Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Perspective Chapter: The Power of Our Mind – How to Educate Children to Adopt Mindfulness Practice and Positive Reflection on Both Academic and Social Change Achievement

Written By

Pham Thi My Ha

Submitted: 23 June 2022 Reviewed: 27 July 2022 Published: 07 November 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.106792

From the Edited Volume

Interdisciplinary Insights on Interpersonal Relationships

Edited by Xiaoming Jiang

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Abstract

Children Education with Buddhist relevance: Life is constantly changing, and world has been facing the most challenging period over the two recent decades due to advancement of technology and its influence leading people and living things to witness unmeasurable values both of materials and of spirituality. Thus, nurturing young generation to develop their kindness and appreciation toward the distinct values constructed by their ancestors might leave educators, parents, authorities, religious leaders great concern how to positively scaffold children to understand that co-existence of humans and nature is becoming the matter of the age. In practice, most of governments and individuals are observing humans materialistically interfering the world around them so much that the nature does response: natural disaster, pandemic. With this consideration, spiritual education, the core plans of the development of a community, as well as a country, have been the major attribute to continuously transform the strategies of governments to develop their countries, and to adapt to the new era, the age of artificial intelligence—the age that human minds need far more nurturing than ever. In individuals’ mindsets, perhaps, development of society should be considered first; dramatic changes of community should also be prioritized. Their reasoning toward this concept might be meaningful in case they are living in the commercial areas, or industrial zones. Although we could have learned that the global economy reshapes the world as its own way, people qualities require to be in the course of rounded trainings much more than ever. With the experience as a Buddhist nun, working with more than a thousand children in village schools in Bihar, the application of Buddhist study in implementation of three schools, one is in Vaisali and two others in Kolhua and Bodhgaya, where 2,400 children practicing balancing themselves, appreciating their mindfulness really benefits children in the primitive conditions without the electricity grid or the Internet connection.

Keywords

  • mind
  • children
  • child
  • practice
  • village

1. Introduction

Life is constantly changing, and the world has been facing the most challenging period over the two recent decades due to the advancement of technology and its influence leading people and living things to witness unmeasurable values both of materials and spirituality. Thus, nurturing young generation to develop their kindness and appreciation toward the distinct values constructed by their ancestors might leave educators, parents, authorities, and religious leaders with great concern about how to positively scaffold children to understand that coexistence of humans and nature is becoming the matter of the age. In practice, most governments and individuals are observing humans are materialistically interfering with the world around them so much that the nature is responding with natural disasters and pandemics. With this consideration, spiritual education, the core plans of the development of a community, as well as a country, has been the major attribute to continuously transform the strategies of governments to develop their countries, and to adapt to the new era, the age of artificial intelligence— the age that human minds need far more nurturing than ever.

In individuals’ mindsets, perhaps, development of society should be considered first; dramatic changes of community should also be prioritized. Their reasoning towards this concept might be meaningful in case they are living in commercial areas, or industrial zones. Although we could have learned that the global economy reshapes the world in its own way, people's qualities require to be in the course of rounded trainings much more than ever. With the experience as a Buddhist nun, working with more than a thousand children in village schools in Bihar, the application of Buddhist study in implementation of three schools, one is in Vaisali and two others in Kolhua and Bodhgaya, where 2,400 children practice balancing themselves, appreciating their mindfulness really benefits children in the primitive conditions without the electricity grid or the Internet connection.

This journal shows the attempts to look for appropriate approaches to facilitate children's study process, also to shape their qualities to be kinder to living and non-living beings. Three leading theories: Psychosocial theory (Erik Erikson), cognitive theories (Jean Piaget) and sociocultural theory (Vygotsky) are considered in this paper. In reality, this journal has been indicating the implications of many quantitative research findings on changes in children's behaviors, their remarkably positive- changing performance, during school years and their participation in community activities, which are believed marking sustainable changes in the local as well as individual children themselves to be conducted simultaneously with their practice of mindfulness, under the instruction and company of Buddhist scholars and practitioners.

