Since the day man appeared on this earth, under some form, by natural instinct, he or she has conducted his or her living in two identifiable manifestations, spiritual and material.
Though this life could be viewed differently by a philosopher, by a the-o-lo-gist, and this one must differ from a politician’s, a psychoanalyst’s etc. Anyway, under any form, man should not live merely by nutrition from food, rice and vegetables, but he also must prove his growth in spiritual life. By this, Buddhism put forward the notion this implies that and vice versa. It means beyond or outside material things or matter there would be no spirit and outside the latter there wouldn’t be matter as a solely independent thing. In this category, education must play a very important role. But what is education?
The word to teach (Giao) means to give instructions, knowledge, to show the way; and to want (Duc) means to desire, to feel a need to become. In combination, education means to show to someone (something) and (wish that person) become an (useful) element for life, for people, for religion. That must be exactly education!
How many types are there in education?
In reality there should be in plenty; education for toddlers, teens, adolescents, adults, psychological, schooling, society, moral, argument or reasoning, sexual, statistical, governmental, financial etc. and so forth, there should be a specialty for every kind of education. Hereafter, we would deal only with some problems concerning Vietnamese Youth living and growing overseas in present time.
1. EDUCATION CIRCUMSTANCES:
In fullest extent, it would be environment. In our Asian society in old times and even today, a student has to learn what he is taught; his duty is to learn by heart and recite to the teacher; and his obligation is completed. Meanwhile nowadays on foreign soil, the circumstances differ a lot; he not only has to learn what the teacher gives or imparts, but also has to expand his talent or inclination through plays, computer games or pals correspondence etc…; compared with previous generation, limit of knowledge of the present Youth is steps farther; it means merely 20 years apart, every conditions are changing.
In agricultural countries, pace of growth in education is very slow, everyday information not updated in time; among these are our Vietnam and world developing countries. While in developed industrial countries, man is capable of using time faster, much more in quantity and more effectively. Perhaps, by better circumstances and environment, education enjoys of better advancement.
A child in Asia may regard parents and teachers as gods. Therefore, he or she might be afraid of mistreatments from those gods, but develop least intimate relationships toward parents and teachers. On the contrary, in today Western societies, a child could be very close to teachers in school and parents at home and very confident to find them as friends least gods he or she hates to see in classroom.
Here, children are taught to be more confident or self reliant, so when grown up in front of peers or big audience, they could strive all their talent and self confidence; trained and experienced since childhood up, they are self assured and look natural. How about Vietnamese children in homeland?
If stated completely otherwise, hardly it could be fully right; because there’ll be some kids endowed with perfect oratory before a multitude of audience; but they are not in plenty. In the other hand, most part are passive or not enough actively taking part; when their name called upon, they’ll speak out their opinion, not from bottom of their heart and mind, but lightly touch not much profound topics; anyway outside teaching session, gossips on travels, excursions will run freely without stopping. Do circumstances and environment of education regarding Vietnamese children, when applied to reality, not suit times or they are out of time?
Referring to the Vietnamese Buddhist Family organization, its presence lasts more than 50 years domestically and more than 25 years abroad. Although its membership is numerous, but educators of the Family or to be more exact, leaders, men and women, are taking mold from a Vietnam under conditions of 50 years ago. From this reasoning, it would be stated straightly: There are still some effects, but not many anyway. Vietnam is an agricultural country, not industrialized and fully democratic one like U.S.; since birth, dated 200 years ago, she has no monarch at all but presidents who govern them. Therefore, education for Vietnamese Buddhist Family Youth should be updated and revived through contribution from leaders who had graduated from education university or normal school. If not, that echo must go in one way direction and it would not go in tune with anything to make progress in limitless and promising space.
2. METHODS OF EDUCATING:
Our Asian mothers will show their love toward an infant when it cries by feeding it or lulling it; but these acts do not benefit, because they will only satisfy the self of the child and won’t bring in any benefit at all to it. If there’s any, it will suit adults only. It allow adults more time to do other things, being assured the child would go into deep sleep. This is an unbalanced education. In Western European countries, when a child go crying, it’ll be allowed to cry and stop by itself. At first glance, this would be remarked that what a cruel mother could be. But this situation will be very good for the child’s self-motivation, it could cry as much as it likes and then it would stop by itself.
We, as Asians, will go and help a child when seeing its fall; but in Western countries, they won’t; let it stands up by itself in order to live its life in future.
At examination room, we, Asians, do often look over shoulder to other and scan answers; but today in Japan and in Western European countries, almost there would not be any act of this kind of larceny. What happened? It is realized that when copying answers from others to pass examination, it would harm and hinder the development of talents of ourselves.
