《Buddhism as an Education》
Venerable Master Chin Kung (淨空法師）
CHAPTER FOUR：THE METHODOLOGY AND SYMBOLISM OF THE BUDDHIST EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM
The Continuing Education System for Teachers
The continuing education system for teachers was first established by Buddha Shakyamuni. Many of his students were well accomplished under his instruction. Every year, these students were assigned to teach at different places for nine months. In India, the rainy season runs from mid-April to mid-July. Since it was inconvenient to travel and teach during those three months, all the students would come back to meet with the Buddha to receive additional teachings and to learn from each other in class discussions.
This was called the summer retreat and it parallels what is currently known as continuing education for teachers. The modern continuing educational system is necessitated by the advancement in technology. However, twenty-five hundred years ago, Buddha had already adopted this idea in bringing his students back for additional teachings.
The Artful Buddhist Teaching
Buddhist teaching is full of artistic expressions. It was originally an education, which combined what was equivalent to today's museum and school system. Therefore, the "Si" combined the traditional school, library and museum. In ancient China, the traditional school system was not universal. Most students went to a "Si" to study because it usually had a complete collection of books, similar to today's library. The collections included not only sutras, but also almost every kind of publication. The monks were familiar with Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and ancient Chinese texts. They were capable of answering questions and were well versed on various subjects. Consequently, Buddhist institutions began to take over the educational mission for China.
Typical Buddhist buildings are expressions of art, which are called "Expressions of Buddhism." However, Buddha and Bodhisattva statues do not repre sent polytheism（多神論）, the worship of more than one god. Each statue serves to inspire wisdom and awakening in each of us. They also represent certain aspects of Buddhism, which remind practitioners of the particular topic of teaching.
For example, Guan Yin Bodhisattva（觀世音菩薩）, the most popular Bodhisattva in China, represents Infinite Compassion. When we see this statue, it reminds us to apply compassion when dealing with the world, its people and surroundings. However, people nowadays worship Guan Yin Bodhisattva as a god and pray for the relief of suffering and to eliminate obstacles. This is a superstitious view and misconception because people forget the fact that the statues are expressions of concepts in Buddhism.
Buddhist architecture is also an artistic expression, with the temple's main cultivation hall being similar to a large meeting or teaching hall. From the exterior, it appears to have two stories, but there is only one story inside. The external two stories represent "absolute truth" or the true reality of life and the universe, and "relative truth" or worldly views still clouded with delusion. The interior single story illustrates that both are the same truth. To the deluded, the two appear distinct and different; however, to the enlightened, they are one and the same.
In the center of the main cultivation hall, there are three statues, one Buddha and two Bodhisattvas. Buddha represents the true nature of the universe and human life, which is called "Buddha nature（佛性）" or true mind. "Buddha" is translated from Sanskrit（梵語）, and means someone who is totally enlightened. The Buddha statue represents our original enlightenment and the Bodhisattvas statues represent the application of our original enlightened mind. All the representations and applications are infinite and can be classified into two categories: wisdom and practice.
For example, the Pure Land School pays respect to the Buddha and two Bodhisattvas of the Western Paradise. Amitabha Buddha（阿彌陀佛） (Infinite Life and Infinite Light 無量壽、無量光) represents the infinite enlightenment that is an intrinsic part of our nature. Bodhisattvas Guan Yin （觀世音菩薩） and Da Shi Zhi（大勢至菩薩） (Great Strength or Mahasthamaprapta) respectively portray compassion with kindness（慈悲） and great wisdom（智慧）. We should be compas sionate and kind toward all beings. Our thoughts, views and behavior should be rational rather than emotional, for emotional behavior spells trouble.
Therefore, we should not treat the Buddha and Bodhisattvas as gods. But will they help us? Yes, they will by providing us with the knowledge of how to protect ourselves from delusion, thereby obtaining release from suffering. Once we have learned the background of the artistic components in Buddhist architecture, music and statues, we will gain an enriched experience when paying a visit to a traditional Buddhist temple.
However, nowadays many people do not understand the meaning and teachings of Buddhism. They mistake the multi-representations of Bodhisattvas as a sign of polytheism. What people fail to understand is the fact that the statues in Buddhism are teaching aids and not statues of gods. All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas represent our nature and cultivation of virtue. We have infinite capabilities within our true nature that cannot be expressed by just one single term. Therefore, we have multiple representations; for instance, a capable person today may have many titles on his/her business cards to show his/her positions and accomplishments.
The Buddha and Bodhisattvas are actually representations of the nature within ourselves: Buddha, as in our true nature of mind, and the Bodhisattvas, in our virtue of cultivation. We all possess these qualities. Not until we come to realize the meaning of Buddhist symbolism, will we appreciate the sophistication and complete ness of its education.
Typical "Si" buildings are rare today. The first hall of a "Si" is the hall of Heavenly Guardians（天王殿）, also known as Dharma Protectors. Situated in the center of the hall, facing the front door, is Mi Le Pu Sa（彌勒菩薩）(Maitreya Bodhisattva) who is represented by the image of the historical monk Bu-Dai（布袋和尚）. Mi Le Pu Sa has a big smile that conveys the idea that in order to truly learn Buddhism, one should learn to be cheerful and courteous to all. He also has a huge belly that represents fairness, flexibility, impartiality, patience and tolerance.
