Embarking of Secular Ethics in Tong-Len
The work of the Tong-Len Charitable Trust commenced with the express aim to save children from starvation and death. Early in this work the question of cause was raised. Questions such as what causes this despair?How long can we keep up our aim to feed all these families? How can these people escape these miserable conditions?
After almost two years of deep thought and carefully analysing the painful condition of the slum people realistic solutions came forward. The expression ‘If you give a man a fish he eats for one day: teach a man to fish and he will eat every day became one of the relevant points in the context of the thinking. And so, education was seen as essential to elevate poverty, to stop the root cause of the problems and to provide a key to a positive flourishing future.
Tong-Len decided an education program would be the core of its work and introduced this to slum dwellers in 2004.The reality of sending these children to school was far more difficult than was imagined and presented a huge challenge. Parents found it difficult to understand the benefits of education in changing their children’s life ; and these children also provided sources of income that was not easy to forego. It took months to motivate the parents to allow children to go to school. Days and months were spent waiting eagerly to hear acceptance from the parents.
Finally a few families accepted the proposal. A small financial contribution was offered to compensation for the loss of income due to the children's school attendance. The first day of the children joining the school was a victory for this underprivileged community, children who had never seen a school, or imagined that they would ever attend, taking their first step into education. All these years later it is still fresh in the minds of these children, remembered with amazement and joy. Managing tremendous challenges, some of these children reached high school in 2010, and have used their potential to explore all dimensions of education, some even achieving top marks in their region. However school education still lacked other dimensions in their development, with the system geared toward employment rather than holistic development of the children.
Tong-Len believed that a holistic education was crucial to developing a meaningful life and becoming a good human being, so in 2010/11a model of holistic education was developed, inclusive of five dimensions in child development. This model was integrated into the educational program within the Children's hostel. The five dimensions were social, emotional, academic, physical and spiritual development with ethical development included in spiritual development. Ethical development was one of the earlier steps taken, as Tong-Len was a community of cultural and religious diversity. Given most ethics seemed based on culture and religion, it was quite a dilemma to decide on which ethics to base the model, as teaching for the majority did not meet the needs of minority groups and non believers.
In 2012, Tong-Len discovered the book‘Beyond Religion’ one of the works of H.H The Dalai Lama on secular ethics that describes his vision on education of the heart and mind. It was quickly realized as the perfect remedy for the dilemma. Truly inspired by His Holiness’ vision on Secular Ethics this book become a treasured resource for the ethical education program. Over two years of informal studies on the concepts, Tong-Len has provided secular ethics training sessions, which culminated in ‘The Making Connection Project‘ in November 2014, connecting children and youth in a positive future through Holistic development and Secular Ethics. Soon it became clear that a secular ethic’s curriculum was the next logical step to be accessible to all students; and a positive development to teachers through the implementation process.
Further development came at the end of 2015. After one year of intensive training the Emory University’s(USA) first draft of Secular Ethics curriculum was introduced to Tong Len by the Dalai Lama trust. Even in draft, it provided a framework that proved vital in assisting teachers and the project coordinator, allowing them to deliver lesson more accurately and precisely..
In September 2016 there was an eviction of the local slum and the community and 3000 were left homeless and had to disperse and relocate wherever they could. This was a difficult time and led to much soul searching about the future. Senior children and tertiary students of Tong-Len developed a desire to have a Secular Ethics Outreach Program, their reason being that although they could be kind themselves, and create a kind environment in Tong-Len, if society did not understand real kindness and discernment, their community would remain victims, as they witnessed through the pain of the eviction. Through this process they were witnessing unethical conduct arising from a perceived lack of ethical values. In turn they wanted to raise awareness of the development of internal values. Tong-Len was inspired by H.H The Dalai Lama’s strong beliefs and vision for a global ethical world and so the Secular Ethics Outreach Program commenced in 2017, able to support the vision of His Holiness and the children's desire, and further Tong-Len’s interest in supporting a harmonious and joyful humanity.
Also in 2017 the Tong-Len School commenced, most importantly to focus on secular ethics in education.Secular Ethics has become one of the most important subject areas of the school and has been adopted as the educational philosophy of Tong Len; and one of the guiding principal of its code of ethics.
Emory University secular ethics curriculum (SEE learning) and Ayur Gyan Nyas universal ethics curriculum (My book of restraint) quickly laid the foundation for the school curriculum, empowering children by helping them to see the value of practicing kindness and compassion and managing emotions in their daily life. By the beginning of the 2020, ethical education reached 300 children in Tong-Len. Several thousands of children now engage with the secular ethics outreach project in Dharamshala. A wonderful start to our vision of an ethical world.