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Global Citizenship Education: A Buddhist Version

05/07/201806:53(Xem: 1351)
Global Citizenship Education: A Buddhist Version
Phat thuyet phap 4
Global Citizenship Education: A Buddhist Version
written by Tue Man (Tram Nguyen, Ph.D.)
Saigon, July 5, 2018

 

In recent years, the concept of global citizenship education has become very popular in Western countries, especially in North America and Europe. However, there are different definitions and understandings of global citizenship and hence various models of global citizenship education. Despite some particular differences, these versions share one thing: being aimed at finding a good answer to the big question, “How to build, through education, a better world?” Therefore, global citizenship education is a comprehensive domain, and one of its dominant aspects is helping others. In this regard, I will give a snapshot of Western global citizenship education practices, together with their strengths and limitations, and then explain why Buddhism may add a dimension to contemporary global citizenship education by pointing to the nature of selfhood and thus facilitating a rethinking of the notion of “help.”

Helping initiatives in Western global education programs are perceived to have both strengths and limitations. As mentioned earlier, building a better world through education is the primary aim of global education. For this reason, raising students’ awareness of global sufferings, including poverty, natural disasters, wars, and so on, is at the top of Western universities’ agenda. As global citizens, students are expected to do something to help relieve global sufferings. In this aspect, many universities have programs to send students to the Third World to do charitable work or help people in these countries. Needless to say, these practices are helpful and desirable because through these programs people from less developed countries have a chance to receive both material and educational support. Thus, poverty, starvation and illiteracy are partly reduced. Although the programs are helpful, they are believed to have limitations. Some researchers discover that while helping others, a number of students tend to have a sense of superiority over the helped. More specifically, they are likely to think that “I,  superior, advantaged and civilized, uplift the other, who is inferior, disadvantaged and uncivilized” or “I really feel sorry for them.” A close examination of these helping initiatives reveals that true respect and compassion may not occur in these students’ act of helping, and thus global sufferings, including global injustices, are not actually disrupted. Notably, there is a warning about a potential confusion between “pity” and “compassion.” Buddhist scholar Jack Kornfield said that the near enemy of compassion is pity (2012), explaining further that pity connotes a sense of separation and alienation while compassion is indicative of connection and openness. Thus, in the context above, when students feel sorry for the people they help, they express a sense of pity underpinned by feelings of discrimination and contempt for others. True compassion is not found in their actions. Indeed, Buddhist scholar Chogyam Trungpa (1973) held that compassion “is not feeling sorry for someone. It is basic warmth” (p. 97). Buddhist monk Dhammanada also put that with compassion, while helping others, people “should not perform charity as an act of their body alone, but with their heart and mind as well” (2002, p. 235). From these Buddhist perspectives, we can see that the work towards global betterment in some global education programs is not complete due to the absence of compassion and respect for others in some students’ actions. That said, how to nurture true respect and compassion for others is still a big question. In this aspect, Buddhism may have something to offer.

As described earlier, it is obvious that the duality of Self and Other underlies some students’ help and therefore brings about a huge gap between the helper and the helped. Wherever there is a border between ‘self’ and ‘others’, there is no room for true respect and compassion.  For this reason, it is necessary to disrupt this duality. However, it would be very challenging to do this without an appropriate view of self/other. The Buddhist conception of self may be very helpful in this regard.

For Buddhists, the belief in a discrete and solid self is actually a delusion. Self is comprised of impermanent constituents called Five Aggregates including material form, sensations, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. These constituents are brought into being by causes and conditions, which are always changing. With reference to the absence of a separate and permanent self, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh offers a nice explanation. Nhat Hanh (1988) posited that self is interdependent with others. To illustrate this point, he gives a metaphor commonly known in Buddhist communities. That is, a sheet of paper cannot exist by itself. Rather, it is interdependent with the sunshine, the cloud, the forest and so on. Generally put, this means that one cannot exist without others. In another aspect, Nhat Hanh affirms that in one’s self there are others through his metaphors of a rose and garbage, arguing that in a rose there is (potential) garbage and vice versa. This could be understood in several ways. For example, a rose, no matter how beautiful it is now, will perish and ultimately become garbage; or, a rose at present grows thanks to garbage as a form of fertilizer. Conversely, garbage is not always bad as it seems, it can be transformed into a rose in the hands of skillful gardeners. Since the rose and the garbage inter-are, for Nhat Hanh they are equal; hence, there is not a clear-cut boundary between goodness and badness.

Let us return to the context of charitable programs described earlier. In Buddhist views, it does not make sense to believe that one is independent of or superior to others. It also means that students, while practicing global citizenship, should have deep respect for others because in the absolute sense they cannot be separate from others and especially because there is no clear-cut border between superiority and inferiority or between any perceived goodness and badness. As for the latter, the metaphors of a rose and garbage may make them aware that their richness and ‘superiority’ are probably grounded in others’ poverty and ‘inferiority.’ With this in mind, instead of feeling sorry (and disdain) for others, students may have not only deep respect for but also gratitude to people from less developed countries.

Buddhist view of self also helps cultivate genuine compassion for others. As articulated, the right view on self is the realization of the absence of a permanent and separate self. In other words, self is interdependent with others; therefore, in this Buddhist scenario there is no dividing line between self and others, and there is no discrimination, contempt or arrogance in any charity performed. With real compassion, people simply follow the impulse of their hearts to free others from their suffering. Having a similar point, Buddhist monk Gyatso (2001) once put that “[c]ompassion is a mind that is motivated by cherishing other living beings and wishes to release them from their suffering” (p. 174).

In summary, I have presented a short description of helping initiatives as one of many important aspects in Western global citizenship education programs. These practices are definitely effective and helpful. However, there is still an issue to consider; that is the absence of real respect and compassion in some acts of helping. To deal with this problem, Buddhism offers a right view of selfhood, which challenges any belief in the duality of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ and consequently facilitates the emergence of deep respect and compassion. This Buddhist global citizenship education version may bring a new hope for a brighter future of a possible loving, compassionate and enlightened world.

 

References

Dhammanada, K. S. (2002). What Buddhists believe. Kuala Lumpur: Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia.

Gyatso, G. K. (2001). Transform your life: A blissful journey. New York: Tharpa Publications.

Kornfield, J. (2012). Bringing home the Dharma: Awakening right where you are. Boston and London: Shambhala.

Nhat Hanh, T. (1988). The heart of understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra. California: Parallax Press.

Trungpa, C. (1973). Cutting through spiritual materialism. California: Shambhala publications.

 

 

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