Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on Buddhism and Education Part II


Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on Buddhism and Education Part II

About This Resource

Summary This is the second occasion where Rinpoche addressed questions from parents and educators. This talk included diverse topics including social media, self-reliance, resilience, going beyond conventional education, how to present Buddhism to non-buddhists, how to teach kids about lineage, death, deities, mantra, how to let children lead their own learning and much more.


Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on Buddhism and Education Part II

This is the second episode of Rinpoche addressing questions from parents and educators. To listen to the first talk, click here. 

Note: Due to a malfunction in the recording system, parts of this video contain white noise. 

Full transcript:

Question 1: As we approach the teenage years (we’re not quite there yet!) how do we protect our children from the fear of not fitting in/getting sucked into the world of ego enhancement (phones, selfies, snapchat, likes, etc….) and all the anxiety that that might create.

This is a difficult one. Should we even protect them? I mean yes, probably we should protect them at least in the beginning. Because I think part of the process of the education is also… protect, maybe you know protect is such a subjective, isn’t it. Maybe, I don’t know, if you are talking about protect in the sense of maybe like trying to divert their attention to [from?] stuff like phones, selfies, snap, what, snap chat, basically social media, and everything – that’s unrealistic isn’t it. And we don’t know what’s in store in our… In five years’ time, there is an incredible, powerful I am sure toys, distractions, waiting. So I don’t have a really clear answer for this, except I have just some very foggy ideas. Something like instead of protecting, in the sense of really making them not see these things, maybe we already introduce this  into the class by saying there is this and that. There is things like selfies, phone, snap chat. But they have this kind of impact — both good and bad actually. It can… I don’t know. I am sure there are so many things we can tell, right.

Mindfulness is really not just sitting there and watching your breathing in and out.

I mean one of the most fundamental flaw of all this media is they are basically all subjective. I don’t know if it is flaw. None of them, you know it’s all subjective, sold as objective, and that’s already a bit of a lie there. So maybe we should already sort of: okay kids, children, you know, be prepared. There’s full of these lies waiting there for you, and we are going to tell what kind of lies they are telling you. I mean you can… already you are free to fall for these lies and you know, I don’t know, glide through it. Basically you know again here as a Buddhist myself, I am talking about some kind of mindfulness. That’s what mindfulness is about isn’t it.

Mindfulness is really not just sitting there and watching your breathing in and out. Just, you know, that all this is subjective. All these are interpretation, and you children, you need to have the ability to not get cornered, not get influenced. Yeah, so something like that. I am sorry, I can’t really give you… this is you know… this is all just my opinion, my suggestions, or my ideas. And actually I am the worst person to ask these things because I have no children myself. So I am sure you parents… I should be learning from you guys. But that’s what I am thinking.

Question 2: How do we instill in them belief in themselves and their buddhanature and the knowledge that that is enough (and more than enough)?

R: Now the second question, that’s much easier for me. For that, in order to instil in them belief in themself and their buddhanature, I think that’s easier for me to answer. I am sure the kids you know they get angry, they get jealous, they get emotional, they get all that. I think this… this… and this is important, we need to somehow have a really step-by-step information. And very important information is to make them know that yes, they come, these really strong, smelly, sticky, painful emotions come, and they are all manipulatable, they are all pacifiable, they are all purifiable. In fact, they are temporary, and most importantly they are like your, you know garbs, you know, like clothes. You are wearing it but they are not you. I think this somehow if you can, you know, insert. So then they may say: so who am I, who really I am?

Well the Buddhist answer is Buddha, right, but that’s also of course just a label. But you know, that kind of encourage… encouraging label is a branding basically, and why not. Buddha is a very good brand. It means awakened and compassionate and, what do you call it, yeah. So nobody wants… nobody… there’s nobody who doesn’t want to be awakened. Nobody, there is nobody who wants to be evil, you understand. So yeah, something like that. If you could, if the teachers and the curriculum or the environment can, you know even a wall painting or even a game, you can design a game so that you know — yes some of these emotions, they… they are so strong and they are there all the time, and they are there forever so to speak but it doesn’t matter. They are all removable. Yeah so that information. And this is an important study in philosophy of Buddhism which… yeah, actually one of the sort of spine of Buddhism is this.

MWS 1: What are some ways we can introduce the dharma to our non-buddhist parents?

