My critics have accused me of “polluting the minds of children with false and dangerous ideas.” I think, no wait! I know my students and former students would disagree. Let me explain.
I recently finished units on Hinduism and Buddhism. I asked my students to pick one to write about. I explained to them that they could write almost anything, as long as it was an honest reaction to one of the religions. I basically gave them a blank check to write about anything they found interesting. A vast majority wrote enthusiastically about Buddhism. Perhaps TIME magazine(1997) was right. Perhaps Americans do have a fascination with Buddhism (see below). If we do, it is certainly reflected in my student’s essays. Below are some truly heart-felt and thought-provoking excerpts. I love reading about what my students think. And it is very evident, at least from the perspective of my students, that my World Religions class is not pollution for the mind. No, far from it! Read on and decide for yourself.
“The Buddha said, ‘If you want to be happy, then be happy.’ This is a quote that has stuck with me. It has made me realize that the only one who can change what I am feeling is myself!”
“On Easter I was talking to my cousin about religion, and Buddhism came up. My grandmother joined the conversation and became quite upset that we were saying people can control their own thoughts and happiness. Being a strong, devote Christian, she claimed only God could determine your happiness. Needless to say, we ended the conversation, but it was interesting to see how much of a difference a generation or two can have on our ability to accept and appreciate other religions and the different ideas they carry. I like the idea of Buddhism, and it has caused me to change my mindset so that I can live a happier life. So far it has worked. It is amazing how much of a difference your life can be if you decide to control it and not let others decide your happiness.“
“For years I have gone to a psychologist and tried to pull myself out of my depression and unhappiness without the use of medication. Needless to say, I could not do it. And after two years, I reluctantly decided to give medication a try. Recently, after multiple tries to get off of my medication, I found myself thinking “Why can’t I JUST BE HAPPY?” Well, I found the answer right here in World Religions while learning about Buddhism. The answer is that I was not even trying to change my thoughts to the possibility that I could be happy, that I could have a good self-esteem instead of the ‘lowest and most shame-filled’ one my psychologist has ever worked with…I have now changed my thoughts to ‘I am happy’ and ‘I am going to have an amazing life.’ And, as soon as the weather gets warmer, I plan to go off my meds because I do not need them, because there is happiness within me. Yes, all of this came from the lessons of Buddhism I learned in World Religions, my last semester of my senior year. Thank you, Mr. Morrison.”
“I am a Christian, but I see no reason why I cannot follow some Buddhist beliefs.”
“I love all the Buddha’s saying! For example, ‘All we are is everything we have thought.’ What an amazing saying, and it makes so much sense when you think about it.”
“Although I found both units (Hinduism and Buddhism) to be interesting, I preferred the Buddhist unit. The thing that intrigued me the most was how Buddhism is more of a way of thinking rather than a faith. With all that I have learned in my science classes, I often find ideas in religion to be hard to believe. But with Buddhism there is very little of that. The Buddha himself is one of the most interesting religious leaders I have ever heard of; his thoughts and wisdom were so ahead of his time. His conclusions were simple, yet they have changed my way of thinking – particularly his ideas on suffering and emotional pain. After this unit, it makes me want to control my thoughts more, since they really do control my life and happiness. His ideas on craving and wanting were also very interesting. More people should be hearing the Buddha’s teachings because they are applicable.
“I like Buddhism because I feel I connect with it more than I do with Hinduism. I do believe in a greater power (God), but like the Buddha I believe it is more important to better yourself as a person and get to know yourself rather than worshiping and praying to a greater being.”
“I really like the idea of Buddhism. I am not a religious person, and I struggle with the idea of a god. So the fact that the Buddha did not teach about ‘god’ or the ‘soul’ is really great in my mind. The idea of ‘being your own authority’ makes Buddhism seem like a religion that is tailored to your own beliefs and what you can do with your life. You don’t sit around waiting for your prayers to be answered – go out and solve your own problems. Test out what works. Follow a good lifestyle. Be a role model. Change your life to be what you want it to be.”
“Learning about Buddhism was great for me. I love the idea of controlling your own happiness. I love how straight forward everything is in Buddhism. I recently put the hypothesis of maintaining homeostasis of the mind to the test. It was great. I was having a great day one day, but someone close to me was in a very bad place, so I went off on my own to study. I was wearing tall shoes and walked through a puddle, and this is when it really hit me: the water can’t hurt me, the situation can’t phase me. The control I felt was marvelous. I went on having the best day of my life.”