This summer’s religion course in Bhutan with my HKIS students prompted this reflection on how all of us can take what we consider our lower selves and work with these energies to become better human beings. Our group is pictured here in Phobjikha, the most beautiful valley in Bhutan, walking from a 17th century Buddhist temple down to a 14th century one where we had the honor of observing and participating in a vestment consecration ceremony.
Religion at its best brings to the fore unconventional wisdom that lightens our load, that tells us that life is unexpectedly better than we could have imagined. What if what we considered our foremost weaknesses, our vices, the dark recesses of our hearts were in fact precisely the necessary catalysts for growth? Rainer Marie Rilke’s rich metaphors are especially poignant in this regard, “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are really princesses who are waiting to see us act, just once with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love” (123).
Teaching religion, as I have been doing in a study-travel course about Buddhist spiritual practices in Hong Kong and Bhutan this summer, should bring such wisdom to light. Too often, however, it seems as if the essence of religion teaching can be boiled down to a simple admonition: be good. Can such a l0w-bar aim justify my students’ time? Put more positively, what benefit beyond conventional morality can studying and practicing religion offer my students? Continue reading