Buddha was born as a son of a wealthy king some 2,500 ago in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal. After 29 years of living in luxury, he left the palace for the first time. Outside he saw ordinary people and immense suffering. He decided to begin a simple life, spending most of the time among holy men or meditating. His goal was to solve the mystery of suffering.
Over the years Buddha realized that we suffer because we desire things to be more than what they are.
He spoke of 4 Noble Truths:
1. There is suffering
2. Suffering is caused by our desires
3. We can manage our desires by changing our perspective instead of trying to change our circumstances.
4. We can free ourselves from suffering by following the Noble Eightfold Path, also known as The Middle Way.
The Middle Way teaches us to consume in moderation, cultivate self-discipline and strengthen our mind through meditation and mindfulness. So we become aware of our thoughts and actions and realize that nothing is permanent. We then can understand that everyone is exposed to suffering and as a result become more compassionate. With enough practice, we can let go of all negative desires and free ourselves from suffering altogether. We reach full liberation of the mind. Buddhist schools in Thailand, India and around the world bring introspection into the lessons and activities of their national curriculum. Since Buddha believed that wisdom is rather a habit, and not an intellectual state of mind, learning by doing is the key. But students also practice concentration and learn life skills like farming and skilful communication. To build intrinsic motivation, children get individual feedback instead of reward and punishment.
Students learn to understand and manage their emotions. An angry girl identifies the causes, warning signs and transient nature of her feelings. She might realize that we are not being punished for our anger, but by our anger. A boy that aced a math test reflects on his success. He understands that hard work pays off, but also realizes that he should not be too proud because it separates us from others and creates loneliness. He learns to be modest.
Daily rituals help the students to practice mindfulness. In the morning, students meditate in front of a shrine, chant Buddhist virtues and send out feelings of goodwill to all living beings. Sometimes students visit the community to experience the pleasure of giving and to see that some are suffering. They understand that nothing is permanent, not even life itself.
The goal of a Buddhist Education is to spark our curiosity for lifelong learning through reflection. So that once we grow up, we understand the consequences of skilful speech, we learn to enjoy the simple things in life and we find inspiration and wisdom in our thoughts. Just as Buddha said "conquer anger with non-anger. Conquer badness with goodness. Conquer meanness with generosity. Conquer dishonesty with truth."