Ways in which Buddhism can help in innovative pedagogy

I am thinking of perhaps participating in a project on innovative pedagogy and I am wondering which Buddhist principles could be useful (general ideas are welcome, but for information the subject is physics, chiefly renewable energies and material science).
Any thoughts would be welcome!


This is something I’ve thought about some… three categories jump to my mind:

There’s a lot of literature on bringing mindfulness into the classroom in various ways depending on the age and background of your students. Even just a few minutes of silence at the beginning of class can help people be more focused and ready to listen. So that’s one bucket to think about.

Many environmental scientists these days are inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s “interbeing” – the idea that we exist in dependance and interrelation with our environment. That we do not and cannot exist apart from our environment. It’s an important point to highlight for students because Western philosophy is based on mind/body, human/nonhuman assumptions which have enabled the environmental degredation and exploitation we’re now struggling against, and any solutions we find will have to come out of different assumptions. So that’s another category I’d think about.

Lastly, there’s taking inspiration from the structure of the Buddhist path itself, for example by trying to engage somatic understanding as much as possible in addition to verbal and mental activities, or by giving students high-level frameworks and concrete problems, leaving them to sort out how to map the theory onto practice — something the Buddha was a master of!

Maybe some of that sparks some ideas :slight_smile:


‘That Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed.’—MN 12

Although frequently recited, it is not generally recognized by their audience how much teaching psychology there is in the structure of the suttas, and the pedagogic structure is the teacher’s business. There is a hierarchy where it’s only seemly for the Buddha to speak on certain topics and others which are more worldly are relegated to lesser disciples such as Ananda or nuns. This illustrates how the dhamma when presented in verbal (conditioned) form must conform to laws of artistic presentation to be effective pedagogy and communicate with students. Another example is how the noble eightfold path acts as a banner teaching for general distribution, while for more advanced usage the seven factors of awakening express the ideas in a more concentrated elemental form. A third is using location to set a scene, for example MN 140 about the elements is set in a potter’s shed, clay being a prime example of the element earth which is brought into functional form through fire.
The laws of artistic presentation rely on contrast (SN 14.11), and a grasp of that mechanism is taken for granted in the suttas. The Buddha would have assumed his audience was able to recognize the unconditioned by comparing and contrasting it with the conditioned without spelling it out on every occasion.
Effective pedagogy has to rely on the eternal laws of artistic presentation and the only way it can be modernized is by cloaking it in settings and terminology familiar to students.

I think @Khemarato.bhikkhu 's suggestions are great.

On this one, though, I would like to add a yes and… caution.

Mindfulness has gotten very trendy in education about education. In a past job I worked with practicum students getting their Master’s in Education, and they were pushed to bring mindfulness into the classroom, but had little to no training in what mindfulness actually was.

And one of my son’s teachers a few years ago brought mindfulness into the classroom and it was so poorly done he and his friends made fun of it. He said after one session his friends and he kept saying to each other, “You’re a pond!” :rofl:

So, I agree that mindfulness can be great with kids. But it is often poorly understood and taught in the West. So you’ll want to make sure that part of the program is good training in mindfulness for teachers who will be using it, and testing methods with children for age appropriateness and their response before rolling it out.

Sounds like a fascinating project! Good luck!

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Mindfulness will always be involved one way or another in innovative pedagogy nowadays, whether it is about awareness of various implicit biases or just as a five minutes of silent meditation. All of the suggestions above are excellent. It would be nice if along with mindfulness, proper and improper attention could also be introduced somehow.

My additional suggestions from physics point of view would be the following:
If I wanted to introduce certain Buddhist principles within the pedagogical framework of teaching physics, I would convert/weave them into examples to think about and discuss in classroom setting. Here is my list.

  1. Meditations on elements, both external and internal. Without making it explicitly Buddhist (earth, wind, fire, etc.), discussions can be had about what defines a solid, liquid, gas, plasma, various collective excitations, etc.? The entire energy landscape is a complex adaptive system starting with the sun and involves all forms of matter transforming into each other.
    Another idea to bring in might be to think about how the same material formations are found within the body as well (to come up with a list of similar formations within the body). Physics invariably focuses on the simplified version of the external. Material science combined with biomedical science is poised to make radical advances for the human body.
  2. In physics, there is tremendous emphasis on strict causality but not on conditionality. While causality is more important for isolated, controlled environments, in a realistic complex system, conditionality becomes equally important. If fact, a lot of the times when we cannot generate simple causal mechanisms or they fail to give clear understanding, we call it “complex systems”.
  3. While the debate is raging on in other threads about the role or necessity of certain beliefs, one of the most appealing aspect of Buddhist teachings is the reductionist, experiential, and minimally axiomatic nature of its foundations - keeping things simple and speculations to a minimum. This can also be seen in the evolution of physics as a field (over longer time scales). It is worth emphasizing this in any scientific field.
  4. This dovetails nicely into the various ways of acquiring reliable knowledge - deduction, induction, inference, direct experience, etc. Even in science, we need to be clear about how, for the time being, something is considered to be a very good representation of external reality.
    If I think of something more, I will add it a bit later. Hope this was along helpful lines.


There is a hierarchy where it’s only seemly for the Buddha to speak on certain topics and others which are more worldly are relegated to lesser disciples such as Ananda or nuns.


This is not correct. See for example, MN44 Cūḷavedallasutta, where Ven. Dhammadinna gives a deep discourse which is later praised by the Buddha as being like the answer he would have given himself.

Re: pedagogy. The thing that differentiates Buddhist education from conventional education to me is the lack of individual competition and capitalist drive. Buddhists tend to think more communally and altruistically.


I must say, that’s always been the most heartwarming thing for me to observe in Southeast Asian schools: the amount of mutual aid and support between the students.


I’m not friend of the Rigpa-buddhism, but I remember that especially that people made a lot material for schooling, like curricula etc. Maybe you’ll find some innovative ideas there, which are not only specific for the Rigpa-way-of-life. Something else which comes to mind while I’m writing this: I remember that “outward bound” paedagogic which was innovative when it was developed, with many aspects of non-egoism, mutual help, non-consumism and more. (I’ve never stepped into that two concepts and don’t know whether there is something useful for the intention of your question, just two additional hints)