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Lesson Plans for 'Learn about Buddhism' class

I'm starting a 'Learn about Buddhism' class at the centre where I volunteer with recovering addicts. I'm going to be using text from the book 'Modern Buddhism' by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to guide the classes. The classes will be a mixture of meditation and discussion. I've put together a teaching plan for the first 2 weeks. They are below. If you have the time then please feel free to offer some feedback if you think they could be improved at all. Thanks.


Week 1

Discussion

In recent years our knowledge of modern technology has increased considerably, and as a result we have witnessed remarkable material progress, but there has not been a corresponding increase in human happiness. There is no less suffering in the world today, and there are no fewer problems. Indeed, it might be said that there are now more problems and greater dangers than ever before. This shows that the cause of happiness and the solution to our problems do not lie in knowledge of material things. Happiness and suffering are states of mind and so their main causes are not to be found outside the mind. If we want to be truly happy and free from suffering, we must learn how to control our mind.

Questions for Discussion

* Does your happiness increase because of modern technology?
* Does better technology increase your happiness?
* Has technology reduced your suffering?
* Has technology reduced your problems?
* Are their more problems and greater dangers in the world now because of modern technology?
* Do you think that happiness and suffering are states of mind?
* Do you think you would be happier if you learnt to control your mind?

Points

* We seem to have more depression, stress and anxiety in society now, not less.
* We seem to be working more, not less, when the initial idea of technology was to make our lives easier and with more leisure time.
* We communicate less in person - people sitting around on their phones, staying in and socialising on Facebook.
* Technology has led to more pollution and more sophisticated weapons, such as atom bombs.
* Technology has helped our way of life, but it has not made humans any happier.
* Rich people do not seem any happier, any more joyful or at peace than anyone else.
* Technology requires upkeep and maintenance.

Homework

Over the next week consider how you seek happiness. Do you look to increase your happiness by improving your material circumstances, or do you look for happiness by improving your self? We'll talk about this next week.


Week 2

Discussion

When things go wrong in our life and we encounter difficult situations, we tend to regard the situation itself as our problem, but in reality whatever problems we experience come from the side of the mind. If we were to respond to difficult situations with a positive or peaceful mind they would not be problems for us; indeed, we may even come to regard them as challenges or opportunities for growth and development. Problems arise only if we respond to difficulties with a negative state of mind. Therefore, if we want to be free from problems, we must transform our mind.

Questions for Discussion

* When you encounter a difficult situation, do you tend to blame the situation for being difficult, or do you blame your mind for making it difficult?
* Do you think that your mind might always be responsible for your problems, or do you think sometimes there are situations that are actual problems?
* Have you responded to a difficult situation in a positive way? (Examples) How did that change the situation?
* Would you like to be able to respond to difficult situations with a positive, peaceful mind? Do you think that sometimes it is best to respond with a negative mind and negative behaviour?
* Do you ever see difficult situations as a challenge to help you grow? (Examples).
* Do problems only arise when we respond to difficulties with a negative mind?
* Do you think that if you transform your mind and make it 100% positive that you will then be free from problems?

Points

* All situations - whether positive or negative - are decided by our mind. What one person sees as positive another might see as negative.
* No situation has any inherent quality, i.e. no situation is either definitely good or bad. For example, addiction is not necessarily bad. If you get into recovery and then help lots of other addicts because of your own experiences then it could be said that your addiction was, ultimately, good.
* Sometimes we are already in a happy mood when a difficult situation arises and we are able to deal with it easily and brush it off, whereas if we'd been in a bad mood we'd have responded negatively to the same situation.
* Most of us grow and develop through difficult moments. These are the times when we learn a lot about ourselves and look for ways to improve. It could be said that difficult and challenging situations are actually very positive for us, not negative.
* I can honestly say that having had many years of training my mind that I actually enjoy challenging circumstances now, and even look to put myself in them. For example, coming to volunteer here was very challenging at first for me, and then taking groups away was challenging for me, but all these challenges helped me to grow, I knew that they were good for me even though they were difficult at times. I always saw the difficulties as opportunities to grow and so embraced them rather than shunned them.

