Integrating Contemplative and Ignatian Pedagogies in a Buddhist Studies Classroom
2. Contemplative Pedagogy and the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm
3. First-Person Contemplative Practice as Informed by Transparency and the IPP’s Context
This response demonstrates that the students’ contemplative experience helped them not to overlook the “basic” techniques described in a Buddhist meditation text. Another essay question prompted students to reflect on how our contemplative practices differed from the ones mentioned in the text. Here are two examples:Reflecting back on my week of personal module one practice, I felt that I did not fully realize how difficult it would be to maintain focus on just my breathing. I was struck by the section in the Anapannasati Sutta that states “breathing in, he knows he is breathing in; breathing out, he knows he is breathing out ...” Prior to my personal meditation practice, this sentence would have seemed overly simple … However … I know that the sentiment behind this sentence is easier said than done … especially with my “puppy mind” doing its best to think about anything but my breathing …
The practice outlined in the Anapannasati Sutta focuses more on… the dharmas of Buddhism… This is observed when it says “I am breathing in and observing the impermanent nature of all dharmas”… Our practice in class focuses on ourselves and our own experiences which is much different…
Those statements show that connecting their experience with the reading increased the students’ attention on the complexity of Buddhist meditation, as mentioned in the Anapannasati Sutta. My grading rubrics say:Module 1 is meant to help you focus and pay attention to your mind and body, but it does not state that it includes the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Four Right Efforts, or Four Bases of Success.
This grading policy clearly points out that their knowledge of the subject matter, which mainly is about Buddhist meditation as mentioned in Anapannasati Sutta, is the key factor in my evaluation.12 The students’ contemplative experience adds a dimension to their critical thinking. Similarly, when we scrutinized “On Some Definitions of Mindfulness” (Gethin 2011), students analyzed how their CBCT® Module II practice informed their understanding of this assigned reading. They studied the concepts of sati (“mindfulness”) as they have emerged in various Pali texts, as Gethin mentions. In Module II, students tried to observe their sensations while retaining a nonjudgmental awareness (Ash et al. 2019, pp. 11–12). They connected their experience with the popular understanding of “mindfulness,” as shaped by interpretations and translations of sati among prominent meditation teachers in the West. They compared and contrasted the aspects of sati among the Buddhist texts, their experience, and scholarly discussions. As a result, students saw the rationale of how their contemplation practice was situated in the course setting. This fact aligns with the policy of transparency articulated above.Demonstrate knowledge by answering questions with a thorough and logical explanation. You are graded on how well you explain the way you connected your practice to the readings. You are not graded on your practice itself… Use quotations in an effective way.
4. Multisensory Reflective Learning and the Second-Person Approach
I intended to give students a taste of “deep listening” and how that would alleviate others’ suffering. To assist students in experiencing deep listening to others without accepting the concept of dukkha (“pain,” “unsatisfaction,” “suffering”) as mentioned in the First Noble Truth, I led a “mindful listening and speaking” exercise. In this exercise, students form a two-person group, which has a role of speaker, Person A, and a role of listener, Person B. For one minute, Person A tells B their worries, anxieties, or annoyances. Person B keeps silent and tries to listen with the concentration principles that they have cultivated in their practice of CBCT® Modules I and II. In the second minute, Person B tells A what they heard and does not offer any suggestions or comments by beginning with the statement, “here is what I heard from you…” During this time, Person A only talks if they want to correct B’s description.Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.
Due to our contemplation exercise, students have a better understanding of how ethical concerns for others are embedded with the listening from Avalokiteshvara (“the Lord who looks down”), as it is related to the Mahāyāna bodhisattva ideal of acknowledging and alleviating others’ suffering in samsara. This activity does not attempt to encourage students to act upon or embrace the idea of helping others in a Buddhist sense. Instead, it utilizes students’ sense of hearing to confirm the other’s humanity through interpersonal learning. Because it emphasizes the other’s personhood and responds to it with attentional listening, this strategy parallels Olen Gunnlaugson’s use of Martin Buber’s I-Thou mode of relationship as a theoretical foundation for CP’s second-person approach (Gunnlaugson 2009, pp. 28–29).Whenever we want to inspire ourselves… we recite this verse: We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand.
The statements indicate a shift of perspective. This change is related to the IPP’s element of action, which will be presented on in the next section.For the cup contemplation activity… it gave a great visual explanation to how we feel about the people around us… thinking about the person who brings us joy, I felt a sensation of comfort and security… For the third person… brought tension and discomfort to me… I think adding the plate element was super important… Each one of these people are probably more similar to me than different. Especially for the person who brought tension to me, I might be better off finding a commonality and welcoming her with compassion and understanding.
