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Virtue in a Modern Context

A talk given by Doug Powers at the Boys School Meeting on December 2, 1997
文正後 中譯 Chinese translation by Wen Zheng-hou











Question: Are you talking about doing this in a history class, for instance?

Answer: It can be done in any class—history, English, etc. If it is an English class, then every piece of literature that you work on is a demonstration of that—you need to relate what I'm dis­cussing to every class. For this school, you could hold the whole curriculum together by means of virtue whereas in most schools you hold the whole curriculum together with science or philosophy. Actually, the only way that virtue works is if it is taught in all classes and the reason is that every piece of litera­ture then becomes a demonstration of the pros and cons. Shakespeare is perfect. I don't know if you use Shakespeare now, but Shakespeare is perfect because it is always a moral story. Shakespeare has the workings of karma evident in every play. If you want to see the workings of karma, then just read Shakespeare. You can teach a kid ideals—even something like loyalty—but when you kill out of loyalty, there is karma. The evidence of karma in Shakespeare is greater than in any modern writings. There is no modern piece that demonstrates karma in the way that Shakespeare does. In Shakespeare, even the smallest mistake, even a deed done for a good cause—how much the more a bigger wrong one—must be paid for, ultimately. And so, we need to choose the literature that we are doing. The great pieces of litera­ture teach this. All great pieces of literature teach those things so that it is not something outside that you have to stretch for at all. Dostoyevsky and most great European and American literature teach ultimate values.

( 3 ) Teaching Criteria

In teaching virtue there are two criteria that you need to apply. The first is to help students recognize and see that the quality of life changes when they live a virtuous life.

Since the quality of life is mentioned, let us start from some basic principles of life. Just take the Five Precepts as an example. There is more to virtue than adhering to these principles. The goal in your teaching is to get across to students that these principles of virtue, when they become a way of life, will pro­vide fulfillment and happiness for their life both internally and externally. Moreover this way of life based on the Five Pre­cepts has the potential of transcendence, but you shouldn't mention this in the beginning; that would be too early for the students to accept. However, in Buddhism there is a definite move—from the life of virtue to the life of enlightenment. That virtue is leading to enlightenment is too abstract a concept to present early on. It will not be understood. This truth may be discovered by them later on. The Five Precepts set a course and they will then discover the directions of their own lives. 

The other factor is that virtue affects our social relationships. Virtue is the Dao (the Way) of social relationships. Why? If people live in virtue, you need no authority, and so the society gains freedom. When a person's life is firmly grounded in virtue, his social relations are taken care of naturally without any reference to anything else. If everyone is existing in virtue, then society will attain a perfect and harmonious system of social relations.

( 4 ) Methodology

1. A Principle for All Times —Teach by Living Example

Methodology in teaching is very important. Take the Five Pre­cepts for instance. How should you go about teaching them? You may use a combination of methods. The first teaching method is teaching by the teachers' own conduct and virtue, which is the most important in all virtue teachings. Students are very intuitive. They can perceive anything phony in their teachers. It is like they have a great antenna that can detect everything false and dishonest. Also, if you are ever inconsis­tent in terms of what you say or do, they will pick up on that and everything you say after that will be meaningless. (Parents learn this pretty quickly too!) So the first prerequisite in your teaching is that you live up to the very standards you are trying to teach students; if teachers themselves are not virtuous, then nothing can be achieved in teaching virtue. What really counts is what you do, not what you say. The first thing they are go­ing to look for is how you are living your life. Not only how you are living your life, but whether you have a quality of life based on that virtue that they would want to emulate. Why would they want to emulate a life that doesn't work? Teenag­ers examine just that: What do I see about that person's life that works?

To be continued

Editor's note:This talk was given in 1997 instead of 1998 as printed under the title in the last issue.


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