08/11/2021, 00.59
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The Dalai Lama to be added to Russian school programmes

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Buddhist-majority republic of Kalmykia is behind the initiative. Some fear it might spark interreligious animosities, but the Dalai Lama’s ideas are basically secular, inspired by common sense.


Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Ministry of Education of Kalmykia, a Buddhist-majority republic of the Russian Federation, plans to add the ethical principles professed by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, to its school curriculum, a move that might be repeated across Russia.

Telo Tulku Rinpoche (Erdne Ombadikov), the Supreme Lama of Kalmykia and honorary representative of the Dalai Lama in Russia, Mongolia and the ex-Soviet republics of the Commonwealth of Independent States, is behind the initiative.

In an exchange with a team of psychologists and pedagogues, Telo Turku presented a proposal to the Minister for Education and Science of Kalmykia, Erdne Barinov.  

The aim is to include in the school curriculum the Social, Emotional and Ethical Learning (SEE Learning) prepared by the Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics at Emory University, United States.

Barinov welcomed the initiative, promising to add it to the ministry's development programmes and to federal projects.

Speaking with NG-Religija, Telo Tulku said that “we received very valuable comments and suggestions. Based on the response received, we believe that it is quite realistic to implement this programme.”

To the objection that it might be difficult to change the traditional rigidity of Russian school methodological programmes inherited in large part from the Soviet system, the Buddhist leader replied that “there are many unofficial, extracurricular programmes in every school”. At the same time, “We are sure that the Ministry of Education will offer the most appropriate option for the application of this useful programme” to help students and professors.

The proposal has sparked a number of reactions, with many wondering about the appropriateness of including content related to a particular religion in official school curriculum. 

Starting in the fourth grade, Russian schools already teach a course on the Fundamentals of Religious Cultures and Secular Ethics" (FRCSE).

A new subject – Foundations of Spiritual and Moral Cultures of the Peoples of Russia – should be added shortly to enhance the FRCSE, pending its approval at the regional level. 

Thus, if in addition of these two programmes, the Social, Emotional and Ethical Learning (SEE Learning) is included, the whole thing might be far too much. Just trying to remember all these acronyms will be a challenge.

The proposal might also rekindle interreligious animosities. For years ethnic and religious minorities, as well as advocates of anti-clerical attitudes, legacy of the Soviet era, have fought to defend their interests in education against the pressures of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Now the Buddhists of Kalmykia seem to be going along the same path as the Orthodox, indirectly backing the latter’s sense of entitlement.

However, supporters of Buddhist “compassionate pedagogy” note that the Dalai Lama’s ideas are actually secular in nature, or at least not directly religious; based on universal moral principles, such as compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, which are valid for the whole of humanity.

The programme’s theories and exercises can be applied using common sense, universally shared experience, and science itself, adapting them to the distinct social and national milieus.

For Lama Tulku, “There is no reason for other religious organisations to raise objections to such a wonderful programme” if “they carefully acquaint themselves with it with openness and impartiality”.

Indeed, “Its basis is not Buddhism, but an understanding of human nature, which knows no division along racial, religious and gender lines.”

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