Well of course you know we don’t want to be overly eager to sort of convert them into Buddhism, but because they are sending their kids to Buddhist school, I guess they will want to know what kind of values and beliefs and I don’t know, the… how do we look at ourself and the world and so on and so forth. Well as I’ve always said, the view must, even though it’s dry, boring, whatever – has to be. Don’t start with your: don’t eat meat, chant mantra, buy a statue; and definitely don’t start with ngöndro.

Buddhists don’t believe in god as creator. In Buddhism morality is not in the driving seat. In Buddhism morality is a rider. The driver is the wisdom.

So everything is impermanent, all compounded things are impermanent, everything is a subject of time, everything is… has no truly existing, well maybe the better way is: how things appear is not how it is. Things are all subject to dependent arising. You are your own boss, nobody is. And then you should also be brave enough to tell that you know, Buddhists don’t believe in god as creator. In Buddhism morality is… morality is not in the driving seat. In Buddhism morality is a rider. The driver is the wisdom.

And what is wisdom? Wisdom is knowing the truth. And what is the truth? I just told you – you know, the impermanence, things are not how it appears. You know these are easier to say than actually live with it. The moment we see something we forget. We forget that that’s just an appearance. We forget that they… and when we say it’s appearance, then it’s opening a big, big, big you know door. When we say everything is appearance, it really gives so much responsibility to the one who is looking at the appearance, projector. Yeah I think overall, America needs to really learn responsibility. You know, too much right and all that kind of thing. I would almost emphasize responsibility much more than rights. Right is so deeply, deeply ingrained to selfish, self-clinging, self-cherishing, self-righteous, soul. And then you can bring meditation, dance, mantras, all of that.

Q: We have 8 thematic units. One of them is Lineage. Do you have any ideas about how we teach the importance of lineage? The other units are: Taking your seat, refuge, bodhicitta (or awakening), impermanence, interconnection, harmony, and cause & effect.

Lineage, there are many, many purpose for lineage. Some of them are quite deep and profound and vast. Will take some time to understand. But for now I think what parents need to know is the lineage is what authenticates the path, because there’s too many charlatans going around, many. And I have always thought you know the Western world will not fall into charlatans, but it’s the opposite. All these self-appointed gurus who plagiarize things from here and there, because you know… and they read here, read there. They have no system, you know there is no background. There’s no system. There is no lineage. It hasn’t been tested. How would you… how would you, you know, react if I say, you know, I found a… I found a coronavirus vaccine. This is the answer for you. Would you do this? Yeah if you are gullible, sycophant, easily inspired, inspirable, I am sure you will…. you will buy this, right? Didn’t somebody say something like this? Your president, what did he say? Detol or something you have to inject, right? What was it? Detol?

Interjection: Sanitizer

R: Sanitizer right, sanitizer and I heard that so many people bought it. I mean, the national health organizations had to tell people you know don’t do that. Yeah that’s lineage for you. Lineage authenticates the method and the teachings. Okay.

Beginning is an end of something, and it’s the beginning of another thing, and it is the abiding or middle of something. All beginning, middle, and end have beginning, middle, and end.

Q: How do we explain death to young children? (usually 4-6 years old they start asking).

R: Between not saying anything about death and saying something, I would rather say something. I think for the longer, for the long-term it is much better, especially if the children are beginning to ask. But I think death as some sort of an ultimate end, that, you know, even from a Buddhist philosophical point of view we cannot accept. So if… I don’t know how the parents or the teachers will do this, along the line of you know how end of today is not really end, right? There’s always a tomorrow. End of something is the beginning of something. And this is all very, very aligned with the Buddhist philosophy by the way.

Actually – maybe I am making this too complicated – but the Buddhists, you know, Buddhists don’t see beginning as just beginning. Beginning is an end of something, and it’s the beginning of another thing, and it is the abiding or, what do you call it, middle… middle of something. All beginning, middle, and end have beginning, middle, and end. I just want to put that in your head for those who are teaching or parents. I think, of course we don’t need this information, too complicated for the kids. A sense of continuity, at the same time not really permanent, maybe you can create that. I don’t know whether that’s helpful. If not, please ask me again.