Last but not least, mindfulness practice significantly reforms children in the two village primary schools to perform better in academia as well as creates a better educational environment for both teachers, researchers, practitioners, and young learners locally.

1.1 Three theories as solid foundation

There are many theories about children development and key attributes influencing children’s thoughts and behavior. Most of these subjects are village primary school students aged 4 to 12, Psychosocial Theory, Cognitive Theories, and Sociocultural Theory are opted.

1.1.1 Psychosocial theory by Erik Erikson

Erikson believes that dealing with conflicts marks potential changes in stages of people's growth. personal development paralleled with the possibility of challenges or failure exists and gradually becomes the strength of the individual. Eight stages are mentioned in his theory, namely infancy (18 months), early childhood (2–3 years), preschool (3–5 years), school age (6–11 years), adolescence (12–18 years), young adulthood (19–40 years), middle adulthood (40–65 years) and maturity (65+years). In each psychosocial stage of growth, he shows the detailed elements in three categories: Conflict, Important Events, and Outcome. At the stage of preschool, school year ,and adolescence, in terms of conflicts, children have to experience these obstacles like guilt, inferiority role confusion respectively; hence, a person experiences many social events such as exploration, school and social relationships at these ages may see the conflicts as core values constructing their skills, strengths, responsibility prior to further stages of older ages. Children aged 3–11 are the focus of this journal due to the maturity, quality, and wisdom just gained as adults, parents, and teachers understand and provide support in time. Although Erik Erikson’s theory is influenced by Sigmund Freud’s work on psychosexual development, the stages of children's development are carefully considered in his theory.

1.1.2 Cognitive theories by Jean Piaget

As a psychologist, a theorist, Jean Piaget conducted research on many aspects of humans’ cognition. Four theories are known as the achievements of the greatest theorist in the field. They are Cognitive Theory Basics, Social Cognitive Theory, Cognitive Restructuring to Treat Phobia, and Cognitive Biases Treatment. In this paper, the Cognitive Theory Basics is concentrated to emphasize how Jean Piaget's theory of behaviorism impacts the way we understand human behavior, in particular children. This theory also relates to information processing, belonging to the human mind function, and cognitive-behavioral theory [1].

Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development states that as children grow, their intelligence changes. The cognitive development process is related to knowledge acquisition, innate capacities, and environmental influence. Four stages are mentioned Sensorimotor (18–24 months), Preoperational (2–7 years), Concrete operational (7–11 years), and Formal operational stages (12+ years). The major feature of his theory reveals many novel assumptions about children’s cognitive intelligence and he is in favor of the view that children have distinct ways of observing the world, as well as interpreting what they experienced of their own perception, and thoughts. With his naturalistic perspectives on qualitative research of his own three children, his findings have contributed to many fields due to their educational implications. Thus, Piaget’s theory has substantially influenced developmental psychology. Newer insights and viewpoints on children's development actually have inspired the world as some concepts related to stages in Piaget’s studies like universal stages of cognitive development and biological maturation, child’s schemas, and equilibrium in human cognitive structures [2].

1.1.3 Sociocultural theory by Vygotsky

Lev Vygotsky, an almost temporarily respected psychologist, in his sociocultural theory shows that social interaction with the community is the core means by which children’s behavior and cognitive processes are acquired; adult or peer intervention plays a crucial role in process of development of a child. His theory has widely applied and significantly changed the approaches adults, parents, and educators use to nurture children.

Vygotsky studies the stages of childhood development to profoundly analyze the interrelatedness between learning and culture.

“As a baby, you display elementary functions designed for your survival: crying, a sense of your mother’s scent, and familiar voices. These displays gradually fade out as a result of external stimuli: initiating, consequence, and conditioning by others. It is replaced with problem-solving skills such as reflection, bargaining, and reasoning. This higher-level thinking is influenced by cultural factors. The values and beliefs of a community, including models of acceptable behavior, create pressure for others to adopt the preferred attitudes and protocol of that society. Etiquette is communicated orally and by example.”

