such fellow feeling arises most effectively when we understand that we all want the same thing. "What is key here," he writes in Soka Education, "is the understanding that the desire for happiness lies at the heart of our interconnection." (42)
It can seem to many of us that this focus on happiness is too simplistic.It can seem to many of us, myself included, that this focus on happiness is too simplistic. But on closer inspection, I can see that I am able to treat happiness as a mundane matter because, as a "middle-class" citizen of the US (and for other reasons as well), I am among the most privileged persons on the planet. I can take my happiness for granted because so many of the things that can conspire against happiness—such as disease, poverty, and threats to personal safety—are to a certain extent non-issues in my life. To the extent that such challenges do confront me, I have support systems in place to help manage them.
More fundamentally, I experience happiness because, in almost every circumstance in which I find myself, I am able and free to be myself. How many are denied this respect? How often do long-established patterns of prejudice, apathy, or oppression convince us that the freedoms we insist on for ourselves are somehow less vital for those who are "not like us"?
When we act out of our greater self, we will not take our own happiness for granted, nor will we minimize how elusive simple happiness can be for those who suffer. When those who have been despised or mistreated are able and free to be happy, none of us are diminished, and we all achieve something great.
Just the other day I noticed that the Wellesley Centers for Women, with whom the Ikeda Center has collaborated in the past, features this slogan: A world that is good for women is good for everyone. (43) I think that is true; and we could extend the list without much trouble at all. We will never regret increasing the amount of happiness and well being in this world, and it is worth including this goal in the core objectives of education.
In the episode related at the top of this essay, in which Ikeda tells of his mentor Josei Toda's dream of Soka University, it is the heart in which the flame or spark of yet-to-be-realized potential is kindled. In Daisaku Ikeda’s telling, that flame had the power to guide and inspire them to heights that might have seemed unrealistic to the rational observer.
“To others my mentor and I must have presented a destitute sight. In truth, Mr. Toda could not pay my wages, and I could not afford a warm overcoat even though winter was quickly closing in. Had we spoken to others of starting a university, they would surely have ridiculed us and dismissed the idea out of hand. But in our hearts, my mentor and I were kings. Mr. Toda declared, ‘Let's make it the best university in the world!’" (44)
In our hearts we were kings! This regal metaphor is not suggestive of excessive self-regard but rather of the inherent nobility of attempting great things for the benefit of our world. With ambition born in the heart and nurtured with compassion and conviction, Ikeda did succeed in creating a university—Soka University—thriving in Tokyo today with more than 50,000 students having graduated since its founding in 1971. (45)
In his statement of the founding ideals for Soka University, Ikeda said: "Education is the foundation of culture and the vital soil that nurtures each new generation. The university, a place where wisdom and character are forged, bears a particularly vital responsibility contributing to the flourishing and prosperity of human society, to the development of peace in the world." (46)
The greater self can flourish when we actively encourage its emergence in our own hearts, and in the hearts of others.What is lost if we refrain from expressing our educational objectives in such exalted terms? Strictly utilitarian or vocational education may or may not contribute to a less-than-desirable focus on what we have called here "the lesser self." But we can be certain that the greater self described by Ikeda in his Harvard lecture of 1993—open and expansive, always seeking to alleviate the pain and augment the happiness of others—will have its best chance to flourish when we actively encourage its emergence in our own hearts, and in the hearts of others.
It's a goal worth seeking. "Only the solidarity brought about by such natural human nobility," contends Ikeda in that same Harvard lecture, "will break down the isolation of the modern self and lead to the dawning of new hope for civilization." (47)
I look forward to the day when all education is seen as synonymous with education for the greater self. When that day arrives, we will recognize educated persons as those in whom knowledge and wisdom are fused; in whom understanding and compassion are one and the same. Not least, we will recognize educated persons as those whose hearts soar when contributing to the happiness and good fortune of others, regardless of however different or strange these others might appear to be on the surface.
What would a society or nation of such educated persons look like? It's hard to say, exactly, but we can be sure that facile distinctions of "winners" and "losers" would have no place within it. Nor would such a nation conceive of its global mission in terms of victory and defeat. A nation where the greater self is embraced would be "big enough" to admit that there is no wisdom or solace to be found in succeeding at the expense of others.
1. Daisaku Ikeda, "Mahayana Buddhism and 21st Century Civilization" in A New Humanism: The University Addresses of Daisaku Ikeda (London and New York: I. B. Taurus, 2010), p. 175.
2. Ibid., p. 173.
3. Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self-Reliance," in Essays and Lectures, ed. Joel Porte (New York: Library of America, 1983), p. 259.
5. Ibid., p. 273.
6. Karla Dawn Meier, "Soka Education Explored" in the World Tribune: The SGI-USA Weekly Newspaper, April 8, 2011, p. 8.
7. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Education for Creative Living: Ideas and Proposals of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, trans. Alfred Birnbaum, ed. Dayle M. Bethel (Ames: Iowa University Press, 1989), p. 168.