Q: In our everyday life in preschool in Singapore, a big part of it is spent on learning (A) “I am Rei” “this is a cup” and “this is my cup”. Most of educational theory is built around building self-identify and self-regulation, based on a belief that it is part of development to be in society. It is a large part of subject learning like English, Chinese, Math and Science. Then, because of our Buddhist beliefs, we also spend time learning (B) “this is what I see as a cup” and “this is my, your, our and nobody’s cup”. Right now, it feels like we have to learn (A) in order to learn (B). Is it possible to learn in a non-linear way? What are your thoughts on this?

R: Probably we will have to. We will have to learn A in order to learn B. But I think maybe what we could… we should do is I think… I don’t know, because I have no kids so I am not the best person to ask these questions in a way. Okay. I think lot of our… lot of study… I guess most of the education that we have now, so-called modern education, especially places like Singapore and India are very much influenced by the British education. Sort of that old, archaic, outdated. I think the British themself realize this. There I think almost like the only purpose of the education is learn a technique or a skill or a… learn way to think so that we can become sort of slave to a certain system. I think it comes in so many forms. I don’t know maybe I’m not making any sense here, but let me try to articulate this.

So okay, so we are told, okay you study this. We are given all these tools. We study mathematics, science, all of that. So we yeah, we have a, I think, a lot of bad sort of curriculum or logic. Sort of, I don’t know, manuals, manuals, user, user guides, but almost none about intuition and emotion. If we do have that, it only happens much later when you are finally depressed, isolated, alienated, and when you are finally sick of, you know like, stress and all of that, then and only then you sort of in the form of treatment, you get it from your psychiatrist. I am just giving you an example. Or, yeah. So maybe there’s a way even from a very young time we can teach our kids — like okay you know I think I have told this like last time — to teach the kids, you know, you have something called mind. Now as… as much as it sounds very, you know, sort of profound and very enigmatic, but it’s not. We do have mind, but many times we take for granted that we have mind, right. So we tell them, you know, you have a mind. Do you or not? You know like that.

So that’s one and then… then, tell them this mind is very powerful. This is the mind that you get sad, you miss your mum, you know all that. You want to play. I don’t know. You want your toys. It’s this mind that’s doing it. And then also teach others. You know, it is not only you who has mind. The others also have. And what they think, and what they value, and what they like and what they dislike is not always similar to you. So I don’t know somehow if you can sort of put that in there, empathy. And then I guess you can talk about how it’s how you think. It’s how you perceive, yeah. That’s how you hear. This is how you have heard. This is how you imagine. This is how you project. The other one does not necessarily project like that. I, you know, I think we can teach this. If a kid understand 4 plus 4 is 8, which is actually kind of abstract, we just have to force that in them, right. This is very experimental, empirical.

Among the kids themselves they will know this. I think as I said earlier in another time, I think this is the sort of the ground or the foundation for making ourself forgiving, compassionate, kind, resilient. Yeah probably what… also the foundation for emotional intelligence I think. You know people always talk about entitlement, right. We always feel entitled to something. Yeah, yeah individual rights, rights. Individual rights is fine, okay, it’s really good, but the problem is the other one also wants his or her individual rights. Your… what you want the rights and the others what they want the right, many times there’s a clash.

Q: How do we explain to kids:

  • Who is Buddha/Mañjuśrī /Guanyin?
  • What is a mantra? Why recite mantra or Buddha’s name?

R: Oh for the kids just as how we traditionally do. I think Buddha should be introduced as the Prince who, you know all the classic Buddhist example, you know stories, I think that’s the best. You know like especially the Pali tradition, Theravadin, they are really good at it. You know, they always paint the Buddha as an ordinary human being who saw the truth and who was attracted by the truth. He renounced all this you know stuff, this is the best. When it comes to Mañjuśrī also, I think as a Bodhisattva, as a student of the Buddha, as a very sharp witty man. And Avalokiteshvara again compassionate, Buddha’s disciple. Yeah I think that’s the best for the kids and someone who, yeah. And reciting their names is like to protect ourself from fear. You know, the children may have lots of different kinds of fear, loneliness. I don’t know maybe they get scared, so I think that kind of very seemingly theistic, yeah that’s fine, because supposedly we will not be doing that all the way, because by the time they reach to a certain age we will surely deconstruct all these concepts.