Asian mothers rarely ask husband and children at home what to cook for Monday, what for Tuesday or what they like. They cook what they do like; and children will eat or not, it’s their business, not mothers’. Here, it’s totally different; at weekends, the whole family meet together and discuss over family activities for the coming week and run over weak and strong points for the week that freshly passed. In most Vietnamese families, there would be nearly no such things. It’s the same thing for Buddhist Family; many leaders, not graduated from Mass and Youth Psycho classes, are put in lead and guide positions of groups, certainly it will be a failure; because they will exactly follow what are shown in books, and dare not initiating. When asked, here’s the easy answer: This is regulations or bylaws of the Family. There’s nothing wrong with this answer, but not completely right; because it’s on collectivity, bylaws are made, so after decades, they could be amended by and on collectivity; it’s not a principle or law, such as non-permanence law to be afraid of its effects.
As seen in any country, constitution may be amended through national assembly or public referendum. Even in the case of regulations and disciplines of a Buddhist practicer, before going into Nirvana, Lord Buddha still advised most venerable Anan: unnecessary regulations should be written off. It’s basic thing to do. However, many leaders and monks are stuck with oldies like safeguard treasure, or gems, unshakable to change educating method in conformity with present conditions in foreign countries. While leaders, middle aged and old aged just passed high school level or college graduated, members of adolescence of the today overseas Family are in doctorate and post graduated rank etc… by this, educating method in Buddhist Family should be reviewed. Some young members complained with me: Sire, when entering the Family, I feel like going into a boot camp of a military unit! Here’s my answer: an organization must preserve discipline!
However that answer could not solve questions raised by these young men. From inside they may figure out that a Buddhist Family organization should be freer, more open; whoever has no experience on psychology could not lead on psychological things. Although our Vietnamese Buddhist Family has established ladder Tap, Tin, Tan, Dung levels (novice, loyal, efforts, brave) to lay out results of training and camping; but it should be frank to say that generations of today overseas Vietnamese Youth need and demand that leaders, men and women, have to go through education training themselves in order to be able to assimilate local and native life and culture in foreign lands, before leading posterior generations; it would make them trust, feel confident and interesting to frequent Buddhist Family.
The Bodh Gaya, if planted in tropical Asian lands and even in open air, may need not much watering to survive and grow; otherwise, in Western European countries and in cold weather lands, it should be planted in air conditioned greenhouse; if not the Bodh Gaya would not have leaves nor branches. This should be educating method for Vietnamese Buddhist Family and even for overseas monk or nun novices, younger generations and this should also be great concern for all clergy ranks and leaders.
3. MASS EDUCATION:
When asked to sing a folksong, a Japanese can implement it from beginning to end, throughout and melodically, keeping tight and right beats. When 10 of them are asked to do so, the same thing will happen and even hundreds asked, they all can sing with the same accomplishment. It will be different with Vietnamese; among the mass of people, very few could repeat by heart a folksong. Everyone has his own show; some one knows this segment and forgets other and very many times may abandon abruptly in the middle of the performance, but anyway he can be half rewarded with scarcely light applauding hands.
Even nowadays fervent and devoted overseas Buddhist organizations, it’s acceptable when singing the National Anthem, but when comes the Buddhist signature tune, it needs not to say, sometime it’s not so holy and out of tune!. This must be not a justifiable and rigorous mass education. It still not yet refers to sutras recitation for the mass of the Buddhist Family or followers at pagodas, even at the ones presided over by venerable monks. The venerable or a leader has just chanted the word Nam, without any hesitation the mass on lower ground have spitted out the word MO; but what should follow after Nam Mo? the master of the Sutra session could not out loud voices from the mass that must be much more louder than his; while he intends to chant up Nam Mo Bon Su Thich Ca Mau Ni Phat, certainly not Nam Mo A Di Da Phat. Westerners, when entering any sanctuary or holy places, look polite with good attitude; they act very seriously in manner and respectfully.
For Vietnamese, there should be plenty of persons of that serious manner; but not yet in mass uniformity, e.g. when follow a funeral cortege, we have not yet endorsed some kind of uniform; in holy or teaching places, or in group activities, many talk or chat exchanges still roll out without reservation, that must bother a lot of people close by; it does not benefit selves, and badly inflict others; sometimes smoking still be exercised at holy places, and jokes too; attention is diverted from litanies sutras or preaching from venerable etc. This should be an education for mass production in lager number, it’s extremely difficult. A sole man could not provide a serene scenery, and everyone should create good environment so that conditions could change. Man has to change conditions; definitively conditions could not change man.