Homework

Over the next week try and respond to at least one difficult situation with a positive mind and see what happens. We'll talk about it next week.

Comments

  • matthewmartinmatthewmartin Amateur Bodhisattva Suburbs of Mt Meru Veteran
    Buddhism doesn't strike me as past-re-enactment, nor Luddite-ism, nor "Eastern Amish", nor any ancient Chinese-like yearning for ancient long past time when things were better. You can cling to your antique plows and horses just as much as you can cling to your cars and grain combines. And we are having a discussion over several billion $ of shared equipment.

    It does have a big streak of renunciation, an anti-consumerist streak.

    Section #2 looks fine.
    Dennis1
  • Buddhism doesn't strike me as past-re-enactment, nor Luddite-ism, nor "Eastern Amish", nor any ancient Chinese-like yearning for ancient long past time when things were better. You can cling to your antique plows and horses just as much as you can cling to your cars and grain combines. And we are having a discussion over several billion $ of shared equipment.

    It does have a big streak of renunciation, an anti-consumerist streak.

    Section #2 looks fine.

    Thanks. The first section is not saying that technology is bad, just that it is not a source of happiness.
    Dennis1
  • misterCopemisterCope PA, USA Veteran
    Here is my input:

    First, make sure that you are completely qualified to teach whatever it is that you choose to teach.

    For example: I am formally trained to teach and do so regularly; in addition to that, I have read numerous books on Buddhism, interacted with my Buddhist peers, and listened to many talks on Buddhism. When I recently decided to start a meditation group on my college campus, my (by far) largest worry was whether or not I was qualified to teach such a thing. The decision I came to was that, despite all of my training, I was underqualified. As a result, I followed a qualified teacher's meditation instructions to lead the group and made sure not to move even a little outside of my realm of knowledge.

    Second, if you are planning on teaching something, you must have three things: an objective, a method, and an assessment.

    Your objective needs to be concrete and observable. For example, an objective can't be "they will understand idea A and idea B" because you cannot see understanding. But it could be something like "they will describe ideas A and B in their own words" because you can physically see your students' performance that demonstrates understanding.

    Your method is really up to you. A word of warning, however: lecture tends not to work. Discussion tends to be more effective.

    As for an assessment, you should be assessing both the students' understanding and your own effectiveness. I see that you are giving them homework and then discussing it at the next meeting. What you need to have in place is a pre-determined idea of what you want them to explain to demonstrate their understanding (just like I described with your objective). The one thing you must keep in mind is this: if they are not getting the point of what you are trying to teach them, it isn't because they are incapable of getting it, it's because you haven't explained the idea effectively enough. As the instructor, you assume all responsibility for your students' learning.

    I truly hope this was helpful. If I was unclear or you have any other questions, please feel free to ask!
    MaryAnneDennis1EvenThird
  • misterCopemisterCope PA, USA Veteran
    Just another note on the qualifications thing: whenever a question comes up in my group that I don't have an answer for, my instantaneous reaction is to say, "I don't know." You cannot, as an instructor, be afraid to admit if you don't know something.

    Really, the only truly honest answer to literally every question that exists is "I don't know."

    Good luck, by the way!
    BhikkhuJayasaraEvenThird
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    Just another note on the qualifications thing: whenever a question comes up in my group that I don't have an answer for, my instantaneous reaction is to say, "I don't know." You cannot, as an instructor, be afraid to admit if you don't know something.

    Really, the only truly honest answer to literally every question that exists is "I don't know."

    Good luck, by the way!

    That's for sure.

    When I was a graduate assistant in my college's geography department, one day the professor suggested I do a lecture to one of his physical geography classes. I thought I knew my stuff, and the lecture went well till the very end. One student raised his hand and asked me something about he Coriolis Force, and I just didn't know the answer. I stumbled around but clearly didn't know the answer. Finally, the professor stood up and said, "That is a good question. I don't know the answer, either. We'll do a little research and get back to you next class." And, it turned out the professor really didn't know the answer to the question! A learning experience for all involved.

