Educating the Buddhist Values: Transforming Ourselves to Transform the World
by His Eminence IX Khamtrul Rinpoche

Why Buddhist Values Education?

Buddhist teachings form a part of the curriculum many universities around the world and many find certain aspects of Buddhist teachings, such as metaphysics, mindfulness and self-analysis, very compatible with modern neuroscience and psychological studies. We can relate Buddhism and education from that point of view, but today I would like to talk about the correlation between Buddhist teachings and what is termed by educationalists as values education, moral education, civic education, Emotional Quotient (EQ), etc, in different parts of the world.

The simplest idea of values education is about inculcating a set of beliefs and attitudes to mould a person’s character and personality, so that these beliefs will influence behavior and actions in a positive manner and direction, not only for the individual, but also for the society at large.

Values education is taught in various countries.

From a Buddhist point of view, however, many of the value systems that are taught somehow often place excessive emphasis on individual rights. For example, the values taught in certain countries do not at all talk of the rights of all beings, such as animals, but emphasize individual rights; and also there is a tendency to de-emphasize social responsibility resulting in psychological individualism. Character development in those countries highlights individual rights prominently that tension arises between social responsibility and personal rights; it can be said that social responsibility has somehow become muted.

As psychological individualism or the notion of “I” develops, it militates against altruism, against community consciousness and against social responsibility. As a consequence, trust, commitment and altruism become undermined. If we don’t respect all life equally and allow cruelty towards animals, it will lead to the formation of a habitual pattern of viciousness that will sooner or later be exhibited toward fellow human beings.

On a global level, we are now beset with unprecedented environmental, economic and social crises and many of these problems stem from selfishness or individualism and the concurrent negative emotions of hatred, unlimited desires, jealousy, etc.

If these underlying causes within the human mind are not addressed and an understanding is not developed that happiness (and other positive mindsets and emotions) can be cultivated within ourselves, then societies are bound to adopt a materialistic view of human existence and seek happiness through the insatiable exploitation of our finite natural resources. With the rapid growth of human population and equally rapid depletion of natural resources, if no alternate way of living is embraced, then global conflict and disasters are inevitable.

Even on an individual level, a person’s welfare is not just achieved by him or her alone, but is also dependent on communal welfare and social goals as a whole. The foundation for a truly happy society can easily be eroded if the welfare of the community that underpins our profound interdependencies disappears due to the wrong guidance of values education and other negative influences.

Therefore I feel that it is not only necessary but also vital that a basic Buddhist values education is incorporated to assist in expanding our narrow interest of the self to a reasonable degree to enable us to develop our boundaries of consideration and caring consciousness to all being, beyond our friends and relatives.

Teaching Buddhist Values

How can values be taught? In educational institutions, we have both teachers and textbooks. However, children and teenagers also assimilate a great deal of information from the world outside of school. Should their home and outside environment such as parental values, emotions and behavior be in contrast with what they learn in school, they will discover that we ourselves are in conflict with the values they are being taught to embrace in school.

Therefore I feel it is very important for parents to act as role models to convey their values to their children through their own actions, decisions, emotions and behaviour.

I would like to share a little bit on how values education has also been very important in my own education personally: The key concepts to Mahayana practice, such as compassion, non-intrinsic existence, interdependencies, ethical training, ethics, meditation and wisdom, I believe, are convergent with universal human development.

The concept of karma and social responsibility is also very much linked to positive human development: for how can one earn merit and good karma unless one earns it through contribution to society? The Royal Government of Bhutan came up with the idea of Gross National Happiness, a holistic economic philosophy that integrates Buddhist values with the curriculum of its educational system.


The above diagram shows the holistic educational approach of Gross National Happiness, an economic philosophy that takes into account all aspects of what influences an individual’s life, creating measurable and tangible assessments to foster a near perfect environment that would generate individual, and more importantly, communal and societal ‘happiness.’ Buddhist values here influence all aspects to some degree, but it is most directly associated with ‘psychological well-being’.

Part of Bhutan’s educational curriculum involves psychological well-being, where the values we have to incorporate are compassion, generosity, calmness, karma and empathy. This diagram demonstrates the kind of practice used in Bhutan to facilitate the formation of positive behavior, wholesome emotions and character among students through the skilful means of meditation, social volunteerism and other forms of socially concerned engagements.

The Kingdom of Bhutan is one example of how Buddhism has been integrated successfully with values education. Another examples that I am familiar with, being associated with the Drukpa Lineage and His Holiness the XII Gyalwang Drukpa, is the Druk White Lotus School in Shey in Ladakh. It is the first of its kind to incorporate values that are linked with Ladakh’s unique Buddhist cultural heritage, which will be otherwise lost to its people due to modernization. Also His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa started religious walking pilgrimages of Pad Yatras in order to create environmental awareness, not only globally, but especially with the local youth of Ladakh, who are now actively engaged in environmental promotion and preservation within their communities.

These are two examples of how values education can make a difference in individuals, empowering and enabling them to take charge in creating positive differences and contribute constructively to society.

Transforming Ourselves to Transform the World

Buddhist philosophy is very simple and yet very complex at the same time. It is the kind of education that teaches us about ourselves and our minds, a subject that doesn’t change with time, whether it is now or in the future; the mind will always desire, feel jealousy, crave comfort and want ‘happiness.’

Values education that includes Buddhist practices of love, self awareness and compassion, which are universally accepted tenets, is not part of one religion or a ritual of any kind. It is a training of the mind that is essential in empowering and enabling us to develop and realize our full potential as human beings.

It takes into account the environment, social responsibility and ethical conduct, and encompasses all other beings – even the smallest biological particle is to be respected. Finally, it takes into account the interrelatedness and interdependence of all living and non-living aspects of this world and beyond. I think developing and teaching this kind of view brings about the true perspective of how we should view ourselves within the world, as a part of it, and not the one race or species that is superior to the rest. I believe that through such an education of the mind, children will become more aware, more caring and loving individuals who in turn will change our future and bring about a transformation that is greatly needed now.

Khamtrul Rinpoche 1.



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