(Lev Vygotsky-sociocultural Theory of Cognitive Development-By Dr. Serhat Kurt- July 11, 2020-https://educationaltechnology.net/lev-vygotsky-sociocultural-theory-of-cognitive-development)

He also notes that culture consistently affects human behavior and during the process of developing the correlation, and relationships between human-and-cultures are complex. The important concepts mentioned in Vygotsky's studies are language, andindividual’s role. Hence, the social cultures and cognitive development are interwoven as a unity. It is crucial to note the roles of Vygotsky’s findings from many studies in education, language learning in particular. The concept of the zone of proximal development is considered the center of his model of cognitive development [3].

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2. Buddhist psychology

Buddhism, the path to enlightenment taught by the Buddha, is distinct from other beliefs. Based on adopting non-conditional love, great compassion, and Abhidhamma as core values, it leads practitioners towards the stages of mindfulness, kindness, and right conduct, which, thus, benefits not solely practitioners themselves but non-living beings existing surrounding them as well. Buddhism had been popularly respected in the past as the noble doctrine of all ages to positively reform humans, both mentally and physically, it has been welcomed worldwide and will be being developed in the future with its values. No languages are used to express worthiness, invisible advantages once beings understand the essence of life, live as the Buddha Teachings, as well as appreciate values around them as the key ethical consideration of humans in most of the aspects.

According to Dr. W.F. Jayasuriyain his work “The Psychology & Philosophy of Buddhism,” chapter IX [4], he reveals the concept of “Dynamic Psychology”, regarding analytical findings on a wide range of aspects, from knowing and thinking, Kamma, death, and rebirth, to the actions of controlling evil thoughts in relation to the moral philosophy of Buddhism. In the essence of the pure thoughts and their positivity gained through stages in trances, awareness, and wisdom realistically transform people to be the better, the kinder, and more productive. Also, in these precious studies resulting in Psycho-Physical Analysis, the ethical codes and appreciation of life are constantly reshaped. Due to these perspectives, Buddhism and Social Development become an interwoven pair of many studies.

Buddhist Psychology Theories are based on a wide range of case studies, of concrete contexts, and further than that the causes leading to these contexts are meticulously analyzed and evaluated. The implication of these studies is seen in the works of many contemporary psychologists. The approach using mindfulness is also universally applied in consulting clinical interference to patients diagnosed with mental disorders or problems. The very mindfulness-based cognitive therapy had appeared in many studies by University of Toronto psychologist Zindel V. Segal, PhD. The tendency of human beings, thus, of suffering wrong or evil thoughts shows a variety of perspectives towards psychological pains, and unpleasant feelings, resulting a strong desire to stay away from those experiences.

According to Dr. Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist teacher and psychologist, in his famous book “The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal teachings of Buddhist Psychology”, emphasizes that human beings themselves own emotional and behavioral challenges, Greed, Hatred, and Ignorance, the core features of Buddhist psychology. These roots causing many wrong thoughts and then leading to wrongdoings are observed and recorded as well. It is believed that more studies and research should be done in this field though in “The Buddha and His Teachings” by Venerable Narada Mahathera, our teacher (the Buddha) leads us to the middle path, the path of obtaining purification, of reaching a supramundane stage and of finding ourselves [5].

As the Buddhist nun, most of our time in the temple, practice mindfulness and observe our actions in daily life, especially I have good opportunities to stay in Buddha Land and do our practical practicing of Dhamma in remote areas in India which have caused the real view and real thought of what we have been taught about Buddha way of life, every moment is precious the real human realms here in front of our eyes which have forced us to catch fast and make great strides on our practicing.

Our tranquil time in India, especially in Vaishali, Bihar of India this place is our Bikkhuni Partriarch Sangha was set up, succeeded until today. We are practitioners, what we have observed in a routine day and the benefits we get from mindfulness we share with our poor children around Bihar, India since 2013 till now. Buddha is the greatest psychologist and psychotherapist, Buddhism practicing mention analysis of human psychology, emotion, behavior, cognition, and motivation. Terminology, Buddhists called as Buddhist ethical, Buddhist psychology; Buddhist psychology mainly related to healthy and virtuous life for human being, such things are so simple, easy to adopt in life if we do first and talk later, experience on ourselves then we can adjust our actions.