    MaryAnnemisterCope
  • BhikkhuJayasaraBhikkhuJayasara Bhikkhu Veteran
    edited December 2013

    Just another note on the qualifications thing: whenever a question comes up in my group that I don't have an answer for, my instantaneous reaction is to say, "I don't know." You cannot, as an instructor, be afraid to admit if you don't know something.

    Really, the only truly honest answer to literally every question that exists is "I don't know."

    Good luck, by the way!

    I find myself in a teaching position as well. I teach a basics of buddhism class for a virtual sangha, however what i put forth is all through major buddhist websites(buddhanet. Net and accesstoinsight) or videos by monastics. This way they know exactly where its coming from, not my interpretation. I'm certainly no professor or buddhist scholar to do anything more then that.

    I also kind of fell into doing some dhamma talks, mostly for very beginners, and i always make it sure who i am and what my qualifications are. The "talks" often turn into great discussions, and also some people seem to find benefit to the sharing of my dhamma practice, as im always trying to be honest, speaking of my faults and using them as good examples haha.

    Whatever i do in buddhism(and will do even as a monastic) i will always say i dont know of i dont. I always say if it dont know the answer i can at least try to point you in the right direction.

    The first time i ever heard bhante g, who is an 85 year old monastic who is famous the world over(he wrote mindfulness in plain English as well) . He said these words " you can ask any questions you like, but i cant guarantee i have the answer"....

    Btw that is the man i will hopfully be ordaining under. For good reason as you can see.
    EvenThird
  • Just another note on the qualifications thing: whenever a question comes up in my group that I don't have an answer for, my instantaneous reaction is to say, "I don't know." You cannot, as an instructor, be afraid
    to admit if you don't know something.

    Really, the only truly honest answer to literally every question that exists is "I don't
    know."

    Good luck, by the way!

    Mister cope: I appreciate your sterling view. However, answering with scripture or
    doctrine cannot be an I don't know response. That answer allows no response other than an invalid one. We can know. That is we can have certainty. We should share our knowledge of the Teacher's words as responses to questions. As you have so well done in your post-communication helps develop enlightenment and Bodhichitta. mtgby

  • Thank you very much everyone! I perhaps should clarify that this is a very informal group within

    Here is my input:

    First, make sure that you are completely qualified to teach whatever it is that you choose to teach.

    For example: I am formally trained to teach and do so regularly; in addition to that, I have read numerous books on Buddhism, interacted with my Buddhist peers, and listened to many talks on Buddhism. When I recently decided to start a meditation group on my college campus, my (by far) largest worry was whether or not I was qualified to teach such a thing. The decision I came to was that, despite all of my training, I was underqualified. As a result, I followed a qualified teacher's meditation instructions to lead the group and made sure not to move even a little outside of my realm of knowledge.

    Second, if you are planning on teaching something, you must have three things: an objective, a method, and an assessment.

    Your objective needs to be concrete and observable. For example, an objective can't be "they will understand idea A and idea B" because you cannot see understanding. But it could be something like "they will describe ideas A and B in their own words" because you can physically see your students' performance that demonstrates understanding.

    Your method is really up to you. A word of warning, however: lecture tends not to work. Discussion tends to be more effective.

    As for an assessment, you should be assessing both the students' understanding and your own effectiveness. I see that you are giving them homework and then discussing it at the next meeting. What you need to have in place is a pre-determined idea of what you want them to explain to demonstrate their understanding (just like I described with your objective). The one thing you must keep in mind is this: if they are not getting the point of what you are trying to teach them, it isn't because they are incapable of getting it, it's because you haven't explained the idea effectively enough. As the instructor, you assume all responsibility for your students' learning.

    I truly hope this was helpful. If I was unclear or you have any other questions, please feel free to ask!

    Wow, thank you for this. Let me give you a bit more detail. The centre I volunteer at is like a day centre, where recovering addicts come in to attend support groups or activities or counselling sessions, so there are lots of different things going on. Within that structure i've proposed this 'Learn about Buddhism' class, although maybe 'discussion group' would be more appropriate than class.

