October 7, 2006, General Conference Hall, UNESCO Headquarters, Paris
Over the past several decades, many deeply compassionate people of vision and foresight around the world tried to reconcile conflict and promote stability and peace via conferences but to no avail. When I remembered what Laozi had said about a small country with a small population, I wanted to conduct an experiment and to find a small community for this pilot project. I wanted to do this experiment in the United States but the conditions were not ripe. Later on, when I tried to do it in Singapore and in Australia, the conditions were still not ripe.
A few years ago, I had a rare opportunity to return to my hometown. When I was chatting with my kinfolk, I told them about this idea of mine. To my surprise, they responded enthusiastically, “We would like to do it!” Greatly delighted, I chose Tangchi, a small township in the same county as my hometown, to be the location for my experiment. This township is situated in a rural area. There are twelve villages with a total population of 48,000 under the administration of the township of Tangchi. The people there had neglected the teachings of Chinese sages for eighty years. We set up a multicultural center, The Lujiang Centre of Cultural Education, in the hope of implementing the teaching concepts, teaching methods, and the spirit of Confucius and Buddha Sakyamuni in this small township.
The top priority was to train teachers. Without teachers, it is impossible to teach. We used the Internet to broadcast our ideas and recruit teachers. We wanted to recruit teachers from kindergartens and from primary and junior middle schools. Very soon, more than 300 teachers responded to our recruitment. We carefully selected more than thirty teachers for interviews, and after that we chose thirty who truly shared our aspirations and desired to join this undertaking. They quit their jobs and took part in the teaching activities of our center. For the first two months, we used The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child, the basic textbook of Confucianism, as teaching material and asked these teachers to truly practice the teachings in the book to the full.
In teaching this book, the most important thing is that parents and elders must set an example for the children. Babies see and hear upon their birth. They start to imitate others even before they can speak or walk. The speech and conduct of their elders must conform to moral principles and ethics so that what the babies see, hear, and come in contact with will positively influence them. The Chinese proverb “The behavior of a child three years old will reveal what this person will be like at the age of eighty. The behavior of a child of seven will reveal what this person will be like throughout his or her whole life” makes a lot of sense.
What children see and hear during their first three years will leave a deep impression on them and they will be able to tell right from wrong and good from evil at the age of three. These children will be immune to many harmful pollutants in the contemporary world. This immunity will have been instilled in them since birth.
When they start attending primary schools at the age of six or seven, if teachers make sure that the children adhere to moral principles and ethics every day, this will enhance and extend the moral education that the children have been receiving since birth. This will help them lay a foundation for good character, which will ensure virtuous thoughts, speech, and conduct for the rest of their lives. The children will give priority to others, treat others with respect and humility, engage in tasks with caution, and get along harmoniously with others. Therefore, no dispute will arise. After they have laid the foundation for moral conduct, they should be taught the writings of the sages to receive the teaching of ethics, morality, the law of cause and effect, and wisdom.
Childhood is the phase in one’s life when one’s memory is at its best. Children under the age of twelve should therefore concentrate on memorization. They should read and memorize all the texts that they need to study so that they will always remember these texts for the rest of their lives. At this stage, children should pay attention to reading and memorizing, rather than understanding. They should also pay attention to developing good virtues and learning how to properly interact with people and engage in tasks. When they have learned how to respect and attend to teachers at school, on returning home they will know how to be filial to and serve their parents. Therefore, teachers in primary schools should only teach children to read and memorize texts, not explain.
Children have different learning capacities. It is reasonable for a child to be able to memorize a piece of writing after ten readings. This child should be asked to recite it from memory one hundred to two hundred times. What is the reason for this? This is to ensure that the child will remember this piece of writing for the rest of his or her life. The next day, he or she should be asked to recite from memory the piece of writing learned the previous day before learning something new. Importance is attached to reviewing. One should review what one has learned and acquire new knowledge.
There were only two stages in ancient Chinese education. After completion of primary school education, students at thirteen went on to a “taixue”, which was equivalent to a university. Teaching in a “taixue” focused on explanation, analysis, and discussion. Having learned the text by heart there was no need for textbooks, so studying in a “taixue” was very enjoyable for both teachers and students.
When someone quoted from ancient or contemporary writings, everybody could tell exactly where the quotation came from and even exactly where it was in the book. This is because the layout of ancient Chinese books was uniform. There were ten lines on a page, twenty characters in a line, and no punctuation. All printers followed this rule. Therefore, regardless of the printer, all editions of a book had the same number of characters on each page. This rule is more systematic than those in publishing today. In publishing today, a word will be in a different line and on a different page in different editions. As a result, it is difficult to do research.
Thanks to this uniform layout of ancient Chinese printing, all scholars throughout China could tell exactly where a passage was in a book. This is why there was no need for books in a “taixue” class. Teachers would generally travel around with their students. Importance was attached to actual research at historical sites and to the use of virtual teaching materials so as to deepen the students’ understanding and learning interest. Therefore, when talking about a geographical area mentioned in an ancient scholar’s writing, a teacher would take his students there to see, study, and discuss the historical relics left by the ancients. It became a virtual classroom. As a result, study was quite enjoyable, very different from today when study is considered painful by many students. During study and discussion, students could freely express their ideas and views to seek thorough comprehension and attain true wisdom so that their academic studies would suit the needs of society.
