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Teaching With “The Buddha”

Skills such as listening, mindful self-awareness of thoughts and emotions, empathy, and compassion play an important role in teaching and learning. When integrated into educational experiences, experiential methods for developing these capacities--called contemplative practices due to their emphasis on self-reflection--can aid the development of reflective insight as well as critical thinking, and do not require any particular belief or creed. The use of these practices in classrooms can enhance study of cultures, religions, historical eras, and figures like the historical Buddha by helping students relate the subject of study to their personal experience.

Buddha ready to teach
The Buddha is prepared to teach
Cleveland Museum of Art
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The experience of many educators and students, complemented by recent research in neuroscience and social sciences, demonstrates that cultivating capacities for mindfulness and emotional intelligence with contemplative practices complements intellectual and analytic undertakings. Contemplative practices can also help shape the direction of social action, contributing to an integration of the ethical and the political, the spiritual and the practical; at the heart of this work is the intention for pedagogical and intellectual benefits discovered through contemplative practice to help create a more just, compassionate, and reflective society.

The following resources, on the educational uses of contemplative practices to complement the use of The Buddha in classrooms, were compiled for PBS in 2010 by The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, a non-profit organization which focuses on contemplative practices in higher education, in partnership with the Association for Mindfulness in Education, which focuses on work in grades K-12. 

Mindfulness: A Guide for Teachers by Dr. Amy Saltzman

This brief document provides a working definition of mindfulness, an overview of the scientific rationale for offering mindfulness to children and adolescents, a review of the professional and personal benefits of practicing mindfulness, specific suggestions for developing your own mindfulness practice (which is a prerequisite to sharing mindfulness with your students), and two examples of practices you can use in your classroom.

Download the Guide as a .pdf

Download the Guide as a .doc

The Buddha: Teaching Mindfulness

During this webinar, originally presented by PBS Teachers and Classroom 2.0 on March 25, 2010, filmmaker David Grubin showed clips from The Buddha and talked about making the film and what he hopes audiences, particularly teachers and students, will take away from it. Mirabai Bush, Associate Director and Senior Fellow at The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, spoke about using the film as an educational resource and provided an overview of research on the effects of mindfulness on learning. Educator Peter Brown shared resources and strategies for teaching about the Buddha and Buddhism in a Comparative Religion course, and Dr. Amy Saltzman discussed methods for teaching secular mindfulness. Participants also learned about educational resources available on the companion website for the film.

Access Recordings: Full version | Audio recording | Chat log

Further Reading on Education and Contemplation from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

Toward the Integration of Meditation into Higher Education: A Review of Research (.pdf)
Prepared by Shauna L. Shapiro, Kirk Warren Brown, and John A. Astin. Edited by Maia Duerr
This paper reviews empirical evidence related to the use of meditation to facilitate the achievement of traditional educational goals, to help support student mental health under academic stress, and to enhance education of the “whole person.”

The Fruit of Silence (.pdf)
by Marilyn Nelson, Professor Emerita of English, University of Connecticut
Prof. Nelson describes her strategies, classroom exercises and experiences teaching meditation and poetry to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Meditation and Education: Buddhist India, Tibet and Modern America (.pdf)
by Robert A.F. Thurman, Je Tsongkhapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies, Columbia University
Prof. Thurman describes contemplative practices and meditation, and argues for the benefits of the inclusion of contemplation in Higher Education using examples from the Buddhist educational curricula of India and Tibet.

Meditation, Social Change, and Undergraduate Education (.pdf)
by Steven C. Rockefeller, Professor Emeritus of Religion, Middlebury College
Prof. Rockefeller explores ways in which the American undergraduate college can provide students with opportunities for understanding, appreciating, and practicing the meditative and contemplative disciplines.

The Contemplative Life and the Teaching of the Humanities (.pdf)
by Brain Stock, Professor of History and Comparative Literature, University of Toronto
Prof. Stock discusses how teachers of the humanities, even in religion departments, deal almost exclusively with “theoretical interests” and the analysis of texts, but no major branch of contemporary thinking in the humanities is actually meditative.

Additional Resources:

Lesson Plans and Curriculum Guides for Teaching About the Buddha and Buddhism

BBC Schools
Lesson plans for Life of the Buddha, Buddha’s relevance today, and more.

BuddhaNet: Buddha Dharma Education Association
Buddha Studies for primary and secondary school and lesson plans for the life of the Buddha for all levels.

