Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote a text on how to educate a prince, someone who would grow up to be a wise, compassionate, skilful, and joyous leader. The text states that the prince’s education should occur in an environment free of jealousy and competition, and that those who raise the prince should not think in terms of raising a child in a conventional sense. Rather, they should take the attitude that they are educating the sky. Then the prince will begin to have inquisitiveness toward the world, developing wonder about the details and processes of things.
Every student is a prince or princess, an heir of the royal family of human dignity, and a potential ruler of future society. They possess a mind that is vast as the sky, and a heart that is pure, oceanic, and delicate as a drop of rain. These qualities of mind and heart exist within all of us. They may have largely been forgotten, but they’ve never been lost. A true holistic education is one that fosters the rediscovery and blossoming of these qualities as well as the teaching of knowledge and skills.
The basis for this approach is innate goodness, knowing the students to be good, worthy in themselves, holders of true dignity, and worthy of great care and attention. This is not to say that they are entitled to special treatment, or that they should be pampered and spoiled. Trungpa Rinpoche’s text also emphasizes great discipline. But discipline, learning, and the entire realm of education can be practiced as an appreciation and support of goodness. Rather than beginning from the perspective of a problem to be remedied, we take an extraordinary leap of kindness, and hold the view of confidence in the natural perfection of human beings.
It is the student’s sense of this goodness, and its manifestation as self-respect, that becomes the fertile soil for the cultivation of the full human being, what we call education. As Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche writes, “emphasizing human dignity as an educational foundation brings to students an inherent respect for themselves. The transfer of knowledge can then occur, and the discovery of wisdom is appreciated, which leads us to acknowledge the worthiness of others. If we doubt our own dignity, no matter how much education we receive, we will always feel inadequate.” (Shambhala Principle, pg. 180)
In our capitalist, credential-oriented culture it is often the assumption that respect and worthiness are conditional, to be granted upon success. The successful student learns to view their self-respect as earned, as opposed to inherent- it is the product of their choices, intelligence and hard work. The worthiness of others is then measured by their degree of success. Lack of success in others is simply a reflection of the level of worthiness they chose to earn. Conversely, planting the experience of “failure” in the soil of unworthiness yields further crops of self-doubt. In either case there is inadequacy, either of compassion or of confidence, as we have begun with a foundation of mistrust in our beings.
Teachers tend to be immensely practical, and this approach of great trust in human nature may seem naive or excessively philosophical. However, many teachers were inspired by a teacher they had who showed great faith in them, even if they themselves had lost heart or felt unworthy. What we see in our students and what we assume about them, not just about what they can do, but about who they are on the deepest level, determines everything that follows. It is a matter of the greatest practicality.