Saturday, June 18, 2016

Wake Up Schools

"Education is not information. It’s not just understanding technology, but how to be a human being." ~ Brother Phap Luu

Phap Luu: In the 1960’s, our teacher in his country had an idea to plant seeds for Wake Up Schools. His program was to help in the countryside with groups of young people (10,000 young people) who went to villages to help peasants with medications, build first aid service, as well as teach children. They trained young people with the mindfulness practice to breathe consciously, learn how to calm down their mind and body, and be completely in the present moment. When they came to the villages, they had no electricity or schools because there were no social services, and no one could play with children or be present with children who had no school. The children were only in the streets.

Later the peasants realised that when they were busy in the countryside growing rice, they were very grateful for these young people to be with their children. The young people also had soy milk without money and with good will. The peasants offered their homes for school. After a few months, they established their own school. In this manner since 50 years ago, our teacher had already started this initiative. In this aspect, he founded the first university with western aspects in Ho Chi Minh City named Van Hanh University with the intention of teaching in different way about what’s happening with humanity in general, how we can be human beings for one another, and touch our real nature.

This university was there for many years to teach the western aspects, but now it no longer follows this western program. Our teacher exiled to France for war reasons and Thay wanted to carry this path to the country. So he’s taught more than 50 years, but with a western emphasis.

We can benefit from his path. Now we want to teach in a fundamental way to change the direction of education toward the race of human beings. How we can live in our body and mind with more peace, more understanding, and deal with our emotions, such as how to manage a strong emotion that arises. For us, this is the basis of our education. If our children and we ourselves as teachers don’t know how to manage strong emotions with mindful breathing and be in the present moment, then how we can say that this is not education?

Education is not information. It’s not just understanding technology, but how to be a human being. This the basis for Wake Up Schools. 

Radio Presenter: This learning should be an additional course in an university curriculum or this should be an universal teaching.

Phap Luu: What surprises many professors is that no other thing is needed to be added to a course, but our presence, our way of being is how we teach to be present. In our retreats, the basis is how each one of us can incorporate the mindfulness practice. We always start with the professors, not techniques on how to teach children. The professors always come for technique. They want another certificate, but when they come to a Wake Up Schools retreat, they are a little surprised that it’s their own transformation which is the most important. They learn how to stop because in life we are always running in the future or we have regrets about the past. So we are lost in our thoughts.

With the mindfulness practice, we learn how to stop ourselves and be here in the now with our breathing. It’s always here. For example, when I’m breathing in, I’m aware that I’m breathing. Breathing out, I’m aware that I’m breathing out. We follow our breathing with all our attention. When our attention is gone, we can return to our thoughts with love and not punish ourselves because we lost my focus on our breathing. With love, you return and your concentration increases; the capacity of not being dragged down by daily life but to return in any moment in only 2-3 seconds. This can be done, but the practice is missing. So we can do this for ourselves, our students, and people outside to be more present. This is the biggest gift we can give ourselves and our loved ones.
Pilar: The retreat is organised together with the University of Barcelona and Plum Village community. We had the opportunity to bring Thich Nhat Hanh in 2014. A lot of professors around the world came to the retreat to see the teacher, and now we have the opportunity for Plum Village to come back here for all the teachers in Spain who can take advantage of the Plum Village monastics’ teachings. These retreats are for the mindfulness practice to help nourish us.

Like Brother Phap Luu said, to live with more peace, to nourish these seeds of well being and humanity of others. And later, they can spread these seeds of humanity in their careers, personal and professional lives. I think mindfulness helps us to be more present, to be able to live in more peace and be capable to live our own essence in life. When we are at peace, whatever we do with our family, neighbors, or our work, how do we acknowledge the others about how we have the ability to communicate with ourselves and others, to be more aware at the wonder of the present moment and all the wonders we have in the here and now. The happiness of people and know how to live with more joy and enjoy the present moment.

Radio Presenter: And this can be learned in the university. This is all revolutionary, no? Little by little, the conventional education system begins to be more open-minded to these new school of thoughts, those new ways of living as human beings that we have forgotten : attention and compassion, especially with respect to the children. 

Radio Presenter: I have another question for Phap Luu. Maybe there are people who are listening to us are a little afraid or are turned off because they think it’s a religious program or it’s a program to change children’s faith. For those who think that way, how would you respond?

Phap Luu: It seems the word “religion” is something that has brought these people with a lot of history in Europe with the Catholic church and the state. In Asia, the church is a little distinct. It doesn’t have much to do with religion, but it’s how to live life. Education and the religion in Buddhism always go together, so I wouldn’t say that Buddhism is exactly a religion. It’s more applied psychology. It’s to touch in the present moment and let go of any ideas or point of view. That is the basis of Buddhism, including Buddhism itself. It’s to be there bare in the world in the present moment.

This is the basis of the practice Buddha proposed. He didn’t want to create a religion, but he wanted to help people suffer less. So we are doing the same with our life and people around us. If there’s something that makes us suffer, we have to ask ourselves why is it suffering us?

The children, including the ones are committing suicide, have a strong emotion that they can’t deal with: the pressure of exams, social pressure, to have a job, to live in a world with so many desires and so much advertising around us that want to sell them things, and they don’t know how to manage all of this pressure. We don’t give them a way with conscious breathing to understand why they are suffering. It seems to be an error on our part in our education system. It’s interesting that so many scientists are now interested in this practice that comes from the Buddhist tradition because they see it’s a tradition that has a scientific method of experimenting with the fruits of our practice, and they don’t believe in Buddha.
Any person can put this into practice in their lives and see how it goes. When we talk about confidence in some of the practices in our tradition, this confidence comes from ourselves. It’s the same with scientists. That’s why there’s a loving and very mutual relationship between the scientific world and Buddhist tradition because we are learning from each other.

Also in our community we have, for example, many Christians who are very devoted to their faith and there’s no conflict because Christianity and Buddhism. One comes from the region with religious aspect, and the other comes from the everyday practice of breathing. Furthermore, there are many Christians who say they can go deeper on their paths through mindfulness. So I don’t think there is any conflict, and schools and institutions are learning about this. They are more open-minded now about this vision.

Radio Presenter: This was like a mindfulness question, about the past and the future. We have four minutes left. I was wondering if you could share a little meditation practice that people could learn.

Phap Luu: Well, in whatever situation you encounter – in a car, kitchen or where you are listening this program – you can directly return and pay attention completely to the breathing.
Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.
In, out.

(sound of the bell)
I follow all my attention, breathing in and breathing out.
I let go of all the thoughts, the future, the past.
Breathing in, I am aware of all my body.
Breathing out, I relax all my body.
I let go of any tension.

(sound of the bell)
I’m aware of the tension in my body accumulated over the years. Across my thoughts and worries.
I’m aware of them and I breathe freely.
I let go of any tension.
Breathing in, I touch within myself the joy of being alive. It’s a miracle to be on such a beautiful planet.
Breathing out, I smile to life.
Breathing in, I’m aware of the wonders of being alive.
Breathing out, I smile.
(sound of the bell)