Standing beside Mi Le Pu Sa are the four Heavenly Guardians（四大天王或四大金剛） or Dharma Protectors（護法神）. They are symbolic guardians of the practitioners of the Buddhist way. Whom do they protect? They protect us by reminding us to educate ourselves and to safeguard the proper knowledge, which we should learn. Each guardian portrays a different aspect of thought or action.
The Eastern Dharma Protector （東方持國天王）(holding a lute) symbolizes responsibility and safeguards the territory, which means that all of us are responsible for ourselves, our family, society and the country as a whole. If each of us performs our duties well, fulfilling our obligations, we support each other and ourselves as well.
The Southern Dharma Protector （南方增長天王）(holding a sword) symbolizes progress and teaches us diligence. He emphasizes the importance of constantly cultivating and advancing our virtue, wisdom and knowledge, and to improve performance in ourselves and our duties. This is similar to Confucian ideas of daily self-improvement.
The Western Dharma Protector （西方廣目天王）(holding a dragon or snake) symbolizes comprehensive vision and knowledge gained through exposure to the world. He represents the need to open our eyes to observe nature and men, to refine what we see and learn, and to distinguish good from ill.
The Northern Dharma Protector（北方多聞天王） (holding an umbrella) symoolizes comprehensive study and learning. Both teach ways of practice and how to achieve the goals in responsibility fulfillment and self-improvement. As the ancient Chinese have said: "To read ten thousand books and to travel ten-thousand miles."（讀萬卷書，行萬里路）We read to gain more knowledge and travel to observe more effectively. We will then be able to improve our selves and to perform our duties most effectively.
Today, people visit the Hall of Dharma Protectors to burn incense, prostrate and offer flowers and fruit praying for protection and safety. This is superstition. All the facilities, images of Buddha and Bodhisattvas and any offerings made are teaching tools designed to inspire our mind and wisdom. They also serve to remind us of the importance of being enlightened instead of deluded, virtuous instead of deviated, pure instead of polluted. These are the three principles of Buddhist teaching and practice.
Methods of Practicing Buddhism
The ways in practicing Buddhism are numerous, about eighty-four thousand. Each path is different from the others but ultimately leads to the same goals: enlightenment, proper thoughts and view points, and purity. As such, all paths are equal with out one being superior to the other. People have different abilities and levels of accomplishment. Furthermore, they are from different environments and should choose a path most suited to them. We can choose any one of the three goals to concentrate our practice on. When we achieve any one of them, the other two will come naturally.
There are ten schools of practice in Chinese Buddhism. Zen stresses the pursuit of the perfect clear mind or enlightenment. The Pure Land and Ti betan Buddhism or Vajrayana school stress obtaining the pure mind. Other schools concentrate their practice on proper thoughts and viewpoints. Regardless of which method or school one chooses, they all lead to the same outcome. In other words, once we become expert in one method, we will be come an expert in all methods.
The purity of the world comes from an individ ual's inner purity. With a pure mind, a mind without discrimination or attachment, a higher level of wisdom arises in which the world around us naturally comes into harmony. By reciting the Buddha's name, meditating, reciting sutras or mantras, and practicing in accordance with Buddha's teaching, one will attain enlightenment, proper thoughts and viewpoints, and purity of mind thus becoming void of all deluded thoughts.
On the other hand, one is totally on the wrong path if one chants Buddha's name in the hope of gaining a promotion or wealth. That is religion and superstition, and it goes against the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha.
How Buddhist Terminology Illustrates that Buddhism is an Education
Buddhism is the teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni as he was its founder. We call Him the "Original teacher," just like the Chinese call Confucius the "Greatest sage and teacher." The relationship between Buddha and ourselves is a teacher-student relationship, which is not religious in nature. In relig ion, there is not a teacher-student relationship but that of parent-child or master-servant.
About twenty years ago I gave a series of lectures in Fu-Ren Catholic University and taught in the Thomas Monastery for one semester. I told my students, who were mainly priests and nuns, to take refuge in the Buddha and to learn Buddhism well.
There is absolutely no conflict between Buddhism and religion, for one is teacher-student and the other father-son. If the priests and nuns were to practice Buddhism and in turn abandon their own religion, I believe that even Buddha would not accept them, for it is against human ethics to discard the parent for the teacher. Therefore, religious followers will benefit if they practice Buddhism. As we practice, we will attain the true wisdom to know exactly what Heaven is like and will be able to decide when and how we want to go there. Thus, Buddhism is a way of teaching as it teaches us how to regain our true wisdom.
When a monk is called "He-Shang（和尚）," he is equivalent to the principal in today's school, for he is the director of educational strategies. All other faculty members are teachers who execute the principal's educational strategies and act as role models for the students' behavior and speech.
My late teacher, Professor Fang constantly assured me that Buddhism is an education. Later in my studies of the sutras, I reaffirmed his statement that Buddhism is the pinnacle of the world's wisdom. It provides the greatest enjoyment for humankind. I have experienced the unsurpassable joy of being free from af flictions, delusions and wandering thoughts. My body and mind are clean and pure, totally at ease. I am the happiest person in the worid.
Therefore, I feel indebted to Professor Fang, for without him, I would not have learned Buddhism nor would I have such complete happiness derived from practicing Buddha's teaching.