New Delhi, India - On his way to meet the Core Committee Working on the Curriculum for Universal Values this morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s car had negotiate its way round not one but two large puja elephants ambling along the road. Welcomed at the door by his host Analjit Singh and his son Vir, His Holiness first lit a ceremonial lamp to inaugurate the meeting. Geshe Lhakdor moderated today’s session which was an opportunity for delegates from several educational institutions to report to His Holiness about their deliberations yesterday.
With regard to teacher training there was a consensus that teachers should not just master a set of guidelines, but should embody the ethics they are teaching about. The next point of agreement was that the framework for Social, Emotional and Ethical Learning pioneered at Emory University should serve as the basis for any programme for developing secular ethics or universal values as envisioned by His Holiness. Topics covered included the basic framework, progress in curriculum development, issues of quality control, accreditation and approval from His Holiness‘s Office.
Representatives from six educational organizations presented the progress they have made so far in developing a curriculum and outlined their future plans. Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi represented the team at Emory University who plan to launch a working curriculum when His Holiness visits the University in October this year. Ms Deepti Gulati on behalf of Ayurgyan Nyas, an organization active in Meerut set up to carry forward the work of Mind and Life Institute in India said they expect to have two training modules ready in July for implementation in 9 schools in 8 Indian cities.
In the absence of Director Prof S Parasuraman, two of his colleagues from the Tata Institute for Social Sciences spoke about their work to foster secular ethics. Themes they mentioned included—knowing who I am, designing to make a difference, implementing to transform and generating tangible results.
Dr Nidhi Sabharwal for the Centre for Policy Research in Higher Education spoke about developing a positive approach with a focus on the values of liberty, equality and humanity. They intend to have training modules ready in August.
Arun Kapur, Director of Vasant Valley School described work the school has been pioneering in Wholistic Education, focussing on Evolution, Raags and the Freedom Struggle, under the auspices of the Centre for Escalation of Peace.
Finally, Prof Meenakshi Thapan of the University of Delhi reported on work she has been pursuing with the Rishi Valley School on Morality and Education. She pointed out that although teachers are central to the lives of children, in India teachers often underestimate themselves.
With these summary presentations of ongoing work complete, Geshe Lhakdor observed that the Departments of both Education and Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration were taking a close interest in these proceedings and were represented by their respective Ministers.
After a short break for tea, Arun Kapur described the Committee’s Concrete Action Plan. He outlined the targets for finalising the Emory SEE Learning framework and the several plans for curriculum development. Almost all the participants expect to have material ready for implementation between June and September of this year. He also outlined ambitious plans for Teacher Training, which Ayurgyan Nyas and SEE Learning at Emory are piloting.
Invited to comment on what he’d heard, His Holiness began:
“Firstly, I’m very encouraged by the work these different organizations and institutions are doing. I don’t feel there is a need for a validating board in my office so much as a group of informed experts who can visit, view and report on what you are all doing.
“Many problems we face today arise from a failure to use our basic human nature and intelligence properly. We have to look into how to educate people. Just talking about money and power won’t work. Much more important is encouraging a sense of the oneness of humanity, a sense that we all belong to one human family.
“Other animals don’t instigate war, that’s something only human beings do. If basic human nature turned out to be anger, there’d be no hope. Right now the drawback we face is the inadequacy of our existing education system. I’m impressed by the work you’re doing to remedy this. You don’t have to finalise it in a hurry, just keep doing the work.
“In the USA I’ve come across cities of compassion and cities of kindness and I’ve got to know the Mayors involved. They have developed programmes to encourage kindness and compassion in action, which have been effective and made a difference for the students and others involved. Their results could be of interest to you.”
His Holiness mentioned his commitment to reviving the knowledge of ancient India, particularly where it concerns psychology, logic and philosophy. He declared that he generally sleeps for nine hours a night, and then gets up at 3 o’clock in the morning to spend 4-5 hours sharpening his mind through the employment of such knowledge.
A representative of the Ministry for Human Resource Development, who had attended both days’ discussions, assured him that the idea of values based education had already been accepted in principle.
Returning to the question of ancient Indian knowledge, His Holiness spoke of categorizing the content of the 300 volumes of ancient Indian Buddhist literature that had been translated into Tibetan under three headings: Science—for example the science of mind, Philosophy and Religion. He asserted that it should be possible for anybody interested to study material belonging to Science and Philosophy from an academic standpoint, whereas the religious content is really only of interest to Buddhists. He alluded to discussions he has engaged in for more than 30 years with scientists to mutual benefit. He reiterated his view that compared to the profound understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions revealed in ancient Indian psychology, modern psychology is still rudimentary.
There was some discussion of the role of religious traditions in relation to secular ethics. His Holiness was clear.
“Religion will survive. It strengthens basic human values. The secular ethics we’ve been talking about are fundamental to all religious traditions. When I use the term secular, I do so according to the Indian understanding of a secular respect for all religious traditions, but also for the views of those who have no faith.
“The term secular may have had an anti-religious connotation in connection with the French and Bolshevik revolutions when religious institutions that been involved in oppression were opposed.”
There was some discussion of the role caste discrimination has in oppressing some sections of society. His Holiness expressed his hope that Indian spiritual leaders will speak out against this custom that seems out of date in a democratic society.
“More and more Indians and many Westerners,” His Holiness concluded, “are fed up with pursuing a materialistic way of life. Of course, we need physical comfort, but we also need to know how to achieve inner peace. And I believe that India is the only country where ancient knowledge of the mind and so forth can be reconciled with modern education. If this can be done, India will serve as a beacon to others.”
Thanks were expressed to all the participants in the meeting, to those who made the occasion possible and to those who provided hospitality. Everyone was invited to a fine lunch, at the end of which His Holiness left for the airport where he boarded a flight back to Dharamsala.