    You see, the plan really is just to get them thinking about these issues, i.e. what is happiness, what brings happiness etc. etc. It's not to teach them the Buddhist path per se, but to present the Buddhist viewpoint and then pose questions to them to be discussed such that they themselves either come to their own understanding or come to dismiss them.

    Trying to teach them probably wouldn't be appropriate at this stage of their recovery, although some guidance can be offered by me if, for example, they misunderstand an idea etc. There'll be no assessment, and the homework is really just there to try and keep them thinking about these ideas throughout the week. It is highly unlikely that they will at first, but maybe in time!

    This is being done as an extension to a project that I set up where I take groups of recovering addicts away on week visits to a Buddhist centre. I felt that it would provide them with something to build upon their experience at the centre, or as an introduction for those interested in going to the centre. So, for the most part the tone will be light and informal with the emphasis very much on them discussing and working out their own thoughts rather than being taught Buddhism in a strict sense.

    All this considered, would you still prescribe what you shared above? Just because I have no formal teaching qualifications or experience, just my own personal Buddhist practice (10 years + previous lives hoho), although for what i'm doing I don't feel I need anymore than what I have, and all the people i've invited to attend the group seem to have confidence in me, as they know me well.

    Thank you very much for your reply. I really appreciate it. :)
    BhikkhuJayasara
  • vinlyn said:

    Just another note on the qualifications thing: whenever a question comes up in my group that I don't have an answer for, my instantaneous reaction is to say, "I don't know." You cannot, as an instructor, be afraid to admit if you don't know something.

    Really, the only truly honest answer to literally every question that exists is "I don't know."

    Good luck, by the way!

    That's for sure.

    When I was a graduate assistant in my college's geography department, one day the professor suggested I do a lecture to one of his physical geography classes. I thought I knew my stuff, and the lecture went well till the very end. One student raised his hand and asked me something about he Coriolis Force, and I just didn't know the answer. I stumbled around but clearly didn't know the answer. Finally, the professor stood up and said, "That is a good question. I don't know the answer, either. We'll do a little research and get back to you next class." And, it turned out the professor really didn't know the answer to the question! A learning experience for all involved.

    Yeah a very good lesson. I think having the humility to acknowledge that you don't know that particular answer is a lesson in Buddhism itself. I talk very little about Buddhism when i'm volunteering, and much prefer to 'teach' through my example, and as such I do receive a lot of respect from people, such that when I started taking groups away to a Buddhist centre they wanted to come with me, and when I suggested the 'Learn about Buddhism' group they wanted to attend, because they know i'm not a fanatic trying to convert them all, and they know and see that I represent Buddhism very well. So within the groups i'll still be seeking ways to transmit Buddhist understanding through my actions more so than my words, including admitting my ignorance at times!
  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran
    edited December 2013
    The first section is not saying that technology is bad, just that it is not a source of happiness.
    That's great, but how does the role of technology relate to learning about Buddhism from an addiction recovery perspective?

    I don't see a connection.

    BTW, have you looked into any of Noah Levine's stuff? He helped the lady at my local Shambhala center with her program for people in recovery.
  • misterCopemisterCope PA, USA Veteran
    @mindatrisk,

    I see, I see. I did get the impression that this was a bit more formal. In that case, I would still recommend having a goal or objective in mind (which you seem to have), a plan (again, looks good), and some sort of assessment. Assessment doesn't have to mean testing or anything like that. All it really entails is you being aware of whether or not you are accomplishing the goals that you have set for yourself. Having measurable objectives just makes it easier to tell if you are doing things the best way. If people are sleeping or not returning to the group, it's good for you to know why they are doing that. Just making sure that everyone participates in discussion is a good enough way to assess people's engagement and understanding. In the group I work with, we usually go around in a circle to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.

    I have a question for you: is meditation going to be involved? Or do you do that already in a different group? I will note that the discussion in my group after meditating is considerably different than the discussion before meditating.

    :)
  • Chaz said:

    The first section is not saying that technology is bad, just that it is not a source of happiness.
    That's great, but how does the role of technology relate to learning about Buddhism from an addiction recovery perspective?

