Seeing Through Deceit and Ignorance via Buddhist Education

by Kooi F. Lim, the Buddhist Channel, 1 October 2023

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Is there a reliable method for religious students to ensure that their teachers would not exploit them? Exploitation can encompass a range of actions, such as manipulating those who are mentally vulnerable, using guru devotion to stifle questions, or even permitting the teacher to diminish one's self-worth to facilitate complete submission.

Often, students find themselves in predicaments with their teachers primarily due to a lack of knowledge. This is especially true in a Dharma learning context where reliance on the teacher is paramount.

So, how should we approach this issue? One way to eliminate ignorance is through Buddhist education. This journey begins with understanding the profound significance of truth, humanity, freedom and wisdom, which constitute the fundamental pillars of Dharma learning.

The Significance of Truth in Buddhist Education

At the core of Buddhist education lies the unwavering commitment to truth. Truth, in this context, extends beyond mere factual accuracy; it delves into the profound realm of inner and spiritual truths. Buddhist education encourages students to seek not only the truth of external phenomena but also the truth within themselves.

In the pursuit of truth, students learn to discern between genuine teachings and those that are misleading or harmful. They cultivate the wisdom to recognize when a teacher's actions deviate from the path of righteousness. Truth serves as a beacon, guiding students away from the darkness of exploitation and towards the light of genuine spiritual growth.

Embracing Humanity in the Learning Journey

Humanity, another pillar of Buddhist education, underscores the inter-connectedness of all beings. It encourages students to view their teachers not as infallible figures but as fellow human beings, prone to imperfections and errors. This recognition fosters a healthy and balanced teacher-student relationship.

In the context of religious learning, humanity reminds us that humility is key. Students should not blindly surrender their autonomy or critical thinking but should engage in a mutually respectful dialogue with their teachers. It is the acknowledgment of shared humanity that prevents teachers from using guru devotion as a shield against questioning and criticism.

The Role of Freedom in Discernment

Freedom within Buddhist education is not only the freedom to learn but also the freedom to question, challenge and discern. It is the antidote to blind obedience and exploitation. Students are encouraged to exercise their autonomy, to critically evaluate teachings, and to hold their teachers accountable when necessary.

Freedom empowers students to break free from the mental chains of ignorance. It allows them to step into the light of knowledge and self-awareness, making it more difficult for teachers to manipulate or exploit them. This freedom, when nurtured within the context of Buddhist education, acts as a safeguard against undue influence.

Cultivating Wisdom as a Defense

Wisdom, the final pillar of Buddhist education, is a formidable defense against exploitation. It enables students to discern between genuine spiritual guidance and harmful manipulation. Wisdom guides students to trust their inner judgment, to recognize when a teacher's actions are inconsistent with the teachings, and to take appropriate action.

The cultivation of wisdom is an ongoing process. It involves studying the scriptures, reflecting on one's experiences, and engaging in mindful introspection. With wisdom as a companion, students become less susceptible to the degradation of their self-worth and more adept at maintaining their dignity and autonomy.

Buddhist Education - The Path to Empowerment

In essence, Buddhist education provides a path to empowerment for religious students. It equips them with the tools needed to navigate the complex terrain of teacher-student relationships in a religious context. Through the pursuit of truth, the acknowledgment of shared humanity, the exercise of freedom, and the cultivation of wisdom, students can navigate the path of spirituality with confidence and discernment. This is a sure way to avoid teachers' exploitation.

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