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  • 24 Jan, 2023
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Incorporating Karuna in education: Dalai Lama’s Vision for Educating the Heart

                  “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

The 14th Dalai Lama says that compassion "belongs to that category of emotions which have a more developed cognitive component." When we practice compassion, “we will have more strength, peace, and joy and this will transfer to everyone with whom we associate and it spreads from one person to another”. According to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the best way to cultivate compassion is to develop empathy, the ability to understand others’ pain as if it was your own. This International Day of Education, let us try to understand and highlight his call for including Compassion/ Karuna in modern education.

The Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama has often pitched for incorporating ‘karuna’ or compassion as a subject in the modern education system in India, saying it should be taught to students “not as a religious subject” but as a way to foster inner peace and learn greater human values. “Karuna is a key factor in bringing inner peace. And, I feel Karuna should be taught to students as a subject, combining the ancient Indian thoughts with modern education. And, it should not be taught as a religious subject but for them to learn the human values,” the Dalai Lama said.

Educating the Heart

Compassion, empathy, altruism and kindness are positive qualities we want our children to have, helps a child be successful in life and, according to studies they can be deliberately fostered in families, schools and communities. Teaching these qualities is what the Dalai Lama Center refers to as Educating the Heart.

“Just as everyone observes physical hygiene, there is a corresponding need for emotional hygiene, and we can find instructions about that in ancient Indian tradition. That’s why I believe India is especially well-placed to combine modern, materialistic education with non-violence and compassion. Here in the 21st century, we should try to promote ancient Indian knowledge of non-violence and compassion and combine it with modern education,” the Dalai Lama observed  as he was addressing members of Mind Mingle, an initiative to promote experiential learning and purposeful education with a view to achieving a child’s all-inclusive development in 2020.  He continued by saying, “my commitment relates to the revival of ancient Indian knowledge in the land of its birth. As I’ve already said, I believe India is best placed to combine this ancient knowledge of the workings of the mind and emotions with modern education”.

According to the Dalai Lama, the only way to bring about a revival of ancient Indian knowledge is through education, in a secular context. The goal is to make it possible for each person to find happiness, not to advance any particular religion. The most crucial aspect of practising compassion and nonviolence is to adopt a secular mindset. A peaceful, compassionate society is the goal.

Published in 2019, the children’s picture book Seeds of Compassion: Lessons from the Life by His Holiness addresses children directly and shares lessons of love and compassion, told through stories of his own childhood and talks about his mother, his first teacher of Compassion.  His Holiness is of the opinion that if human beings are to be happier, education must be combined with warm-heartedness. The aim is for people to cultivate healthier, more peaceful minds. Interestingly, today also marks the release of Heart to Heart: A Conversation on Love and Hope for Our Precious Planet, a book on how to heal our relationship with the planet and each other using compassion, by Dalai Lama and illustrations by Mutt’s cartoonist and author Patrick Mcdonnell. 

How can we teach Compassion? How can we incorporate values like peace and love in the syllabus? Using stories, activities and  Here, we introduce three interesting projects that have explored the idea of teaching values like Compassion to children.

One is the Social, Emotional and Ethical (SEE) Learning, a K-12 education program developed for international use, which is the culmination of an academic collaboration that began in 1998 between Emory University and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It offers teachers a a) developmentally-staged curriculum with lessons that are simple to implement b) the conceptual framework used to design the curriculum, and c) materials for teacher development. The program conveys a “universal, non-sectarian, and science-based approach to bringing the ethical development of the whole child into education”—an approach advocated by the Dalai Lama. It includes topics such as attention training, the cultivation of compassion for self and others, resiliency skills based on trauma-informed care, systems thinking, and ethical discernment.

In 2018, for students in Nursery through Grade 8, the Government of NCT, Delhi developed a programme called ‘Happiness Class’. His Holiness the Dalai Lama introduced the course of study in 2018. The Curriculum is a ground-breaking project that challenges and questions conventional pedagogy and practice. According to the curriculum, education should aim to “produce individuals who are self-assured, mindful, responsible, and joyful so that they can work together to create a society that is peaceful and harmonious”.

The third is a Dharamshala-based non-governmental organization called the Active Non-violence Education Center (ANEC) which is committed to advancing nonviolence and peace through extensive educational initiatives. Their primary goal is to advance the principles of active non-violence as a means of reclaiming justice and human dignity for the Tibetan people and other oppressed and marginalized groups. It was established in 2007. It brings grassroots development of non-violence and peace education as core values for an inclusive society.

Compassion is at the core of Tibetan Buddhism and this is incorporated in the philosophy of Tibetan Children’s Village schools too - whose motto is “Others Before Self”. 

Compassion and the World

The modern Education system tends to be more materialistic in nature; children are forced to be competitive and there is undue pressure on them to perform. It is preparing children to become professionals and gain material success in life. In the post-pandemic world, students are facing a number of challenges including fear and uncertainty.

As a society, we need to evolve and see schools as spaces where students are trained to excel academically; we need to see them as spaces where they make friends, learn values like compassion and peace. In this era of violence and wars, we need children who understand and imbibe the value of compassion for fellow beings, non-violence and love. Because, humanity needs a future generation built on the edifice of love, not hatred.

Let us teach and practice Compassion and build a better world.