The Four Kinds of Education

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    Feb 14, 2013
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The Four Kinds of Education Photo by Siew Leng Lim

We read in the sutras that in India, in Buddha Shakyamuni’s time, there were over one hundred religions and thus over one hundred teachings that guided people of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. This is how the different religions in India originated.

China became a unified nation during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.) under the Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Although the dynasty was short-lived, its influence was far-reaching. The succeeding dynasty, the Han, had much longer history, approximately 400 years. Emperor Wu, the second emperor, unified educational policy and goals that were based on Confucianism.

Since that time, Confucianism has been the most popular teaching in China. Over the past 2000 years, there have been many dynasties in China. Although the government changed, the educational policy remained the same, even during the Mongolian and Manchu invasions.

Whether it is Confucianism, Buddhism or Taoism, the teachings primarily begin in the family. If family education is lost, then no other teachings will be able to help us reach peace and stability. The family is the foundation of society like the ground level is the foundation of a four-storey building. Without the first level, the other levels cannot be built.

Formal education is the second level; social education is the third level and religious education the fourth level. Religious education is the education of spirituality. The main objective is to help sentient beings transcend from ordinary beings to sages. Religious teachings show us how to broaden our compassion and loving kindness until we care for all sentient beings in the universe. When these four educations are taught, the world will attain eternal peace and stability, living beings will mutually respect and care for each other in unity and we will coexist in peace and harmony. However, without these four educational foundations, peace and stability will be mere hollow words.

In the world today, traditional education by the family rarely exists; thus, the vast majority of children no longer listen to their parents. Quality education in schools is rare to find; most students ignore their teachers.

When the four kinds of education are so rare, how can the world not be in chaos! Today, there are people who want to save this world but without these four kinds of education, how can they achieve that? Do we need a new religion? No. The religions passed down since ancient times are rich in content. If we can practice only a small percentage of their teachings, the world will exist in peace and hope.

There is no need of new religions for they would be meaningless and would only serve to increase confusion in the world. We must understand this. In the past, the world recognized six main religions. In Singapore, nine main religions have excellent sacred texts and teachings. We need to use loving kindness and profound understanding to bring together and harmoniously unite all these teachings.

Today, they are separate but they all originate from the same basis, the same principles of sincerity, purity, equality and compassion. If we can accomplish harmonious unification and earnestly learn these teachings, we can widely propagate them to help society, save the world from conflicts, establish world peace and bring happiness to all. We must solve these crucial problems now.

In the 1970s, Professor Arnold Toynbee said, “Only the teachings of Confucius, Mencius and Mahayana Buddhism will be able to solve the problems of the 21st century.” What he said is reasonable because these teachings are specific and complete and are thus, worthy of our study and propagation.

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