Dharma versus Buddhadharma in a Buddhist school

- through Francois Leclercq

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A young family scheduled a tour of Middle Way School in the Hudson Valley because they heard it would be a great place for their six-year-old. The school had a good reputation, some of their friends sent their children there and it was voted "best independent school" in the area by the local arts magazine. They were advised to apply early as there was a waiting list.

They arrived on campus a little nervous with hope, but also with serious reservations because they did not identify as Buddhist at all. They were charmed by what they saw – the children were clearly having fun in the wooded playground, the teachers were kind, the natural materials were neatly organized in the classrooms – but they worried about the indoctrination. They knew the school met all the usual academic standards, but what is Buddhist about this school?

It was my job at the time, as the designer of the dharma program, to address these fears. What I told them was not written, in fact, it came out of my mouth. But it seemed logical and since then I have used it again and again, with some refinements, because it has been effective in communicating the unique opportunity of Buddhist education for children and what makes it different from other religious programs. However, when I tried it on Buddhist scholars, some raised their eyebrows.

What I said was this: “The program is about 80 percent Dharma and 20 percent Buddhadharma. » Dharma and Buddhadharma were new terms for young parents and I was aware of this. I wasn't trying to trip them up, but sometimes intentionally introducing language that requires definition helps start the learning process. The very need to define them helps start a rich conversation that will hopefully open the door for parents to engage in dharma themselves.

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So, what is dharma? There is no exact English equivalent of the word. It is a concept older than Buddhism itself, present among ancient Indian wisdom traditions, and is described and understood in different ways. Depending on which dictionary I consult, and even among my own advisors, the definition of dharma varies. Some options are: “the nature of reality considered as a universal truth taught by the Buddha”; “the teaching of Buddhism”; and “an aspect of truth or reality.” At a yoga ashram in the Bahamas, I heard a definition that I have used many times since: “A matrix of universal truths.” Some people say “path,” but I think it’s more like “path” in the way things happen. I also like the Collins Dictionary definition: “cosmic order or law, including natural and moral principles that apply to all beings and things.” For parents, I use a mix of these depending on who is listening, but ultimately it's just the way things happen, the nature of reality, and how our minds work.

The totally unscientific 80:20% ratio is my way of saying that much of what is taught in school focuses on the nature of the way things are, i.e. understanding how and what sentient beings experience in the natural world without ignorance or illusion entering into the path. It is important to note that the content is chosen taking into account the child's development, physical and mental abilities. Finding this sweet spot at the intersection of dharma and childhood development has been the great experience of the Middle Way.

So, what is Buddhadharma? This is what the Buddha taught to understand these truths. Here, maybe the “path” works. It is the framework that helps us be in harmony with the truth. Another way of putting it is that 80 percent of what we teach is vision: the basic principles about the world, and 20 percent is path: how to act in the world in a way that is most beneficial for oneself and for oneself. other.

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Most of the teachers at the school do not identify as Buddhist, but they are more than willing and able to teach what falls into the category of dharma. They cover themes such as impermanence, cause and effect, the invisible world, even refuge and lineage, integrating these concepts into their other educational content in a way that is familiar to them.

Lineage, in this case, is a study of the origin and destination of things and ideas. The guiding question for this unit is: “What do I want to continue and what do I want to interrupt with my body, speech, and mind?” » Younger children are encouraged to explore their family histories. Many families come to class to share songs and recipes. Students write odes to the people who taught them and practice respectful inquiry. They learn the difference between an elder and an elderly person, the difference between inheritance and lineage. In this unit, we hope that children will come away equipped with questions to ask about the origins of the things and ideas they are asked to adopt or accept, as well as the intentions of those who pass them on. With this awareness, they can make wise choices about what to adopt and what to abandon. Older students examine historical patterns and are encouraged to be more discerning about what is conveyed through their actions and words.

All of this could be described as secular. Teachers don't have to be Buddhist to ask, "Where did this idea come from?" But without the support of a Buddhist school, it might not occur to them to act on advice on altruistic motivation and conduct.

When children have developed this awareness and a sense of what the lineage means to them, the Buddhadharma can be introduced, it has a place to land. Each week, a Buddhist educator comes to each class to teach Buddhadharma more directly. Students learn about the different Buddhist lineages, objectively listen to the chants of lineages from different traditions and read tributes to different teachers or compare and contrast the different Yanas. Guests can come from different local temples to talk about their traditions. And with all this preparation, students are ready to ask respectful questions, learn, and make meaning of these encounters. It is important to note that the person teaching this course must be a self-identified practicing Buddhist.

Recently, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche taught the Tibetan term gyu lung mengak, which he says can be loosely translated as “science, information and instructions.” 80 percent of the program falls under gyū, the science of lived reality. Buddhism is scientific in that it is rooted in what we can verify, what we can observe, and what we can arrive at through reason. For example, every action we take has an effect. Lung refers to the Buddha's instructions. Lung also includes the teachings of the Buddha's Dharma heirs, who chart the path to deeply understanding and embodying these truths. And the mengak this is where the magic happens. Mengak This is the foundational teaching, the skillful way teachers bring it all to life in the classroom.

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The Middle Way school is unreservedly, unapologetically and proudly a Buddhist school. But you don't have to be a Buddhist to teach or attend. The challenge, then, was to create a curriculum that provided a secular framework of universal truths while allowing space for direct teaching about Buddhist traditions and practices. The more secular "dharma" room is a necessary vessel in which the Buddhadharma can be placed, a womb that provides the oxygen and nutrients necessary for the Buddhadharma to flourish, a fertile ground for the Buddhadharma to take root. The metaphors could continue!

The family enrolled in the school. The mother comes to meditation classes. She can use the word sangha in a sentence and says she feels "blessed" that her children are exposed to science and magic at school. She always turns to her own sources for spiritual guidance and does not identify as Buddhist, but in an end-of-year reflection she wrote: "In a world that seems so dualistic, what joy to send my children in a school. where they learn dharma, the universal truths that unite us all.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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