Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche on the philosophy of Naropa University.
At Naropa Institute we approach the whole educational system according to the principles of buddhadharma. We would like to present a traditional approach, similar to the Victorian style of education or other European approaches.
Recently, education in America has been based on entertainment. That is to say, the professors and teachers have become more and more cowardly. They don’t want to push their students to follow their instructions or the traditional educational format.
In the schooling of young children in preparatory schools or elementary schools, we begin to find more and more that children are told to use their toys to learn with. “We are not going to push you to do anything drastic. You don’t have to memorize; you don’t have to think, even. Just play nicely with the toys we provide, and you will learn something about our history, our mathematics, our alphabet, and our grammar.”
That is the idea of education that seems to have been created by the present generation, which had a terrible time with their schooling. Now they are in power, so they have invented a system of entertainment-as-education, so that children won’t have to go through terrible education situations. That approach is actually based on good intentions, excellent, maybe. But, on the other hand, it could mean the destruction of the educational system altogether.
We have to push our children and ourselves to relate properly with the principles of education, which means discipline, respecting our elders, that is to say our teachers, and putting ourselves through a certain amount of painful situations.
Knowledge is often regarded as a gigantic, monumental tablet. We might wonder how we can climb on that, or comprehend that gigantic thing, those stacks and stacks of information, knowledge and wisdom—accomplishments of all kinds. How can we actually achieve something? How can we climb up and conquer and be on top of that Mount Everest of knowledge at all? However, we could recognize that learning is not necessarily all that difficult, although it does require effort.
An educational system based on very hearty discipline is absolutely necessary for us. We have to push ourselves, lock ourselves in our studies and simply relate with the information that is given to us. We have to appreciate what’s being taught to us; we have to memorize and experience the information, as well as relating to the challenge of discussion groups and all kinds of examinations. If we don’t do that we find ourselves nowhere. We don’t have to borrow toys to help us to study properly. Obviously, the concept of comfort, as well as entertainment, is out of the question. Comfort is not in the best interest of student or teacher. When we begin to present education as a toy or a lollipop, we begin to devalue our wisdom, and we reduce school to a candy bar approach, as opposed to a university or a center of learning. People have tried that many times, but it never brings success such as is achieved by someone who has learned orally, personally. There is no real experience taking place when we try to avoid discipline.
We are applying the Buddhist mentality or Buddhist approach to education at Naropa, rather than purely taking a religious approach to education. We are not particularly talking in terms of converting people to Buddhism, but we are talking in terms of bringing the inheritance of Buddhist methodology into our system of education.
At Nalanda University, Vikramashila and other Buddhist centers of learning, the student, the practitioner, and the scholar concentrated one-pointedly, on the point. Education was a complete lifestyle. Students practiced and they concentrated one pointedly. They memorized texts and thought about what was said in the texts, about whether the contents were valid or invalid.
When you follow these principles of education, you begin to use your logical, or critical, intelligence to examine what is presented to you. That critical intelligence is also critical intelligence about yourself. That critical intelligence is applied two ways: towards what is presented to you, the educational material, as well as towards who is going to be educated. So you work with yourself as well. The two blades of the sword work simultaneously. Then you begin to find yourself examining things constantly. The process of education becomes very precise and clear and absolutely accurate. There is no room for mistakes, at all.
In order to study and learn properly, we have to pull up our own socks. If we want to learn properly and study properly, we have to work at it; we have to work on it. There is no other way. There is no savior or god of knowledge who descends on our heads, so that one minute we’re dumb and the next minute we are brilliant. Oh no! We have never heard of that. Nothing like that happens.
In the Buddhist tradition, we talk about individual salvation, or sosor tharpa. Everybody has to save himself or herself. Everybody has to prove himself. We are capable of individual salvation because we do possess our own inherent human dignity already, in any case. We are capable of learning properly, but we have to tune in to our dignity rather than trying to use lollipops and toys and gimmicks. So, no toy shop anymore.
From a 1980 public talk by the Ven. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche at The Naropa Institute. © 1999 by Diana J. Mukpo.