It is worthwhile to integrate the teaching concepts of the East and the West, such as the above-mentioned educational ideas, so as to draw on each other’s strong points to make up for one’s own weak points. We hope that all humankind can receive the teaching of ethics, morality, the law of cause and effect, wisdom, and science, and reach a consensus. This concerns not only our lifelong happiness but also the infinite happiness of all humankind living and flourishing side by side. The teachings will help everybody resolve from his or her heart the conflict with others and the external environment, and the misunderstandings, doubts, and misgivings about other people and the external environment. This will then help him or her attain inner harmony, good health, and happiness.
Nature is in harmony. The universe is in harmony. Everything is in harmony. People should also be in harmony and be in collaboration with the universe, other people, and all things on earth. This way, we can truly reconcile all conflicts in the world, achieve social stability and world peace, and achieve the goal of Buddha Sakyamuni’s teaching of “ending delusion and attaining enlightenment, and ending suffering and attaining happiness.”
Education Can Preserve Social Values
We conducted an experiment in the ancient oriental teaching method in Tangchi. Our center required every teacher to practice the 113 rules in The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child to the full. The essence of these rules is the same as that of the fifty-five rules proposed by Ron Clark, an American educator, but the 113 rules are richer and more extensive in content.
Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism also have their own basic principles. The Accounts of Request and Response serves as a basic Taoist teaching, and the Ten Virtuous Deeds Sutra serves as a basic Buddhist teaching. The Ten Virtuous Deeds are guiding principles, which can be developed into over 100 rules. A beginning student of Confucianism, Taoism, or Buddhism must conscientiously practice the respective basic teachings to the full and then progress from this basis to the next stage.
After successfully applying the 113 Confucian rules within just two months, teachers from the Lujiang Centre of Cultural Education started to teach the local people and encouraged them, male or female, young or old, and of any occupation, to learn together. These teachers were students themselves at the center, but they became teachers when they left the center to teach. As there are twelve villages under the administration of the township, the teachers were assigned to these twelve villages and took turns in teaching.
To our surprise, there were good results after two months. In this township, there is no conflict, and therefore no quarrelling between husband and wife. As mothers-and daughters¬in-law now live in harmony, no conflict exists. People who used to quarrel over trivial things with their neighbors now live in harmony with them, giving precedence to them. Children know that they should be filial to their parents. The ethical standards and behavior of the people in the township improved, and good social values were restored. Storeowners told us that there used to be many shoplifters, and if the owners failed to keep a close watch, they would often suffer thefts. After the local people received the center’s teaching for two months, shoplifting stopped even when the owners were not watchful.
A taxi driver said, “We taxi drivers used to have very bad thoughts. If the passengers were visitors from somewhere else, we tried to cheat them by overcharging them or taking the long way or even driving in circles. We realized that what we did was wrong and changed our attitude. Now we treat the passengers with sincerity and warmth. Once, a passenger from another place left his briefcase in my taxi. In it was tens of thousands RMB in cash. In the past, I would have kept the briefcase and money for myself—I would not have returned the money. Now that I have received moral education from the center, I know that I should take care of the passengers, so I returned the briefcase intact to its owner.”
The passenger was a business-owner. He was very impressed by the taxi driver, “What an honest person you are to return my lost briefcase!” The driver replied, “Thanks to the teaching by the center, not only I but also any other taxi driver here will return anything left in our cars to its owner.” This is the good result from our teaching. Ms. Yang Shufeng, the dean of studies of the center, will make a detailed report to you.
The experience we gained from these past six months of teaching in Tangchi has strengthened our confidence in reconciling conflict and promoting social stability and world peace. We firmly believe that it is possible to teach people to be good, that all people are innately good, and that all beings have Buddha-nature as taught in Buddhism. Everybody is originally a good person because human nature is innately good.
Why then does a person turn bad? Because he or she follows bad examples, and nobody taught him or her otherwise. This is the case of “One who mixes with vermilion will turn red; one who touches a black ink stick will be stained black.” Everybody would like to receive teaching that exerts good and positive influence and that teaches him or her to accord with innate virtues. Everybody wants to be a good person; nobody wants to be a bad person. This is the truth we see from the six months of teaching in Tangchi.
There are many such examples. Today I have this rare and wonderful opportunity to exchange ideas with you and to learn from you here at UNESCO headquarters. I hope to share with you the results from our teaching in Tangchi and to offer our experience to all the peace-loving people of the world. Let us work together to implement the teaching of ethnics, morality, the law of cause and effect, wisdom, and science, and to help suffering beings around the world end delusion and attain enlightenment, and end suffering and attain happiness.
These teaching concepts, methods, and results are inspired by Buddha Sakyamuni and Confucius and may serve as reference for the U.N. in reconciling conflict and promoting social stability and world peace.
I hope that our modest achievement will help strengthen the confidence and determination of those who work to reconcile conflict and promote social stability and world peace. As long as religious groups work together and teach people, all conflicts will naturally be reconciled, and harmony in society and in the world will not be mere words but will be achieved.
I wish that those who have the same aspirations would work together to make the greatest possible contributions, as Buddha Sakyamuni and Confucius did, to all humankind. Finally, on behalf of our center, I sincerely invite all of you to visit the Cultural Education Center in Lujiang County, Anhui Province, China, and to give us your comments. Thank you.
I wish all the delegates and distinguished guests good health and happiness!
Shi Chin Kung AM
President of Pure Land Learning College, Australia
Honorary Professor of the University of Queensland, Australia
Honorary Professor of Griffith University, Australia
Honorary Doctorate, Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University, Indonesia
Director of Lujiang Centre of Cultural Education, China