The Modern Background
At the heart of the current
ideology is the concept that everyone is God incarnate and so since
each person is God incarnate certainly there couldn't possibly be any
rules that apply to anyone. Basically we live in world of immediate
feedback, immediate feeling and sense data. In that context, what is my
criterion of truth? Whatever I feel like doing today! What is my goal?
My goal is to feel good today and tomorrow! And hopefully I will feel
good for my whole life. The perspective is very hedonistic, very
scientific, very individualistic. You couldn't really say it is
capitalistic in the sense of the laws of the country because it is very
liberal and so it has some values like compassion and concern for the
You have to know what you are
working with in terms of the criteria. The environmental issues are
there because these kids are a little bit concerned about the
environment. They have a little bit of compassion. They are a little
bit more humanistic than the average student in the country as a whole
because they have a little more liberal edge to them.
I am going to give you the context
first and then show how I relate to that. I think the first thing you
have to understand about teaching kids anything about virtue is to know
your context; to know the people you are working with and to deal
within that context.
Let me mention some other
characteristics that you are dealing with. You have to be very careful
because you are in a secular school at a religious school context. You
must take care to talk about things within the same terminology as they
are living in. Even though this school is in a religious setting, still
most of the kids here I think have a very worldly side; most of them
are very connected to the outside.
To Teach by Virtue Rather
than by Authority
Values that I deal with in
Berkeley and in the kids here at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas have
a lot of overlap, despite the fact that the ones here have come from
backgrounds in which the parents have given them stronger value systems
by comparison. This is true particularly in the scientific area. I
think that, in the modern world, you have to come to everything with at
least some scientific reference in order to be pragmatic. So in
teaching something like virtues, you have to take into account certain
criteria. Pragmatism is very important; a scientific approach is very
important. You have to be psychological. Remember: nothing is taken for
granted because of authority. So, if you are using authority, forget
it, because outside authority in terms of virtue requires that that
authority has been agreed upon. Remember that when you are dealing with
authority, there is always an assumption with authority that whatever
authority you are using has already been agreed upon by everyone. If
the authority has not been agreed upon, then you have no basis. A kid
can nod his head yeah, yeah, yeah, but it doesn't mean anything unless
the basis for the criteria on which you are operating has been
established. The use of authority is a question of virtue and is pretty
much useless with kids. The reason it is useless is just because all
the assumptions would have to be worked out first. You have to agree to
the same assumptions of authority. Working those out, however, gets
into a huge philosophical problem.
If you want to sit down and to
figure out with a kid the basis of using authority, you will have to
spend a lot of time. I am not talking about authority now in terms of
how kids act in the classroom or around school with each other. I am
referring to actually teaching virtue. It has to be something they
believe in, something in themselves. There are two issues here. One is
running a school administratively. We are not talking about that. My
job here today is to talk about teaching virtue.
The only way that anyone can
actually do virtue is if they themselves see it in themselves.
Virtue by definition is something
I believe in and act upon because it is an internal process. If it is
an outside process—we call that law—we say “They broke the law.” That's
different. If it is a law, that means they are not supposed to do a
particular thing or such and such will happen—that is not virtue. That
is not the basis of what I am talking about.
Authority and laws are external.
What we are going to talk about is trying to teach virtue: which must
be something that they totally see and agree upon in themselves. If
they do not agree upon it within themselves; if they do not actually
see how it operates within their own lives, then as soon as they leave
this place or are in another situation, they just act according to
whatever context that is.
To be continued