Bodhisattvas’ manifestations are limitless, so I think we need to be courageous to explain to the kids this way.

So I think for the children you need to paint pictures. Also depends on the children. I think you can… I mean I would not insist on having Mañjuśrī always with the sword and the book. Maybe some kids like to see Mañjuśrī in a very different way. This is why it would be so good if there is a temple with all the Bodhisattvas in the form of you know cartoonish character, because that is how the children relate. Because I think we, the adults, we are such a dictator. We see our bodhisattvas as how adults see, and we just totally shun and just totally stop the children’s view of things. And at times if you need to portray Mañjuśrī as a turtle, Avalokiteshvara as a… wow, so much manifestations, right: fish, waves, wind, breeze, mountains. Even theoretically you are not going too far from the Mahayana sutras. Bodhisattvas’ manifestations are limitless, so I think we need to be courageous to explain the kids this way.

Q: What are better definitions for the terms education, discipline, teaching and school?

R: Education – I think I have said this in the past. Education is sort of out of necessity isn’t it? I think that sense of not out of righteousness or out of some sort of a… It’s something like: you need to fasten your seatbelt. You know, what to do. That’s the kind of the world we have created. And down the line your insecurity will kick in. Your wish to sort of, to be included, to associate, to be not left out, all of this, all of this will kick in, so meaning that you know, you want to be a part of the elephants let’s say. Then you will need to learn how to, you know, use your nose. Isn’t that what they do? Like they suck in the water and then put, right, the elephants. That’s an education. That’s what it is, isn’t it. Education is like, what to do. Yeah, so I think educators may… educators, it’s like out of necessity. Not because it’s out of right thing to do, or something like that. We have to be careful how to use this language and what was it? There’s another one?

Q: Discipline, teaching, and school

Right, discipline. Discipline is interesting. In Buddhism the discipline is categorized into three which is… which may help you. There is nyé jö dom pay tsültrim, géway chö dü pay tsültrim, semchen don chey pay tsültrim, (wyl. nyes spyod sdom pa’i tshul khrims, dge ba’i chos sdud pa’i tshul khrims, sem can don byed pa’i tshul khrims, discipline of controlling transgressions, gathering virtuous dharmas, and benefiting sentient beings). And this is quite good one. Okay nyé jö dom pay tsültrim, the first one. You can, I’m sure you can find this, you know, explanations in many different texts, but nyé jö dom pay tsültrim, the discipline to… discipline so that one will not go into harm’s way, or one will not put others into harm’s way, yeah.

That’s an important one, isn’t it? I mean we should, we should, yeah that’s one important principle. That’s a discipline. So for that we need to know: what is it that’s going to harm us? Such as I don’t know like drugs, right? So we need to learn why, how. Or even something like being rude. You know like, if you are rude it will harm us and harm others, just create miserable situation. So that’s one: discipline to, you know, protect ourself from harm’s way or others also from harm’s way.

You discipline yourself so that you don’t go in harm’s way and others. You discipline yourself so that you embrace wholesome good things, for yourself and others.

Géway chö dü pay tsültrim, discipline to collect or embrace or apply virtuous, wholesome things, for ourself and others, such as being polite. I mean, just one example. If you are polite, if you are gentle, if you are humble, it collects wholesome. Nobody likes, you know as I said, nobody likes you know somebody rude, being rude. Everybody kind of you know likes when they are polite. So then we learn: what are the things that is wholesome, that is virtuous. So then there’s this whole lot of categories from the very basic things like being generous, being polite, being gentle, all the way to understanding emptiness. Nyé jö dom pay tsültrim, géway chö dü pay tsültrim, semchen don chey pay tsültrim. Ah this is an important one. I think this is what modern kids need to know.

Okay, so you try not to be… you discipline yourself so that you don’t go in harm’s way and others. You discipline yourself so that you embrace wholesome good things, whatever, for yourself and others. On top of that, disciplining oneself to help others, benefit others, make others happy, but not just… not just that. I was actually talking about that. There’s two things. Making… You know, there’s two things: being happy and being beneficial. Both are important, but being happy is very temporary, isn’t it. Being beneficial. Like scratching a pimple. Scratching a pimple may satisfy you, kind of happy, make you happy, but it’s more beneficial if you don’t scratch. You know stuff like that. Yeah, so learning, having a discipline to help others by making others happy and doing things that are beneficial.

