Does anyone have good resources or lessons on teaching high-schoolers the main tenets of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam?
Growing up, I was intrigued by ideas of spirituality. I was drawn into the search for understanding our place in this universe and whether or not our experience and our knowledge of it were accurate reflections of deeper truths.
In high school I remember learning about Plato and his concepts of ideal form and how the world we experience is but a shadow of the real.
As I discovered more about the world views of different peoples at different times on this planet, I saw how Plato’s concept was similar to the idea of illusion or maya in eastern thinking. As I’ve mentioned before in posts on this blog, I find the way in which Abrahamic traditions de-emphasize the importance of making sense of perceptual experience completely limiting for someone who truly seeks to understand him/herself in the world.
While many westerners may feel like concepts such as re-incarnation don’t make much sense, when you put the problem of perception at the fore of your philosophical investigations, principles like reincarnation become logical foundations for a system of understanding truth.
Once I came up with my own way of seeing things, and while it’s still evolving, the image still holds a great deal of truth for me.
Imagine an infinite hallway in the hotel of life. Rooms branch off this hallway as far as it continues, and inside each room an ego resides, a consciousness that self-identifies: that’s you. You live in one of these rooms, but the catch is, you don’t know it. It’s like Dr. Who’s police box: it’s bigger on the inside! Your room is full of stuff that you’ve collected over the course of your experience — material things, memories, hopes, dreams, images of your friends, loved ones, enemies. All of these have cluttered your room and have made you ADD. Your mind and attention can only move from one thing to the next, and then move on again to another object of your attention. You’re constantly bombarded with information of the senses and you don’t know how to be otherwise.
Once in a while your mind wanders and you experience something: a thought, an idea, a memory that you can’t place, which doesn’t fit into this world of experience that’s been created around you. It plants a seed in your being, which will forever remain, and which if you feed it, will begin to grow.
If you choose to feed it, you will realize that the seed sparks many questions in you, and as it starts to grow you realize that they’re questions which are not easily answered. The number of questions you have begins to outpace the number of answers your experience can provide.
In light of this new thing growing within you, you look around and begin to wonder about the value of all the things you’ve collected. At first you look through them, searching behind one thing, moving another, pushing things aside to see if somewhere hidden around you is an answer. But, the more you look the more you realize that these sense objects around you are just obstacles in your way to finding an answer.
"How can that be?", you think. These objects are all you know and they have become associated with your own identity. But, you realize, if the truth is beyond these objects, you’ll need to move past them.
So you start on a journey to get rid of them, one by one. You realize that you’ve been a hoarder this whole time. Cleaning out your space is cathartic and you feel better as you can begin to see the shape of the place you are in, a place once covered from floor to ceiling with stuff. It reminds you of a holo-deck: a room, which can take on the appearance of vast endless space, but in truth, just a room.
You begin to see the shape of this room and you start to glimpse the edges of where the walls meet the ceiling and the floor. You’ve never thought about it before but you begin to feel limited, as though you’re trapped. Strange that before you never thought you were trapped.
So it becomes your purpose to find a way out, because you realize that the answers you’re looking for must be beyond what you can experience in the limited space of this room.
One day, while you’re cleaning out the room, you notice something on the wall that wasn’t there before. You get closer and see that it’s a hole. Squatting down, you peer through the hole. You can make out that there’s light coming from the other side and that there are shadows moving, but you have no idea what’s truly over there.
"There must be a way to get out there", you think. The next day you wake up and you see that the hole, still there, has changed it’s shape. It’s now a key hole. You peer through and still see the energy of the other side. You become even more curious and determined. There must be a key somewhere in here!
So you continue to clean up your room, your experience. You become more diligent, more disciplined, more vigilant, more mindful, and as the objects in the room dissolve, you find yourself in a simple, empty box, alone.
You and the key hole.
"How could this be?", you think.
There had to have been a key to fit that hole, but all the objects of your experience have been washed away in your effort to find it.
So you’re left without all the clutter. Just you and the key hole, and as you meditate you begin to think that maybe within you can be found the key.
As you explore the depths of your mind, you experience realities that you never knew were there all along: rich inner worlds, saturated with energy.
You open your eyes, but the empty room is still there. The white walls still hold you. The key hole is still in front of you, and the shadows still move in the realm beyond.
So you start to wonder: what is “real”? what am “I”? A new seed has been dropped within you. Questions flood your mind and lead to more questions. The seed long ago planted had grown, and now has dropped new seeds for you to feed and grow.
New questions to drive your experience. A new experience altogether. Were you really ever that person in the cluttered room? “How is that possible?”, you think.
You see yourself as someone new and you realize that the journey’s beginning again.
Maybe this time, you think, the answers are less important than you thought.
This is such a hard question, but recently I’ve been thinking about what religions are trying to accomplish. In a way many religions send a message of unity, but some believe that unity means the people should be unified in adhering to the doctrines of the religion. I remember learning the word “ecumenical” many years ago and realizing that religion was not just a personal belief system, but a system aimed at both control and power. With truth comes power. With power comes responsibility. When the effort to maintain power becomes more important than the search for truth, evil has room to take root.
I think many religions have become static in their search for truth because of the way the original ideas have cemented themselves in the form of institutions. Religion, at its heart is a search for truth, and I emphasize the word “search”. To search is to engage in a journey and a process. It is seeking. Today, instead of journeying, many people turn to the “authority” of scripture and say that the words written in scripture are the guideposts to truth. Follow them and you find your way.
Scripture contains much wisdom, but it is the wisdom arrived at through experience, particularly through an individual seeker’s experience. The wisdom in scripture may reflect certain truths of our existence, but they are meager attempts at translating cosmic reality into a language easily understood by our limited human perception.
Many religions, including the Abrahamic traditions put emphasis on salvation and judgement. In doing so, they disregard a major question that ancient peoples sought to answer in their journey for truth: What is reality?
Eastern traditions including Buddhism and Hinduism (both deriving from an even earlier philosophical lineage) treat the nature of reality as the foremost question. Whereas western religious/philosophical traditions, including modern science, whose major thinkers derived from Pagan and Ambrahamic belief systems, divide the mind from the material. In doing so they disregard a fundamental and obvious truth about our existence: that all we know of the universe and ourselves comes from what we perceive through the senses. Reality, itself, is constructed via our conscious experience. If all we know, and the only way in which we can know is through experience, we can never be sure that the objects of our experience (matter) actually exist separate from us. In fact, traditions like Buddhism say that since we can not know if matter is separate from us, we must take for granted that what we understand of matter (our experience) is part of us. This fundamental idea lays the ground for all of Eastern philosophical thinking and forces us to understand the world and our place in it very differently from western religions.
The search for truth is a dynamic process. The seeker must question the ways which she has come to know herself and the world she exists in. Unity in society is a lofty goal, but can really only be achieved when the path to truth is not diverted by the power to control. When people forget that the path to truth is by nature subjective, ignorance festers. At it’s core, the responsibility to speak truth to power lies with the seeker, who is learning to see reality as it is: harmonious, unified, and whole.