The followings are excerpts.
Radio Presenter: Should this kind of learning (learning how to be a human being) be an additional course in the university curriculum, or should it be incorporated throughout the curriculum?
Phap Luu: Many professors are surprised to find out that no extra time needs to be added to their course. Our presence, our way of being, is how we teach others to be present. In our retreats, we help many teachers learn how to incorporate mindfulness practice into their daily lives. We always start with the teacher’s own practice, not by just teaching them techniques of how to teach children. The teachers usually come looking for techniques. They want another certificate, but when they come to a Wake Up Schools retreat, they are a little surprised to find that their own transformation is what is most important. They learn how to stop and look deeply into their own body and mind.
In life we are always running towards the future, or regretting things done in the past. We are lost in our thoughts. With mindfulness practice we learn how to stop running to be fully present in the here and now with our breathing. The breath is always there for us. When I breathe in, I’m aware that I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I’m aware that I’m breathing out. We follow our breathing with all our attention. When our attention shifts to something else, like thoughts about the past or the future, we can smile to our thoughts with love, not punishing ourselves because we lost the focus on our breath. With love, you bring your attention back to your breath and your concentration increases, as well as your capacity to keep from being dragged down by the projects and worries of daily life. We can come back to the present moment like this in only two to three seconds. We can do this not only for ourselves, but also to help our students and others to be more present. This is the biggest gift we can give to ourselves and to our loved ones.
(I would answer as follows:
Yes, it should be an additional course which is compulsory for every student. More importantly, it should be practiced 24 hours a day throughout life. Just learning or memorizing is not enough. The practice in our daily life is vital because it is the teaching of way of life.)
Radio Presenter: I have another question for Phap Luu. Maybe there are people who are listening to us who are a little afraid, or are turned off, because they think this is a religious program, or a program to change their children’s faith. For those who think that way, how would you respond?
(I entirely agree to the following answer:)
Phap Luu: The practice of mindfulness doesn’t have much to do with religion, but rather with how to live life. I wouldn’t say that Buddhism is a religion. It’s more a kind of applied psychology. It’s the practice of getting in touch with the present moment and letting go of any ideas or points of view. That is the basis of Buddhism—learning to let go of all ideas, even Buddhist ones. It’s the practice of allowing ourselves to be open to the world in the present moment.
This is the basic practice the Buddha proposed. He didn’t want to create a religion; he wanted to help people suffer less. So we are doing the same with our life and with the people around us. If there’s something that makes us suffer, we have to ask ourselves: what is it that brings about this suffering?
Many young people commit suicide every day because they don’t know how to deal with their strong emotions. The pressure of exams, of social life, of having a job, of living in a world with advertising around us wanting to sell us things—they don’t know how to manage all of this pressure. Now in school we don’t give them a way to understand why they are suffering. It seems to be an error on our part in the education system. It’s interesting that so many scientists are now interested in this practice that comes from the Buddhist tradition. They see it’s a tradition that has a scientific method of direct first-person experimentation, where we can see clearly the fruits of our practice, and they don’t have to just blindly believe what the Buddha says. They can experience it for themselves.
Any person can put this into practice in their life and see how it goes. When we talk about faith in mindfulness practice, this faith comes from our own experience. It’s the same with scientists. They have faith in science, which is based on results and concrete experience. That’s why there’s a loving and very mutual relationship between the scientific world and the Buddhist tradition; we are always learning from each other.
In our community we have, for example, many Christians who are very devoted to their faith, and they find no conflict between Christianity and Buddhism. The former is more properly a religion, and the latter has more to do with their everyday practice of mindful breathing: they complement each other. There are many Christians who say they can go deeper on their spiritual path with mindfulness. So I don’t think there is any conflict, and schools and institutions are learning about this. They are more open-minded now to this vision.
Please be careful because most of mindfulness teachers and books are not true and authentic. I am sure that only authentic teaching of mindfulness is that of Thich Nhat Hanh.