Q: Sara Mist question 2: a, b, c:


R: Yes all of them, very good.

Q: Some “child-centric” schools let children decide what they want to learn and how. The teachers follow that lead. What are your thoughts about this?

Self-evaluation techniques are a different model but seem to be a valuable tool to know “thyself” for children?’

R: …entirely trust that children will lead. No one has the ability to lead themself. You know, where? Where do we go where there is no influence? But I mean the idea to the certain extent I think is okay. But all of them, and especially if this child is just one year old, maybe the least culturally and you know intellectually influenced, but then if the child wants to crawl you know near a cliff, we have responsibility to also save them, right? So it’s a, yeah I think I am only talking about that we as educators we just need to know all this. As long as we know these, then I think there will some sort of a humility and some sort of a bigger picture or a bigger vision. And then bigger vision sometimes also means, you know, changing the definition of success. You know otherwise you are… you are stuck with a very narrow definition of success. So educators actually I guess that that’s what we need, okay.

Q: Sheltering/Teasing: I’ve noticed a traditional (which I am very broadly calling a Tibetan/Asian) approach which uses teasing as a method for a child to see their faults and confront short comings. Is this teasing a way to cognizance and manage emotions? I personally struggle with the pain of watching a child be teased but also see the value in resilience and having to work with an inner struggle. What are your thoughts regarding this or your own experiences?

R: Wow, it’s very difficult. You know there’s too much information going on. There is too much you know like, yeah, too much information. And there is too much padding, you know, safety measure. And problem is, this thing that we are trying to protect with hundred thousand padding and safety measure and insurance, if that thing actually can be saved – you know I am talking in a worldly sense, okay – then at least some of these you know whatever endeavor we are applying is sort of worth it.

But it’s almost like this whatever thing, this being, the beings are sometimes like no matter what kind of padding, what kind of railing you have, what kind of insurance you have, this being, they are just so good at finding an unsafe spot. It’s like we are just prone to that. Many times we love it, we fight for it. And if we stop going close to that, they will actually even sue you for not giving them the freedom. This is very complicated.

So I think again going back to you know we can only do so much. I think… that attitude I think is important. I don’t think we should have a blind you know, blind sort of conclusion that we will build a total safety network. I understand yeah this teasing and all of that. Wow, it can create lot of damage I understand. But then again the modern kids, modern people, I mean now I am sixty years old, so I have seen how especially the younger generations, they are much more in many ways… okay, they are very good with certain things like I don’t know, like computer-savvy, whatever, but emotional resilience, hmmmm I don’t know. I don’t think so. Mental strength – I don’t think so. Sometimes I feel that their mental strength comes when they are about seventy-five years old. Then they begin to become sort of a you know strong human being. That’s how it is, right?

Q: Major transitions of developmental growth need support, celebration and honoring in our children. These kinds of experiences are very much lacking in modern culture. While the future of travel etc. is uncertain etc., I would love some support to access the incredible existing dharma camps for my now 7 year old son in a few years. Sun Camp or Nova Scotia Sea School for example….Exposure to the night sky without a roof is sadly lacking for so many children. Please can you discuss?

R: Okay I think I have talked to Noa about rite of passage. I think there should be at least three times, different stages. The only thing I want to add in here is how much should we really emphasize… I have a feeling the rite of passage has something to do with okay now you have become man, you have become woman, now you have entered in the adult sort of more serious life. So how much should we really encourage that one? I think it would be more like okay, you are now entering into a zone where you… you have to be really careful not to lose your innocence and freshness, and sort of… That element should be there I feel, but this is subject to discussion.

Q: Can we have a children’s prayer for when something/someone dies, family member, pet or animal etc.? Is there a mantra other than Oṃ Maṇi Padme Hūṃ?

R: There’s so many, so many, but specifically for the children I guess we should try to arrange something.

Q: Parental training and support so needed right now. I in particular could face online schooling for my 8 year old for the next 6 months. Support from other parents in the sangha for other parents in the Sangha, thinking of Summer, Heather, Jing Rui and Rebecca and some kind of more formalized online connection and some direct professional advice could be so helpful right now.

R: Yes, why don’t maybe they try to create some sort of a, you know, family forum or something like that. That’s a good idea, okay.

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