Secular Ethics with social engagement & Awareness
The Secular Ethics Outreach Program has been a wonderful experience for both the staff and children of Tong-Len, as they have moved to take their experiences from hostel life into the community. Many activities have been organised over the past two years with better than expected interest from other schools and community groups.
To work towards a vision of developing a common ground to embrace a culture where different religious and ethical beliefs are neither hurt nor undermined, a variety of projects have been developed to address different ethical needs and have included awareness programs and skill development workshops on discernment, critical thinking and emotional awareness, all aspects of building ethical capacity.
Different schoolsin the Dharamshala area participate in this journey or yatra.Studentsare involved in sessions on critical thinking and emotional awareness. Scenarios where ethical dilemmas are proposed, engage students in group discussions where they can explore their thoughts and use discernment to analyse the situation and their ideas and reactions. Teacher feedback has been positive, stating sessions have proved helpful in the student development of critical thinking and problem analysis. All of the schools have shown strong interest in taking this program further.
Special occasions and government holidays such as 26th January, 15thprovide the opportunity to raise public awareness of Secular Ethics, using local media and public forums. These events increase the number of people reached and provide platforms for discussion and analysis with a broader audience.
Secular Ethics is integrated into education in the Tong-Len School. Children are introduced to the concept of Secular Ethics, through the SEE Learning curriculum of Emory University and Ayur Gyan Nyas’s “My Book of Restraint” The children are taught to embody what they learn in their daily life activities, believing that learning and living experience go hand in hand.This lived experience supports learning for life, lessons not to be forgotten past their school years.
The children of Tong-Len have integrated their learning in Secular Ethics by developing activities that engage with the community outside the hostel and school.These activities demonstrate the basic human values that are core to the Secular Ethics such as kindness and compassion. The children plan these activities through brainstorming what they have learned. The children's activities include making shelter for themost needy people in the slums during the harsh winter; taking in dogs with health problems, nurturing back to health and sending for adoption; painting public murals to raise awareness; environmental cleaning drives around Dharamshala and within Tong-Len. The garbage collected during these activities was sold and the money raised donated to Surya Uday – NGO for Disabled children.
One of the most successful activities conducted so far is a program for World Kindness Day, which is celebrated annually on the 13th of November. This event was organized as a kindness project, its first objective “Awareness in Educational Institutions and the Community”. Thousands of children from different schools around the Dharamshala area were made aware of kindness in daily life and why it is important during morning assembly, this followed by the students participating in a kindness walk through Dharamshala. The walk was supported by many local people and shopkeepers who came out to support and help in distribution of kindness pamphlets and joining in the chanting of positive slogans with the children. A drawing and collage competition with the theme of kindness was held to develop greater interest and awareness in the children but also to inspire others and to acknowledge and thank His Holiness The Dalai Lama for his philosophy of Secular Ethics. A total of 113 drawings from the competition and the Tong-Len students is displayed on a wall to wish him a long life of at least 113 years.
Not only the community outreach activities but also the social media accounts and websites are attracting attention and support, with increasing interest in collaboration following positive outcomes and responses to the program . There is an exciting future for this program and a long term plan is being developed and will be available by link to this website.
Tong Len has a long term vision and an action plan for spreading awareness of Secular Ethics,but there are many challenges in achieving these as well.Public panel painting was one such challenge. During the painting process many questions from passers-by and higher authorities who gave permission for the panels were raised, such as:
“We are already kind, why are you writing it as if we are not?”
“Why are you painting the same message all around”,
"This concept is not an academic subject and it doesn’t have any marks, so why should we put aside time for it? It would be a waste of time as it is already in us.”
As it is a new initiative, introducing new concepts in education, many objections and questions have been raised by school authorities and higher officials. It is not always easy to explain the vision and objectives of our activities as still the concept itself remains not that clear to others. With time and greater awareness and understanding of the concepts, we believe there will be fewer challenges and more co-operation.