One Universe, Two Selves, Three Brains, and Four Faiths: An Introduction to World Religions Class

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Dear Students,

Welcome to high school, and especially my World Religions class! I’d really like to teach you something valuable this semester. Of course, you’ll learn a lot academically about Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam, but I’m hoping you actually come away with something far more important – something that can be applied to your life. So far I have made the point that religions envision the entire universe as being composed of two dimensions – a visible, every day existence that I’m calling “the horizontal,” and an invisible dimension of reality – “the vertical” – that might be called God, Ultimate Reality, the Sacred, Brahman, or the Kingdom of Heaven. Religions across the world teach that true happiness comes in living life at the intersections of these two dimensions.

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Learning to “Lead a Life of More Profound Wakefulness:” Reflections on a Body-Mind-Heart Framework in a Senior Religion Class

:photo 4 (1).JPGAmar Bhardwaj’s Humanities I in Action Elixir Project focused on glass recycling, a project he carried on throughout his four years at HKIS. In this entry, Amar reflects on how he awakened to global environmental concerns in his grade 9 humanities class, and then continued his inner explorations in his grade 12 senior religion elective. More broadly, this entry shares reflections by Amar and other students on the impact of a new body-mind-heart framework that I used in this senior elective class, “Service, Society, and the Sacred,” this year.

Introduction

Last school year I put into place a body-mind-heart curriculum framework in a religion elective course that I felt was the culmination of a 25-year search for what truly matters for students. From day 1 I posed this vision to the  juniors and seniors in my “Service, Society, and the Sacred” class: with big decisions about college applications and majors approaching, this new curriculum would enable them to gain access to an inner wisdom that would help them navigate some of their largest questions about life. In this sense, the course would be a follow-up to “Humanities I in Action,” a 9th grade course which raises student consciousness about global issues. While every year we see students respond fervently and empathically to the Humanities I in Action curriculum, the SSS course attempted to foster a different kind of clarion call: understand the self before trying to change the world! Continue reading

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“I Can! You Can! We Can!” Empowering Young Women at CWEF Summer Camp

IMG_1292The 10th annual CWEF and Ember Summer English and Leadership camp was held in Deqing, China from July 8-10, in which volunteers from Hong Kong worked with girls scholarship winners to strengthen their English skills and engage in empowerment activities. This is our group picture moments before we said our goodbyes after a meaningful and memorable weekend together.  Continue reading

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Burn Your Mandala: Letting Go in a Culture of Achievement

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The shadow side of high-achieving educational systems is its demoralizing and even debilitating levels of stress upon students. The Buddhist spiritual practice of creating beautiful works of art called mandalas and then destroying them when they are completed offers schools a counterintuitive metaphor for dealing with the increasing sense of competition evident in our educational systems. This mandala-making process of creating and then ultimately destroying a cherished achievement models an insight schools need to help students become both productive and balanced. (See this SCMP video on the construction and meaning of the mandala by Bhutanese monks visiting Hong Kong’s Asia Society in May.) Continue reading

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“From Whirlwind to Wisdom”: Baccalaureate Speech to Class of 2016

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Graduating senior Brent Hensley and myself prepping for the baccalaureate service on June 5, which began graduation week.

Welcome to graduation week, it’s my pleasure to share a few thoughts tonight as you prepare you to go through this major rite of passage – bringing closure to your high school career and beginning your next step in life.

Just last Monday we were all sitting in the gym and Josh Levy was summarizing the 2015-2016 year in what he called a “whirlwind” of activities. We have our own HKIS code language for the whirlwind: formatives and summatives, IFs, APs, SATs, GPAs squeezing in the occasional DMCs – thanks to last year’s interim cluing me in on that one. That’s just a brief reminder of the whirlwind.

But this week, seniors, will be like no other at HKIS. The usual whirlwind has been quelled . . . and what will take its place? My wish for you this week is that you can exchange the usual whirlwind for a bit of wisdom. Continue reading

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Teaching for Self-Transcendence: Spiritual Practices in the World Religions Classroom

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A spiritual practices project has become the centerpiece of my  9th grade World Religions curriculum. Students can choose any spiritual practice, such as meditation which resulted in the dreamy image of rebirth above, to help themselves grow. This entry shares my approach to teaching the course, the role of this project in the curriculum, and 14 examples of student projects. 

Introduction

Over the last five years as I’ve taught World Religions at Hong Kong International School, I’ve continued to weigh the most fundamental questions about this area of study: what is the purpose of religion and how do I teach toward that purpose?

I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that, in the midst of a society that trains us to be separate, autonomous individuals, the purpose of religion, which literally means to “reconnect,” is to offer followers self-transcendence, uniting a lower, self-protective self with a more generous, outward-focused Larger Self. Continue reading

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Teaching Consciousness of the Body: Two Practitioners in Dialogue

DSC_3799In contemporary culture which overemphasizes the mind’s ability to accomplish and achieve, most students consider paying attention to the body for the purpose of “being” an unexplored strategy for stress reduction. In this dialogue Marty Schmidt and Sangeeta Bansal, both teachers of mindfulness practices, discuss the importance of the body in their teaching and how they lead their students towards greater body consciousness.

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