5. Cultivating Self-Development without Being Buddhist
To give students experience with how this analytical dimension of meditation may work, we do a contemplation journal entry after watching an eight-minute video clip of “The One with the Male Nanny,” from episode 6, season 9 of the American sitcom Friends. This episode portrays how Ross’s decision not to hire the male nanny, Sandy, is influenced by his perspective of gender and his dislike of Sandy’s “too sensitive” personality. His discrimination was shaped by his father criticizing him for not acting like a real boy. After Sandy lets Ross vent and helps him accept himself as both a “real boy” and a “sensitive man,” Ross is more comfortable with Sandy. I explain to students that this episode indicates the issues of projection and self-acceptance. Because Ross cannot accept himself as a “sensitive guy,” he projects this negative judgment of “sensitivity” onto others. As a result, he cannot accept Sandy as a sensitive man. Similarly, when one dislikes certain qualities other people have, that could show one’s projection of qualities one does not like within oneself. I humorously call those disliked qualities our “hidden side.” On the contrary, when one is more willing to accept certain qualities (the hidden side) within oneself, one will be more willing to accept other people who have similar qualities. The journal entry prompts students to:…the adviser-treasurer of a Wheel-turning King knows what is beneficial and what is detrimental for the king and thinks: “These are beneficial for the king, these are detrimental, these are helpful, these are unhelpful,” and then removes what is detrimental and takes up what is beneficial, removes what is unhelpful and takes up what is helpful, even so, sire, when mindfulness is uprising one examines the qualities of mental states that are beneficial and detrimental… and takes up helpful mental states…
- Contemplate a similar situation in which you experienced projecting your hidden side, or traits you were suppressing, onto other people.
- Write down when and how you projected certain qualitie(s)/trait(s) you do not like about yourself onto other people.
Conflicts of Interest
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For example, see the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown University, the Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics at Emory University, the Contemplative Education curriculum at Naropa University, Contemplative Studies at Rice University, Contemplative Education at the University of Redlands, and the Contemplative Sciences Center at the University of Virginia. For a case study of creating a contemplative studies program, see (Fort 2016). The American Academy of Religion has a Contemplative Studies Unit. For examples of programs and institutes, such as the Fetzer Institute and the Mind and Life Institute, see (Komjathy 2018, pp. 29–36).
This research acknowledges that Kristine Hoover presented the IPP in this format: context (who), experience (what), reflection (why/who), action (what next), and evaluation (how well) in a teaching workshop on 6 August 2020 at Gonzaga University.
For a list of AAC&U members, see (AAC&U Members, Association of American Colleges and Universities 2020).
HERI’s report “The Spiritual Life of College Students” summarizes findings in data collected in the late summer and early fall of 2004 from a national sample of 112,232 first-year students attending 236 colleges and universities across the United States of America. Two-thirds (66 percent) of the fall 2004 freshmen attended public colleges and universities (Astin et al. 2005, p. 23). HERI’s questionnaires did not draw a sharp line between spirituality and religion (such a distinction is another prominent research topic in religious studies, and it is beyond the scope of this article). HERI uses twelve scales to measure students’ interests in spirituality. For example, the “spiritual quest” scale includes students’ concerns about the meaning and philosophy of life (Astin et al. 2005, p. 8). In their responses related to the “religious engagement” scale, 64 percent of the students agree that “most people can grow spiritually without being religious” (Astin et al. 2005, p. 4). Partly based on the findings of this survey, the leading researchers published a book that examines how colleges can enhance students’ inner lives (Astin et al. 2011), which helps shape the discussion in Section 5, “Cultivating Self-Development Without Being Buddhist,” of this article.
For example, the Office of Health Promotion holds weekly campus-wide “Mindfulness Monday” sessions at noon. This event guides participants to increase their awareness of various sensations in order to help reduce their stress. In addition, the Office of Mission and Ministry organized an interfaith vigil to commemorate the death of George Floyd (1973–2020), and it conducts the Spiritual Exercises retreats that welcome participants from diverse faith traditions.
See (Nhat Hanh et al. 1996).