Applied mindfulness to our children from nursery to 5 standards, for nearly ten years. Bihar of India still maintain caste system, children who belong to poor family they do not want to attend school, only stay home and do labor work or just small but with parents on the field, wander here and there, only think about how to survive a day, how pity they are! We provide them free education we hire teachers, give them uniforms to wear to school, shoes, bags, notebooks, pencils, textbooks whatever we can share. From these circumstances somehow others can understand how hard to train these children from the bottom of the society, only the caring, the compassion we nurture for these children they change, keep changing very fast in our training environment.

Buddhism psychology is just the term for easy use when we mention about this term it seems that we want to mention about the practicing of mindfulness is a way to help our children aware of their self-management and self-control from these aspects which create their self-esteem and confidence in their childhood time. For every three months I collect the hand written note of all children from 2 standards to 5 standards just to know if they are happy with 10 minutes we practice mindfulness or not, and I got a very surprising result that most of the children in our school was very happy with this activity. Such as:

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3. Changes and finding oneself

Learning Buddhism is continuously perfecting ourselves on daily basis, respecting the precepts, appreciating Buddhist practitioners, the shanga, and applying the Buddha’s Doctrine in practice. Although I have been living and working with the local people in Bihar since 2005 as a Vietnamese Buddhist nun, and a postgraduate, pursuing higher education in Buddhism Studies, I realize my efforts to help the local people are still inadequate. Meeting street children and learning about their difficulties ignites me to devote my life working as a teacher, and a practitioner here to help children. Fortunately, three village primary schools had been built, namely, Mahaprajapati Schools. We have welcomed two thousand and four hundred local children to learn here. In addition, fifty-seven teachers (18 males: 39 females) have been continuously working to help children. In villages, there is not enough facility for students and teachers as well as equipment or basic conditions, such as electric grids or the Internet, though, all members of our schools, teachers, students, and Buddhist nuns in the Mahaprajapati nunnery still work harmoniously in tranquility together.

The pandemic has severely impacted the community; students and teachers in these schools are no exceptions. They, however, have worked far more diligently to help the locals because, through practicing mindfulness, children in these schools are more dynamic to get involved in charitable giving. “To Give is To Learn” as their current middle path to reflect what they have done and valued on daily basis is shining. Hopefully, the pandemic to be dominated, and students and teachers here along with the locals could stand out from the chaos and unmeasurable loss of natural disasters, pandemics, and conflicts striking them presently and upcoming years.

The changes triggering ones to find themselves are significantly seen through the daily activities of students in their schedules. Not only do children appreciate the meditation time of 40 minutes before beginning their study sessions of the day, but teachers at schools are humbly involved in the practice. The better performance of students is considered a great temporary achievement: students and teachers are dynamic in their work, teaching- and- learning.

The most crucial truth in Buddhism is the causes of suffering of existence are solely found within us, they can only be ceased by carefully observing, awareness, or in other word meditation. The starting point of human life is suffering, it manifests in every corner of our life even if we are small or grown up we also face many dissatisfactions in our own life these are the suffering we feel, Buddhist term we call suffering to mention about all unhappy thing we have. For children in our school, they somehow understand the word ‘suffering’ because most of them are from poor family which is ‘suffering’ so close to them.

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4. Cultivating mental balance

The Buddha with his most valuable teachings is appreciated beyond the boundary of any religion. It is the adaptable and tranquil lifestyle in which human beings, living beings and non-living beings coexist kindly and mutually value others as themselves. From these perspectives, the Enlightenment really changes the world back to its natural orbit. Body-Mind is a unity in an individual, interacting and impacting each other so closely that his or her actions are seen as the results of many sets of thoughts. Without a doubt, thoughts generated in our mind and doings, or actions come from our physical bodies. We are able to live in happiness just as we can value the right doings. And these achievements are sourced from right thoughts.

