The virtuous conduct that accumulates from constant vigor in cultivating the Sila, the monastic code of disciplinary rules, makes the monk or nun an ideal teacher and moral role-model for children.
Why Sangha Members Should Teach
Educational research strongly indicates that the teacher himself, his character and values, makes up the ‘hidden curriculum’ in the classroom. In other words, children learn as much or more from the personality and behaviour of the teacher as they learn from books and lessons. The unique value and effectiveness of a monk as a teacher lies in his personal virtue. The virtuous conduct that accumulates from constant vigor in cultivating the Sila, or Vinaya, the monastic code of disciplinary rules, makes the monk or nun an ideal teacher and moral role-model for children.
First taught by the Buddha, the precepts of the Vinaya have been the sine qua non of monks and nuns in both Theravada and Mahayana traditions since that time. For example, Mahayana monks, as they prepare for full ordination, receive sets of moral rules: the Ten Precepts for novices, the two-hundred and fifty Bhiksu Precepts, and the Ten Primary and Forty-eight Subsequent Bodhisattva Precepts. In general, the rules stress self-discipline and character development. They are meant to intill wholesome viewpoints and provide ethical guidelines for a Sangha member’s behaviour in dealing with himself and with the world, along the Path towards Bodhi, or spiritual enlightenment. The further one goes in search of Wisdom, the more intense grows the demand for strict morality. The most sublime of the Buddha's prescriptions for virtue are the Bodhisattva Precepts, in which purity or defilement is determined by the subtlety of intention alone: i.e. the thoughts in one’s mind.
Thus, a traditionally ordained Bhiksu or Bhiksuni (monk or nun), should qualify by the moral strength of this training in Precepts, to provide a sound model of ethical behaviour in the classroom. By his full-time cultivation of a wise and compassionate code of rules, the monk or nun’s personal example of virtuous conduct can influence students towards wholesome ethical standards, and help shape the character of young people towards the good. Said Yale University President Noah Porter:4 “The most efficient of all moral influences in classroom are those that proceed from the personal character of its intructors.” Children learn by imitation. If an immoral teacher preaches virtue, the students will soon spot the hypocrisy. They may ridicule or ignore the lessons. Worse, they may learn and imitate the false virtue. Thus, those who teach, must actually practice virtuous conduct, for the teachings on morality to go home. Monks and nuns are especially fit to teach, precisely because their first job is to master the Sila-rules, to display awesome deportment externally, and to observe stern Vinaya conduct within. In the Mahayana tradition, novices in their early years of training meet the injunctions of Vinaya Masters such as Venerable Tao Hsuan of the South-Mountain School in China, who urged young cultivators to spend the first five years of Sangha-life studying the precepts, and only then go on to practice meditation and study scriptures.
Education makes good men, and good men act nobly.
Buddhaghosa, in the famous Visuddhimagga (“Path of Purification”) lists virtue [sila] as the first, and most noble step to all spiritual growth. A monk or nun whose daily conduct embodies the Buddha's high standards of ethical practice, can realize the goal of educators throughout history: informed and wholesome individuals. Plato answered a challenge to the value of education in this way:
“If you ask what is the good of education, the answer is easy: that education makes good men, and that good men act nobly.”
4. Derek Bok, “Ethics, the University, and Society”, Harvard Magazine, May-June 1988, p.41
to be continued