8. Daisaku Ikeda, "The Flowering of the Greater Self," 2009 message commemorating the publication of Creating Waldens, Ikeda Center website, thinkers-themes/thinkers/essays/ikeda-2009-message
9. Emerson, "The Poet" in Essays and Lectures, p. 448.
10. Nat Hentoff, "What About Mingus?" in Jazz Times magazine, December 2008, p. 114; and "Luis Bonilla's Waves of Jazz Exhilaration" in Jazz Times magazine, March 2011, p. 72.
11. While Ellington and Mingus are notable for their distinctive and innovative musical conceptions, both expressed appreciation for and were indebted to great jazz figures that preceded them. For example, Ellington was influenced by the "stride" pianists of the early 20th century, and Mingus acknowledged his debt to Ellington with his composition "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love."
12. Jim Garrison, "The Role of Interest in Learning," October 2010 Ikeda Center website video, media-galleries/videos/garrison-hickman-2010.
13. Marge Scherer, "Do Students Care About Learning?: A Conversation with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Educational Leadership, September 2002, Volume 60, Number 1, pp. 12–17.
14. Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Education: For the Happiness of the Individual (Santa Monica: Middleway Press, 2010), p. 167.
15. Daisaku Ikeda, "The Dawn of a Century of Humanistic Education," Daisaku Ikeda website essay, http://www.daisakuikeda.org/main/educator/essays-on-education/ed-dawn-cent.html.
16. Ikeda, Soka Education, p. 168.
17. Ibid., p. 167.
18. Ikeda, "Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship" in A New Humanism, p. 57.
19. Ikeda, "Mahayana Buddhism and 21st Century Civilization" in A New Humanism, p. 169.
20. Ikeda, "Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship" in A New Humanism, p. 57.
21. Emerson, "Self-Reliance" in Essays and Lectures, p. 275.
22. Ikeda, "Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship" in A New Humanism, p. 54.
23. Ibid., p. 57. Note: In Mahayana Buddhism, a bodhisattva is a being who has vowed to achieve enlightenment, but not out of a desire for personal salvation. "Mahayana sets forth the ideal of the bodhisattva who seeks enlightenment both for self and others, even postponing one's entry into nirvana in order to lead others to that goal. The predominant characteristic therefore of a bodhisattva is compassion." (The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, 2002)
24. Ikeda, Soka Education, p. 55.
25. Pema Chodren, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1997), p. 100.
26. Ibid., p. 101.
27. To say that we want to avoid blame is not to say that we shouldn't use discernment to identify and challenge sources of injustice, ignorance, and delusion. The difference is that when we blame we tend to dehumanize those we see as solely or exclusively responsible for our problems. When we act out of our greater (or compassionate) self, we don't deny our shared humanity with those holding prejudicial views or acting in destructive ways. We do best to resist lapsing into "us and them" thinking, even when our cause is just. For more on this topic see Vincent Harding, "Love and the Struggle for Social Transformation," 2010 Ikeda Center video, media-galleries/videos/vincent-harding-2010
28. Ikeda, Soka Education, p. 55.
29. Chodren, When Things Fall Apart, p. 104.
30. Ikeda, "The Enduring Self" in A New Humanism, pp. 139-140.
31. Aostre N. Johnson, "Many Ways of Understanding and Educating Spirit," Classroom Leadership, December 1998/January 1999, Volume 2, Number 4.
32. Daisaku Ikeda, "The Flowering of the Greater Self."
33. For more on this topic see Larry Hickman, "Good and Bad American Exceptionalism," 2010 Ikeda Center video, media-galleries/videos/garrison-hickman-2010.
34. Mitch Bogen, "Empathy Is What Makes Us Human: A Conversation with Nur Yalman," 2009 Ikeda Center website article, thinkers-themes/thinkers/interviews/nur-yalman-2009.
36. Johnson, "Many Ways of Understanding and Educating Spirit."
37. Ikeda, Soka Education, p. 44.
38. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass in Poetry and Prose, ed. Justin Kaplan (New York: The Library of America, 1982), p. 27.
39. In the U.S. of the early twenty-first century, business and political leaders frequently insist that public education should, above all, prepare students for global economic competition. However, when we acknowledge the truth of interconnection, it seems counterproductive to continue seeing globalization, first and foremost, as a form of competition.
40. Ikeda, "Mahayana Buddhism and 21st Century Civilization" in A New Humanism, p. 173.
41. For more on this topic see Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1990).
42. Ikeda, Soka Education, p. 45.
43. For more information about the Wellesley Centers for Women see http://www.wcwonline.org/.
44. Ikeda, "The Dawn of a Century of Humanistic Education."
45. In addition to the founding of Soka University in Tokyo in 1971 (http://www.soka.ac.jp/en/index.html), Ikeda founded Soka University of America in California in 1987 (http://www.soka.edu/default.aspx).
46. Learn more about the mission of Soka University at http://www.soka.ac.jp/en/about/statement.html.
47. Ikeda, "Mahayana Buddhism and 21st Century Civilization" in A New Humanism, p. 175.
Also by Mitch Bogen: "Developing Dispositions for Democracy"