4. PRACTICE EDUCATION:
This might be a very new topic I have put up. For me, it could be applied to Sangha, monks and laic practitioners, among them there be Buddhist Family. Very often I had to tell clergy at Vien Giac pagoda in Germany that: Studies could not make someone liberated or lead to freedom; but if we want to open the door to freedom, we need Dharma practice and studies. It should be stressed upon that the aim would be freedom or liberation, and in order to assure that freedom, Dharma practice and studies should be taken in seriously. Some people have learning but not adopt practice.
Some do the inverse, exercise monastic life without studying. Therefore there’s no reciprocity complement. If a train is expected to run fast, it does need a good locomotive and at the same time good carriages should be considered an important factor too. In order to assure how the express train would reach Western Happiness Land, a leader should arm himself with words and action, not merely with texts or pure arguments. Today in Europe many Family members have been registered to observe Bodhisattva Deeds at home, adopting permanent vegetarian regime; they are doctors, engineers, and attended regularly European studying Dharma sessions; so far 23 sessions were counted, 10 days each, organized in summer every year at country by turn; in addition, 14 day sessions were set up now and then by chance in Australia, Europe or in America. Meanwhile leaders, men and women, with Dharma limited knowledge level, are only content with Dharma program of the Family in house; they are not yet acquainted with great Sutras such as Hoa Nghiem, Bat Nha, Dai Bat Niet Ban etc…
Recently in homeland of Vietnam, the Vietnamese Buddhist Family has strived to edit a collection of books on Dharma with relatively high level, but it does only slightly touch the doorsteps of an University, not deeply running into post graduate workshop. And it still deals wordy texts not practical actions. In appearances, the Family has some strong scores such as uniform and discipline; but in inner mind and in study and practice life, the Family should engage into other studying sessions organized by different pagodas and Faiths or Churches. It should not keep intact the content of training of 50 years ago without any preparedness receptive to progressive changes the whole world has to witness today.
Dharma study is like a water stream, if it does not progress, certainly it could be hindered by stoppers. Therefore, it would be wise to equip itself with more righteous and appropriate studies in service of ideal for Buddhist leaders and at the same time they must try to be role models and good examples for children in practice life and in studies as well.
Today many foreigners are studying Buddhism and a lot of them have been turned in followers or believers. Surely they know that only teachings of Lord Buddha could liberate them from rigid and uninteresting doctrine in other religions. Scientist Albert Einstein once said: the only religion of the future, appropriately suits and could science, must be Buddhism. Buddhist study must be so superior and how a leader couldn’t master teachings and a monk should carry out one way practice; if so, the Path could not assimilate real life; mostly when we like to drum out loud our beats or we want people hear our bells; our bells must highly sound and resonate in melodious tune so that their echoes could penetrate people hearts; and it would be impossible when stress being put on two separated ways, Path and life. In order to do so, a leader or a leading monk should be influent in foreign languages and observe a serious studying and religious life to prepare themselves to thoroughly answer to questions posed by foreigners and put forward to them.. On occasion the Buddhist Family of regional Quang Duc in U.S. likes to publish a collection of accounts and articles and essays on Vietnamese Youth Education and Mr. Quang Phap Tran Minh Triet asks me to write something , I wrote this essay discussing on 4 above-mentioned categories.
If it does benefit, somehow let forward and contribute to present overseas Vietnamese Youth toward which leaders, men and women must bear the main burden. If not, it might be seen as a modest contribution from a clergy member, a Vietnamese monk who has being living on foreign soils more than 30 years; had moved around famous universities in Japan, in Germany researching on mass psychology education which sometimes would suit foreigners only, and unfortunately not Vietnamese; so this should be regarded as an article good solely for reference. As a coordinator and liaison officer for the Vietnamese Buddhist Family overseas as well as in homeland, today I would be very proud to intone my concerns toward Youth; because, since my childhood for nearly 40 years ago, before I left home for Dharma practice, if there was no Vietnamese Buddhist Family at a much remote village in Quang province, I wouldn’t have had occasion and capability to convey my thoughts to previous or elder generations and mainly afterwards to posterior transferring generations and on.
Each generation can only bridge from the last past to the present. I may be assured that the coming generation could only be bridged by the present one; a past could not be shortened to the future. Otherwise if trying differently, it could only be a loose end. For each person might only implement some definite things in his lifetime. Let’s wish the Vietnamese Buddhist Family organization in present time in country or off country would always be daring by strong efforts, firmly wise and progress under miraculous leading light from Buddhas. Let’s hope so!
From farther Germany in full Spring, Munich 18-04-2000
BY VENERABLE THICH NHU DIEN