Saturday, June 16, 2007

Why Not St. Benedict, Too?

The NYT reports that public schools in Oakland, CA and Lancaster, PA are bringing Buddhist meditative techniques and traditions into the classroom:

The lesson began with the striking of a Tibetan singing bowl to induce mindful awareness...

As summer looms, students at dozens of schools across the country are trying hard to be in the present moment. This is what is known as mindfulness training, in which stress-reducing techniques drawn from Buddhist meditation are wedged between reading and spelling tests...

Practitioners tend to use sticky-mat buzzwords like “being present” and “cultivating compassion,” while avoiding anything spiritual.

Hmm. "Being present," "mindfulness," and "cultivating compassion" are important parts of the Buddhist spiritual tradition. Just ask the Dalai Lama: he talks about this stuff all the time. Why would the Times say otherwise?

Throughout the Times story, there isn't a whisper of a suggestion that importing customs, practices, and teachings of Buddhism breaches the Great Wall of Separation of Church and State.

I wonder: if someone were to introduce a meditative program based on the Liturgy of the Hours or meditation techniques developed by Christian monks in the tradition of St. Benedict, would it get a similarly positive reception from school administrators, the Times, or the ACLU?

Update: Sue e-mails, In a word? "God." Buddhism doesn't say "God." That's the difference.

That's got something to do with it. But even if Buddhism denies the existence of God as conceived in the Jewish-Christian-Islamic tradition, that doesn't mean it's not a religion, which should be excluded from public school according to a secular-fundamentalist reading of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law regarding an establisment of religion." (Nothing about God there.)

Imagine a meditation program (that didn't mention God) in the schools that included the lighting of candles or the ringing of bells to begin the meditation, silent contemplation of the Golden Rule, the admonition to love your neighbor as yourself, and to forgive others' sins.

Would the Times characterize all this as "secular"?

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