    I don't see a connection.

    BTW, have you looked into any of Noah Levine's stuff? He helped the lady at my local Shambhala center with her program for people in recovery.

    Yeah, I really like Noah Levine, I read his book, erm, I can't remember what it was called, but it was good and i've 'liked' his FB page. He would be an ideal model for what I am doing.

    With regards your question, you can put aside the addiction issue as the people I work with are in recovery, and so our work tends to be looking at the underlying issues that led them to drug / alcohol abuse... these are the same issues that we all deal with, so the question is - to me - no more relevant to addicts than it is to us. Ultimately, just like you and I, they are seeking happiness, and it has been their inability to find happiness in our society (through the pursuit of material things) that has contributed to them numbing their suffering through drugs and alcohol. Untangling the idea that happiness is in an iPad is as important for them as it is for us. :)
  • @mindatrisk,

    I see, I see. I did get the impression that this was a bit more formal. In that case, I would still recommend having a goal or objective in mind (which you seem to have), a plan (again, looks good), and some sort of assessment. Assessment doesn't have to mean testing or anything like that. All it really entails is you being aware of whether or not you are accomplishing the goals that you have set for yourself. Having measurable objectives just makes it easier to tell if you are doing things the best way. If people are sleeping or not returning to the group, it's good for you to know why they are doing that. Just making sure that everyone participates in discussion is a good enough way to assess people's engagement and understanding. In the group I work with, we usually go around in a circle to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.

    I have a question for you: is meditation going to be involved? Or do you do that already in a different group? I will note that the discussion in my group after meditating is considerably different than the discussion before meditating.

    :)

    Yeah i've got some Buddhist meditation CDs which are ideal for beginners. There are 9 different meditations lasting from 9mins to 16mins, my plan is to do a meditation at the start, a meditation after the halfway break, and a meditation at the end (each session will be 2 hours), with discussion in-between.

    I think the organisation itself will be organising some feedback as they obviously will only support groups that are useful to their service. I'll be keeping a mental note of who is attending and because i'm there through each day anyway i'll be talking with the attendees and i'm sure they'll share their thoughts, and i'll encourage them to.

    Ultimately, the group needs to be stimulating and it needs to relate to their lives, but maybe more than that it just needs to be a good vibe. Some people might just come to sit amongst a positive Dharma fuelled atmosphere, and that too will be wonderful. Given the nature of the individuals involved i'll be constantly adjusting and adapting to meet their needs, and I feel confident in doing so from taking groups away for a week at a time anyway. :)
    Jeffrey
  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran

    Chaz said:

    The first section is not saying that technology is bad, just that it is not a source of happiness.
    That's great, but how does the role of technology relate to learning about Buddhism from an addiction recovery perspective?

    I don't see a connection.

    BTW, have you looked into any of Noah Levine's stuff? He helped the lady at my local Shambhala center with her program for people in recovery.
    Yeah, I really like Noah Levine, I read his book, erm, I can't remember what it was called, but it was good and i've 'liked' his FB page. He would be an ideal model for what I am doing.

    With regards your question, you can put aside the addiction issue as the people I work with are in recovery, and so our work tends to be looking at the underlying issues that led them to drug / alcohol abuse... these are the same issues that we all deal with, so the question is - to me - no more relevant to addicts than it is to us. Ultimately, just like you and I, they are seeking happiness, and it has been their inability to find happiness in our society (through the pursuit of material things) that has contributed to them numbing their suffering through drugs and alcohol. Untangling the idea that happiness is in an iPad is as important for them as it is for us. :)

    That's cool!

    The whole tech thing seemed a bit out of place to me until your explanation.

    My own experience in recovery follows what you wrote. It's real easy to fall into replacing one addiciton for another. It's always been something of an ironic joke among the AA people I know where there's always a group of people nervously drinking coffee and chain-smoking at meetings. Plus something need not be "addictive" to be addictive.

    Have you tried contacting Levine about this class of yours?

    Anyway, it seems you're on a good track. Best of luck!
  • Chaz said:



    That's cool!

