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Buddhism is facing a 'lost generation'
Surachai Chupaka
(Reflecting on Visakha Bhucha Day and how Buddhist studies are becoming an athema to modern students)


Yesterday's Visakha Bhucha Day was the perfect time to discover more about Lord Buddha and his teachings - its importance has also been recognised by the United Nation - but sadly, for many Thais it was just another holiday. They only remember that Visakha Day is the annual celebration of the birth, enlightenment and departure of Lord Buddha, but they feel that does not relate directly to them. This attitude is the result of a failure in schools to teach Buddhism properly.

Ask today's students about their most boring subject and most would probably say Buddhism. This attitude stems from an outdated curriculum, unqualified teachers and an inappropriate environment. Despite social change, the Buddhist curriculum in schools has not been updated since 1990. It mostly details Lord Buddha's life, accompanied by condensed versions of hundreds of his sayings. Students memorise Buddha's teachings in order to pass multiple choice examinations without really understanding the meaning.

On Sunday, many of them will participate in various temple activities to gain additional marks instead of doing it for themselves. Meanwhile, teachers find they are unable to develop their teaching skills because they have never had any direct experience concerning Buddhist practices. Even though there have been many attempts to strengthen Buddhist studies by having monks teach students, students have not been convinced to learn more about the Buddha due to a lack of experience dealing with the present social environment.

The school environment is another barrier hampering the students ability to realise the importance of what Buddha taught. Administrators seem to concentrate on how to develop and improve their school's standing rather than the development of their teachers and students. To bring Buddhism into the 21st century, these problems have to be addressed to get the younger generations to realise that such knowledge is a key to helping develop themselves. Instead of teaching Buddhism using the rote method, the curriculum should focus on the major aspects, working out teaching methods that best suit the differing age groups.

A core concept of Buddha's teaching is the meaning of Dharma, so this must be strictly addressed since it is the heart of the matter. If students can understand the meaning, it will help open the door to other aspects of Buddhism. In this day and age, a majority of students do not understand the meaning of Dharma. "Buddha teaching these days centres around general morals and ethics, which every religion has. Nobody gets to the heart of the matter.

This is the real problem concerning Buddhism in Thailand," the late Venerable Buddhadasa, one of the most influential thinkers and Dharma exponents in contemporary Thailand, noted. Venerable Buddhadasa explained that Dharma, according to Lord Buddha, means the state of nature as it is. He said it concerns the laws of nature, so a man has a duty to follow nature's laws to ensure a peaceful life. In fact, all of the Buddha's commandments are guidelines for people to comply with as a way to ensure a peaceful mind.

Following the commandments will enable people to better follow nature's laws. For example, not drinking is one of the five major commandments, allowing the follower to have better consciousness to lead a regular life. Students should have the opportunity to learn practically rather than memorising the five precepts. Furthermore, the Education Ministry should reshape teaching approaches and the type of material used, getting rid of the "chalk and talk" style.

For primary schools, Buddha-related stories should be in a cartoon format. Phra Mahajanaka, a stage in Lord Buddha's life, is a perfect example for a cartoon books so students can understand more easily. For higher-level teaching, the ministry should draw up new methods by following Lord Buddha's way.

According to the Tripitaka, made up of the Buddha's teaching, Lord Buddha always taught via the question and answer method, offering concrete comparisons so that people could understand nature's laws by using their own wisdom. Furthermore, teachers should have opportunity to become better acquainted with Buddhism. They should share their views with academic monks who clearly understand the heart of the teachings.

Monks who teach Buddhist courses in schools should make more attempts to understand the students' problems, as well as the constraints felt by teachers. Phra Prayoon Dharmmajitto, a well-known academic monk, noted in his book "The Turning Point of Life" that Buddhism will become a bitter pill to swallow if society does not try to improve the teachers and look for different ways to teach the subject.

In the correct environment, schools and temples should join hands to improve the situation, ensuring comfort and peace so students can enjoy learning. These days many schools aim to build modern buildings without any space for practising Buddha's philosophies, while temples have become more private places, just being an area for holding Buddhist ceremonies. Without change, the younger generation is going to grow up preferring the din of shopping malls rather than the tranquillity of learning what Buddha has to offer.

The Nation newspaper, 18-May-2000, Bangkok, Thailand.

Sincere thanks to Dr. Binh Anson for providing us with this article


Updated: 1-7-2000

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