The first six skills in TRM are called the Community Resiliency Model (CRM). CRM can be practiced and instructed by non-therapists. CBCT® has worked with CRM since 2020. After participating in TRM training, I found that the first three skills—tracking, resourcing, and grounding—particularly paired well with the CBCT® practice of the nurturing moment. For TRM training, see (Trauma Resource Institute 2020). Moreover, Brown University has training workshops that are trauma-informed to teach meditation safely. See (Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, Brown University 2020). For a discussion of trauma-informed pedagogy, see (Stephens 2020).
Teaching other Buddhist topics in a way that is relevant to students’ contexts can be addressed through a personal level or a larger cultural setting. For example, in a session on the Buddha’s life story, we discuss the character Māra in Buddhist literature and the character Satan in the Bible (Boyd 1975). I do this comparison because many students mention their Catholic upbringing. In a session on the issue of the Buddhist nuns’ full ordination, we review Title IX, as defined in the Education Amendments of 1972, because both full ordination and Title IX concern women’s rights to education free from discrimination. In a discussion on socially engaged Buddhism, I connected my students’ participation in a climate strike with the organization Earth Sangha’s programs, which are related to ecological restoration, improving small-holder incomes, and conserving native forests (Earth Sangha 2020a, 2020b).
My guided contemplation recording is around 10–15 min long. Students have two weeks to complete their own daily contemplation session for seven days in a row.
Presenting the connection between their own experience and reflecting on the reading counts for 70 percent of this essay assignment; grammar and format is 30 percent.
Another significant trouble concerns obtaining a credential that qualifies educators to lead Buddhist-inspired contemplation in class if they do not have long experience in doing so. Some contemplation exercises need more than a one-day or week-long workshop (Simmer-Brown 2011, pp. 111–12). If one endeavors to become a certified contemplation instructor, because of the time and funding demanded, it likely will require institutional support. If this is not an option, there is a variety of contemplation activities and relevant resources that will help students learn. Faculty can choose and adapt accordingly to fulfill their teaching goals.
In the 2019 AAR conference, there were six presenters in the Buddhist Pedagogy Seminar, and five in the Teaching Buddhist Contemplation in Higher Education Workshop. In the seminar, Anna Lannstrom at Stonehill College and Julie Regan at La Salle University mentioned how contemplation assignments have engaged their students. In the workshop, Karma Lekshe Tsomo at the University of San Diego and I shared our experience in using contemplation practices in classroom. Namdrol Adams introduced the contemplation curriculum at Maitripa college. Amelia Hall demonstrated a contemplative activity called the “Warrior Exam,” which is utilized at Naropa University. A common ground among these presentations was CP’s experiential learning aspect and the relevant reflection that promotes students’ learning.
The Yutian County I visited is the one in the northeast of Hebei province, China.
The Chan dance teachers are laypeople and are not affiliated with a monastery. Chan dance is a research topic worthy of further pursuit.
My inclusion of a visualization activity was partly inspired by research in Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises and Christian visualization contemplation practices. For example, scripts from the Middle Ages have techniques that facilitate visionary experience by gazing at specific objects, such as at a part of nature, an illuminated book, a crucifix, a consecrated host, or an internal image constructed by the mind (Newman 2005, p. 15). Franciscan spirituality emphasizes the imagination of gospel events in order to evoke affective devotion and identification with Christ (Despres 1989, pp. 5–6). The Franciscan tradition helped widely disseminate Christ-centered devotion in Europe. Under this cultural influence, some devotional texts integrated visual contemplation, such as Nicholas Love’s (c. 1410) The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, which is a translation and adaptation of Meditationes vitae Christi attributed to pseudo-Bonaventure. The Imitation of Christ, attributed to Thomas à Kempis (c. 1379–1471), is another such example, even though it is not affiliated with the Franciscan tradition (Lane 2004, p. 117). The instructions on generating contemplative images in Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises descend from these relevant medieval devotional prayers and techniques (Newman 2005, p. 3; Despres 1989, p. 148).
This article acknowledges that the perspective of pursuing well-being as a universal concern does not resonate with all.
See (Mendis et al. 2007, p. 38).
Students grade in-class journal entries themselves.
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Chien, G.I.-L. Integrating Contemplative and Ignatian Pedagogies in a Buddhist Studies Classroom. Religions 2020, 11, 567. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11110567
Chien GI-L. Integrating Contemplative and Ignatian Pedagogies in a Buddhist Studies Classroom. Religions. 2020; 11(11):567. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11110567Chicago/Turabian Style
Chien, Gloria I-Ling. 2020. "Integrating Contemplative and Ignatian Pedagogies in a Buddhist Studies Classroom" Religions 11, no. 11: 567. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11110567