BuddhaNet Kids' Page

Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC)'s The Art of Buddhism: A Teacher's Guide
This guide focuses on the cultures of three countries: India, China, and Japan. The guide identifies grade level appropriateness for some lessons and activities. Resources listed include: "Buddhist Festivals" (with suggested activities for elementary and middle school levels); "Books and Magazines on Buddhism"; "Films and Videos about Buddhism"; "Web sites on Buddhism"; "Local and National Buddhist Temples and Education Centers"; "Embassies and Consulates"; and "National Educational Resources."

Mindfulness for Children (.pdf)
by Susan Kaiser Greenland. From Insight Journal, Winter 2010, vol. 33.

Teaching Tolerance
Ideas for teaching the Buddha as part of religious diversity

Secular Mindfulness and Contemplative Practices in Education

Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education
The first professional association to focus on contemplative practices in higher education. Offers a social network, annual conference, webinars, and more.

Association for Mindfulness in Education
A collaborative association of organizations and individuals working together to provide support for mindfulness training as a component of K-12 education. Committed to furthering training and research in this field.

Mindfulness Without Borders

Focuses on approaches in which mindful awareness-based education converges with the fields of peacebuilding and social transformation. Offers training workshops for educators and organizations.

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
Academic Program offers fellowships, retreats, summer sessions in curriculum development, meetings and conferences, syllabi, links and resources.

Garrison Institute Initiative on Contemplation and Education
Focused on two projects:

  • Contemplation and Education Field Leadership promotes development, testing and use of contemplative-based methods for teachers and students via research partnerships with scientists, educators and other experts.
  • CARE Teacher Training Development Project develops and tests a professional development program for teachers, combining training in contemplation and emotion awareness with instruction on how to apply these skills in the classroom.

Inner Resilience Program
Offers parents and educators:

  • An understanding of how stress affects health and performance
  • Relaxation techniques and self-care tools to effectively manage stress.
  • Opportunities to reflect on the meaning of their work in the company of like-minded colleagues.
  • Techniques to create caring classroom communities that nurture the whole child

Mindful Awareness Research Center, UCLA
Fosters mindful awareness through education and research to promote well-being and a more compassionate society.

Mindfulness in Education Network
A network to facilitate communication among all educators, parents, students and any others interested in promoting mindfulness in educational settings.

PassageWorks/SMART in Education

Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques in Education (SMART) is an evidenced-based personal renewal program designed especially for educators working in K-12 settings.

The Still Quiet Place
Dr. Amy Saltzman is a holistic physician, mindfulness teacher, scientist, wife, mother, and devoted student of transformation. Her passion is supporting people of all ages in enhancing their well being, and discovering the Still Quiet Place within. She is recognized by her peers as a visionary and pioneer in the fields of holistic medicine and mindfulness in K-12 education.

Articles, Books and Reports

Daniel Barbezat and Mirabai Bush. Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning. Jossey-Bass.

Barry Boyce. Please Help Me Learn Who I Am. Shambhala Sun, January 2007.

Barry Boyce. The Mindful Society: The Contemplative Curriculum. Shambhala Sun, July 2009.

Richard Brady. Learning to Stop; Stopping to Learn: Embarking on the Contemplative Learning Path. (.pdf)

Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. Contemplative Practices and Education: Making Peace in Ourselves and in the World. Report on conference at Columbia Teachers College, 2005.

David Forbes. Boyz 2 Buddhas: Counseling Urban High School Male Athletes in the Zone. Peter Lang Publishing.

Garrison Institute. Contemplative Teaching and Learning Reports (.pdf)

Tobin Hart. Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom. Journal of Transformative Education, 2004; 2: 28-46.

Linda Lantieri and Daniel Goleman. Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Culivate Inner Strength in Children. Sounds True.
Includes instructions in print and on a CD for mindfulness, mindful eating, body scan.

Irene McHenry and Richard Brady, eds. Tuning In: Mindfulness in Teaching and Learning. Friends Council on Education.
Essays for teachers by teachers on teaching mindfulness to children, teaching yoga, using mindful reading and writing, developing integrity and balance, etc.

Deborah Schoeberlein. Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything.Wisdom Publications.

Sybil Myoshin Taylor interviews Elizabeth Clemants. Buddha Kids. Village Zendo Journal, October 2008.


Major funding provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by: the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Shinnyo-en Foundation, the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Bumper Foundation, and viewers like you.