With the above consideration, realistically applying the Buddha’s teachings in local schools is prioritized by teachers and scholars of the Mahaprajapati Primary Schools in Bihar. The schedules of giving young learners and teachers regular time to refresh their mind, to control their negative thoughts, to enrich positive ones, to construct healthier habits of appreciating their own values, their Selves, then their compassion can be multiplied further in the community, which is believed to benefit nature as well. The mediation practice having been being conducted since the schools were established in September 2013 is becoming the charming beauty of the area, certainly being known beyond the territory, and currently being supported by the governments and organizations as well as individuals. The practice in Mahaprajapati Schools, hence, might be an ideal model of a mentally balanced life in the contemporary age.

Nurturing mental-balance styles of living also requires further studies of forms of thoughts, from stages of sensuous beings to stages of ones experiencing Brahmas with or without forms. Approaches to developing kind thoughts and great compassion in everyone may rely on how individuals value mindfulness featuring from attributes to shaping good individualism in every walk of life: social conduct, academic performance, and creativity, altruism to themselves and to other living and non-living beings [6].

At the basic level we wish the children can adjust themselves to the mindfulness space, most of our children belong to poor family that is the reason they are short of most necessary things for a child, we provide all of them whatever we can but it is not enough and it is very hard to reach the good level of life but the most important thing as the result we have got that is the changing and progress of each of us. Not to mention about religions we only care about how we live together in this human realm what we can do what we can share what we can talk about in this present moment is the most important.

Through the hand note we collect from children we can witness the real benefit of mindfulness in their school time, at home they have to work in the fields, help parents to take care of their small brothers or sisters, cook, and even small around six to ten year old they can handle everything in a small hut, looking at their conditions it touches our heart and urges sensitive one should do something.

Mindfulness gives our children and teachers the awareness to witness what was within their bodies and some changes as acceptance to let go of struggling with things that were not. Temporally I may say that participants noted benefit from doing mindfulness, many of us accepted that positive feeling comes, and there is improvement in anxiety.

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5. Conclusion

I practice mindfulness since childhood with my father, and my religious family until now, I observe very clearly about the connection between our mind and body, mental states are directly reflected in our biochemistry. Initiation of those mental states, it is our beliefs, the choices of belief govern how we respond to life that means the focusing in our attention in ways which create feeling conflict, tension, worry… can make the real physical effects in our body. Sharing experiences to children we could not explain so deeply just practice ten minutes every morning, how each of us observed and experience the changes in our body, and behavior to others.

It should be my honor to be a Buddhist nun living and working in The Mahaprajapati Nunnery to address the current practice of students and teachers, the locals, and the local government in Bihar; without them, their support and collaboration, our cause of worshiping our Buddhas, our Buddhist Core Values might not have been smoothly and nicely implemented. I would like to borrow the words of Venerable Narada Mahathera in his forewords of the above-mentioned precious work to close my journal, “Mere learning is of no avail without actual practice. The learned man who does not practice the Dhamma, the Buddha says, is like a colorful flower without scent.”

References

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  3. 3. Esteban-guitart M. The Biosocial Foundation of the Early Vygotsky: Educational Psychology before the Zone of Proximal Development. History of Psychology. 2018;21(4):384-401. DOI: 10.1037/hop0000092
  4. 4. Dr WF, Jayasuriya LMS. The Psychology and Philosophy of Buddhism. Buddhist Missionary Society. Ceylon: PPI; 1976
  5. 5. Venerable Mahathera Narada. The Buddha and his Teachings. Taiwan: Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc.; 1998. Available from: https://buddhhanet.net
  6. 6. Fryba M. The Art of Happiness: Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. Boston, Shaftesbery: Shambhala; 1989

Written By

Pham Thi My Ha

Submitted: 23 June 2022 Reviewed: 27 July 2022 Published: 07 November 2022