Many of us, particularly Buddhists, can say that there is something positive and good in all of this. Particularly Buddhists who like the Chan practice may say, "Alright, so we don't have a form--so what?" But there are many other people, including Buddhists, who say there is danger lurking behind anything that goes on too far. Be it modernism and scientific methods, or be it postmodernism--if it's carried to its extreme, it's dangerous. So, it is for us--Buddhists and Buddhist educators--to point in a compassionate manner to the Middle Path-both in the postmodern form and in the modern form.
There is one thing that I would like to say about the post-modern world that is very important for all of us. In this postmodern age, in the process of breaking all the formalities and rigidities of our modern world that were dividing everything up, people have thrown away the idea of authority, and also of tradition. That's because they have all been hurt by the debris—the leftovers, the broken piece--of our old, stiff authorities from the past. Now that these are all smashed, the postmodern individuals, out of having nothing for them to catch onto--no Brahma Net--and out of the fear and horror which comes from staring into this mess--this emptiness--they are trying to put the old back together frantically, by catching these bits and pieces of ancient cultures, philosophies, and what-have-you, of this old and disintegrating world. They (or we actually) catch these pieces and try to stick them together at random--a little bit from here, a little bit from there--as they see fit. So, they make a new world, a new construct for themselves, but for each individual it's a different thing and it comes from different, disconnected pieces.
And in this kind of atmosphere, each person is afraid for his or for her own ego, for their selves. The level of fear and anquish of the modern human being living in a postmodern world is very, very high. There needs to be a new and more appropriate approach to these people and to this world. And here is where we all need the help of Guanyin. That is the only thing that can pull us out of this tremendous mess and fear that our world is in. As teachers, we must have empathy and see where our poor students and our poor colleagues are and why they are mistrustful of each other and of the world and approach them from a different angle—from the angle that we work for them, not necessarily for us, because we all know that there are many, many Dharma doors and so we should not only find one that works for us, but find their Dharma door if we can.
My practical suggestion for this is to start out small, with something a frightened and an ignorant being can relate to, something that is relevant to their own life, that is not too scary and that is attainable for them. On the human level, that is something to which they can say, "Oh, this is easy. Even a stupid fool like me can do that." If they can start from that point, you can make better human beings out of them. But if you start from a point that is way, way too far, that is not personal, and that is authoritative—if they see authority—then they shy away. It is a little bit like training a wild animal, I would say. But the way to approach and win people's hearts for us as educators is to start very low and take the threat away from anything we say.
At this point I would ask any of you who have any questions to come forth and we can discuss some of your questions and your attitudes and your problems or some good things that you have to say about education. Or any questions you want to ask me about my talk right now.
Don't be shy. You know a Dharma talk in the Buddha Hall should be something we can all participate in, and not just be me—the authority—in this postmodern world, telling you what to do. This is not a good practice. It won't make me a good teacher.
In the postmodern world we are all teachers and we all have to respect each other's authority. That's how people see themselves. Probably many of the people who come here have that attitude, and we have to be aware of that. One of the ways to start is to have the courage to speak up, to say what you think, and to ask the questions that are going through your mind, or not even ask questions, but just if you have an observation, say it.
Question: You have taught extensively in different parts of the world to people of different cultures. Can you speak a little bit about your experience?
Answer: Well, it's hard to say, because I firmly believe that people are all the same wherever you go. They might wear different kinds of clothes and have different color eyes and hair, but in essence they are all the same, and even in how they approach the role of religion they are the same: They are defensive of it, and they think theirs is the best.I can tell you of an experience that was very touching and that happened to me when I was teaching at a women's college in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is one of the conservative countries that stick to a form. In that sense we could say it is a modern country, because it sticks to its own form. It has a proven system that works, and they do not want that system to progress in any way. I'm not here to judge the system. It has its good and bad aspects, but somehow it does keep the people together. I was running a program for learning foreign languages there, and most of the teachers employed there were Christian. Some of the students were also Christian. Arabs are either Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. These are the three religions there, but the biggest one is definitely Islam. It was approaching Christmas, and a new law came down from the King that everyone has to come to school on Christmas Day—teachers and students. If you look at the principle of that law, it wasn't all that bad. It was their country, and they are for the most part not Christian, so why should they observe a holiday that is not their own, that is imposed on them by the Christians? After all, when they go out into the Christian world, the Christian world forces them to accept Christian holidays and the Muslim holidays are put on the backburner. So the government's policy was: This is a Muslim country, and Christmas is going to be a working day.
Many of the teachers were quite upset, because they wanted to celebrate Christmas. The principals of the school, who were all Arabs, were also upset, and they were very embarrassed by this. This is the ethics that I'm talking about. These were ethical people, and they didn't know what to do. So, they said, "This is the law, and we will get into trouble if we don't follow the law, but we also know that you are good people who are teaching and not taking too much money and who try to help us and make friends with us. We apologize for our government, but we have to follow the law." I talked to the teachers and said, "Some of you are married to Arabs, so your husbands are Muslims. Those of you whose husbands are Muslims and those of you who really don't care whether you are home or not for Christmas, and those of you who can give of yourselves-since Christmas is a day when you should give--come, in order to help out the school. Those of you who don't want to come don't have to come, and we will somehow divide the classes among the ones who are left behind." And that is what happened. Some people came, and some didn't come.
I went to substitute for another teacher, and the minute I walked into the classroom, the students locked the door. I thought, "My goodness, what's going to happen now?"
Then from under their chadors--the black cloaks that the women wear came all kinds of sweets and delicacies that they had made for their teacher (not for me; I was just a substitute) because they knew that she was an American and a Christian and that she liked Christmas, and they wanted her to be happy.
This was such a touching thing. In spite of the law of their country, they wanted to respect their teachers. And I took these things and brought them home to their teacher. It was really a very humbling experience for everybody.
This story is a good example of what ethics is, because it is a case of going beyond the rule. The rule was one thing, but people saw what the principle behind it was, and they were courageous enough to follow that principle.