Professor Chandima Wijebandara

Pedagogical Insights from the Buddhist Sangha.

Buddhists might have been the first, if not the only, religious organisation to give significant emphasis on educational values like student rights, unconditional freedom of enquiry, and comparative learning completely devoid of dogmatism. The emphasis given in Buddhist soteriology to critical and intellectual approach is extra-ordinary for a religion. Learning and systematic methodical thinking were regarded as avenues that provide initial insight through acquired knowledge and generated knowledge.

The Buddha himself was a teacher par excellence, and the four-fold following was his student body (listeners). He expected his followers also to be teachers holding to the same high values of education that he cherished. The Buddhist spiritual culture is comprised of three branches, viz., learning, practice and realisation.

Adoption of rain retreat and the beginning of monastic life were significant milestones in the development of academic tradition in the Buddhist Sangha. The leisure time provided in consequence to settled life was devoted for educational pursuits.

Providing a sound knowledge and training for novices made the senior monks assume the role of formal teachers. When the monks started functioning as educators, the study bedrooms they lived became class rooms and the monastery a school. Some of the monasteries became Maha Viharas developing to be the world’s first Universities.

A teaching monk is expected to be thorough in his knowledge of the subject (Dhamma), modest, moral and confident of his ability to train pupils. Moreover, he is supposed to gauge the student as to their dispositions, tendencies and abilities.

Buddhist monks functioned as teachers and promulgators of knowledge in all Buddhist countries. The language policy employed by them was exemplary. They did not believe in a sacred language. Wherever they went they learned the local languages and taught Buddhism in the languages of people.

Methodology of learning practiced in monasteries consists of careful listening and registering what is learned in mind as the initial steps. Next comes reciting frequently and mastering thoroughly, coupled with comprehending well. Then one should set himself on practising what one has learned to become a real knower of the teaching. Knowledge is not just for the sake of knowledge. Practicing what is learned is essential. However the students are encouraged to be non-dogmatic. Freedom of thought was always guaranteed. Students could challenge and even correct the teacher when and if necessary. Buddhist monastic teachers were against only to the distorting of the original message of the Buddha.

Buddhist monks developed a sound hermeneutical tradition to interpret the word of the Buddha and an advanced system of Logic to defend it. They have given the world an example of perfect and sophisticated system of pedagogy.