How to Incorporate Buddhism Into Your Classroom

By Cindy Schwartz, Co-Founder and Director of Secondary Education

This blog post is an adaptation of “Teaching Zenfully” an episode of the Attentive Teaching Podcast. Our podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other major podcast platforms.

How familiar are you with Buddha and his teachings? It might surprise you, but these teachings can help you to teach more holistically and address your own needs for self-care. 

But first, to understand his teachings, it’s important to know more about Buddha himself.

Who Was Buddha?

His real name was Siddhartha Gautama, and he lived in what is today the country of Nepal, high in the Himalayan Mountains, between the 5th and 4th century BCE.

Siddhartha was a wealthy but sheltered prince whose family benefited from living an extravagant lifestyle as members of an elite class of warrior kings who were born into the Kshatriya caste. He married, became father to a child, and lived within the confines of his family’s caste in this secluded kingdom.

Feeling bored and empty, Siddhartha secretly wandered from his kingdom into the nearby countryside and saw, for the first time, an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and an ascetic. He concluded that all of life is about suffering. He was suffering and so was everyone else.

But why?

The Four Noble Truths

Siddhartha renounced his royal status, became a monk, gave up all of his material possessions, left his family, and tried to understand the world. Under a bodhi tree, after much quiet meditation, Siddhartha became enlightened. This is why he has come to be known as Buddha, or “enlightened one.”

He realized how he could be released from suffering and achieve ultimate salvation, or “nirvana.” He had an epiphany and wanted to share his realizations with the world, so he traveled throughout India, sharing what he had come to understand. 

His epiphany was called “the four noble truths,” which are as follows:

  1. All of life is suffering, and we cannot escape that.
  2. The cause of all suffering is desire – our desires for pleasure, material goods, and immortality. Buddha also believed that our suffering is caused by our ignorance, our refusal to see the world realistically.
  3. The only way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate desire.
  4. To achieve the elimination of desire, we must take what Buddha called the Noble Eightfold Path.

What Does This Have to Do with Teaching?

Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path gives us, as human beings, a clear way to help ourselves and eliminate suffering in our lives. 

He shared his “path” to nirvana with all who would listen. Buddha offered 8 practices that could lead to forever peace from being unhappy and suffering. These 8 practices can be placed into three categories:

  1. Moral Virtue, which includes right speech, right action, and right livelihood
  2. Meditation, which includes right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness
  3. Insight and Wisdom, which includes right understanding and right thought

As teachers, if we are able to incorporate each of these “right” behaviors, or at least one or two of them a day, our teaching lives and personal lives could flourish. We could help ourselves eliminate the suffering we often feel from being overworked, stressed, and anxious.

When I have made an intention at the beginning of the day to focus on right thought, right mindfulness, and right understanding, my classes have been calmer, more compassionate, and more focused on the whole child rather than just on curriculum. 

This is not to say that curriculum is not important. Of course it is. But try to consider using this Noble Eightfold Path as a guide to including more SEL into your lessons.

Ways to Incorporate The Noble Eightfold Path into Class

Use novels, speeches, art work, music, or poems that reflect the teachings of the Noble Eightfold Path, and your classes will become havens of warmth and greater understanding.

Consider debating with your students whether or not Buddha’s underlying premise of eliminating desire to secure happiness is realistic. Even if you don’t agree with Buddha’s teachings, simply exposing yourself and your students to the Noble Eightfold Path by incorporating “right” behaviors might just ease your suffering a bit.

Just choose one of the practices as an experiment. Do something different, and you may feel differently. 

In other words, bring the Noble Eightfold Path into your teaching and personal life and see what happens. Shifting our mindset to a more proactive one can often provide the guiding light we’ve been looking for.

Do you incorporate Buddhism into your daily life, including the classroom? What tips or strategies have worked for you? Let us know in the comments!

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