Recently, Matt Bieber interviewed Peter Hershock, author of Buddhism in the Public Sphere, for his blog The Wheat and Chaff. In this interview Hershock discusses his opinions on the practices of contemporary education, his above mentioned publication, and considering education in a Buddhist context. Matt Bieber (MB) questions Peter Hershock (PH) on Buddhism and education:
I had planned to ask you whether you thought this whole vision of education and moral formation was transferable outside the Buddhist context – whether it was possible to advocate for it or persuade others of its usefulness without explicitly rooting it in Buddhist origins. It certainly sounds like you’re working toward doing so, and that you’ve found a language in which to talk about all of this that doesn’t really depend on Buddhism. Is that right?
PH: I think that whenever Buddhism is spread into a new cultural sphere, it has always had to do some accommodation with the local culture. Then it can move into a phase of advocacy where it says, “You guys are doing all this great stuff, but it seems like these are problems that persist, and Buddhist practices can help you respond to those things that persist.” So Buddhism doesn’t come in and say, “You need to redesign your system.” The Buddha never recommended a regime change. He never said, “You gotta switch to a democratic polity if you’re a monarchy,” or “You need to shift from this economic system to another one.”
It’s the development of what I call different “ecologies of enlightenment,” where you get particular kinds of practices that are being brought together because they’re responsive to the needs of that particular community. And some of that’s conceptual.
Given the very limited understanding and limited practice that I’ve developed in my short time on earth, I think part of what I’m trying to do is to make a contribution to developing a vocabulary through which Buddhist perspectives—if we still want to call them that – or critically engaged perspectives on interdependence and relational quality can become a shared focus for moving forward in a way that’s generally useful. I agree entirely with that part of your statement. We can draw from Buddhist traditions, or other traditions, constellating values according to which we can start to see new ways of concretely moving forward with virtuosity. My rendering of the notion of diversity comes out of Buddhist concepts of non-duality. But I actually don’t have to tell anybody that. I can express what the value of diversity is and describe it, contrasting it with variety in a way that’s intelligible, without having to bring any other “Buddhist” stuff in.
To read the full interview, click here.
This conversation is really interesting because it shows an example of someone explaining their values that come from religion in a way divorced from religion. The Buddhist values surrounding education and morality are being expressed in a way everyone can understand. This is the only effective way to spread your values that come from religion.
If Hershock were to try and spread his values while still framed in their religious background, he would meet much more resistance. This is because it would be viewed as proselytizing. Someone telling me that I should be a good person is acceptable. Someone telling me that I should do something because a religious tradition or deity demand(s) it is not acceptable. It changes from a suggestion about something specific to a challenge of my entire worldview. A person’s worldview is generally something that they identify with closely. An attack of someone’s worldview is seen as a personal attack. The method that Hershock is advocating for is seen as less confrontational and personal. It is seen as the challenging of an idea and not a person.
Also, it inherently means that Hershock will use language that everyone can understand and relate to without being rooted to the same religious tradition that he is. It transcends the boundaries of a specific religious tradition and moves into the realm of ideas that everyone can understand and subscribe to without inherent religious belief. Hershock’s method of spreading his Buddhist ideas and values surrounding education and morality without spreading them in the context of Buddhism is a good one. Overall, it will receive the least resistance and people are less likely to take offense.