    The whole tech thing seemed a bit out of place to me until your explanation.

    My own experience in recovery follows what you wrote. It's real easy to fall into replacing one addiciton for another. It's always been something of an ironic joke among the AA people I know where there's always a group of people nervously drinking coffee and chain-smoking at meetings. Plus something need not be "addictive" to be addictive.

    Have you tried contacting Levine about this class of yours?

    Anyway, it seems you're on a good track. Best of luck!

    I hadn't actually. I could do. I always feel like i'm bothering people with stuff like that, but it really is just what he is doing anyway, so no harm in asking for his input. I didn't know you were in recovery (obviously given my reply) so i'm glad my explanation was satisfactory! If I were going to construct a Buddhism class program then it wouldn't begin with a discussion on technology, but i'm following a book, so just going paragraph to paragraph, and it so happens that that is the first paragraph of that book. Thank you for your encouragement. :) Bless you and your recovery. :)
  • misterCopemisterCope PA, USA Veteran
    "it needs to relate to their lives" --that's what we constantly strive for in education!

    It's really cool that you get two hours. My sessions are an hour, and they fly by.

    Seems like you have a handle on things. :)
  • It seems like you have found a way to really make a difference. Good going!
  • robot said:

    It seems like you have found a way to really make a difference. Good going!

    Thank you. I have found many ways. All the projects that I have shared here are in motion. I am not jumping from one project to another. I am a man who can multi-task!
  • "it needs to relate to their lives" --that's what we constantly strive for in education!

    It's really cool that you get two hours. My sessions are an hour, and they fly by.

    Seems like you have a handle on things. :)

    I think because i've been there for 4 years and because I have been an example and demonstrated my spiritual beliefs rather than spouting them off it has made it much easier to have my ideas supported and encouraged.
  • Sounds like a diploma or degree course you are giving. Maybe, you could just get to click with your students first. Do some icebreaking and let the Buddhist in you shine. Some recovering addicts would be too tired to go for such high level stuff that you are giving, perhaps.
  • I take issue with the word happiness. Maybe use ," more contentment," as a goal or, if you must use an unqualified word like , "happiness" choose "serenity" instead. You must avoid taking a superior tone with these adults. Allow for the possibility that you are speaking to a group of people , amongst whom you may find individuals who are happier than you even as non Buddhist drug addicts. I know this sounds silly , but it is a good tact. Lastly, though I agree that our contentment
    can not be conjured by the acquisition of the next ipad, the human species has always faced this truth. You might as well argue that replacing a wood plow with a metal one will not bring happiness.
    From an educator's point of view, mister cope has solid advice.

    Thank you for the person you are. Thank you for trying to make a difference in your community.
  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran
    edited December 2013
    When I have ever given a talk I try to remember that whatever I tell them they will only take home probably 3 bits of information.

    So define 3 salient aims and objectives

    1. Tell them what 3 things they should be learning

    2. Teach them the 3 points with good examples or quotes or diagrams to facilitate the transfer of information - don't go off at a confusing tangent giving unqualified opinions

    3. Finally in summary tell them what they have learned

    then ask them if they have any questions?


    Keep the talk short (45 minutes or less) and provide handouts and refreshments after where they can discuss the information. Mingle with them and clarify any misunderstandings you identify they may have.

  • anataman said:

    When I have ever given a talk I try to remember that whatever I tell them they will only take home probably 3 bits of information.

    So define 3 salient aims and objectives

    1. Tell them what 3 things they should be learning

    2. Teach them the 3 points with good examples or quotes or diagrams to facilitate the transfer of information - don't go off at a confusing tangent giving unqualified opinions

    3. Finally in summary tell them what they have learned

    then ask them if they have any questions?


    Keep the talk short (45 minutes or less) and provide handouts and refreshments after where they can discuss the information. Mingle with them and clarify any misunderstandings you identify they may have.

    Sorry, I just saw this. This is great... very helpful indeed. I've opted to put the classes on hold for now. Instead i'm doing two short meditations every lunchtime, and if that goes well and people are interested in learning more then i'll look at starting a class. :) Thanks again.
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