In his various socially engaged activities, the renowned Bhutanese lama, Dharma teacher, filmmaker, and author Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche has long placed an emphasis on the fundamental importance of education and the urgent need for educational reform. The latest manifestation of this concern is the Blue Lion Preschool, a compassionate education initiative founded on Buddhist values and poised to open later in Singapore later in March. Heather Sanche, Blue Lion Preschool’s curriculum developer and teacher trainer, offered Buddhistdoor Global some insights into the philosophy and aspirations behind this ambitious venture, which embodies a vision for a new model of holistic education aimed at helping to form the foundation for a more inclusive society founded on the Buddhist principles of compassion and wisdom.
“The Blue Lion Preschool is an idea conceived under Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s guidance. He has such a deep respect for education and understands the significance of early childhood education in particular,” Heather explains. “The Singapore team, lead by Huang Jing Rui, also understands that Buddhists would want their children to be nurtured and supported in a Buddhist environment that values compassion, generosity, intelligence, awareness, dignity, humor, gentleness, and discipline, while still preparing children to enter into mainstream education in Singapore, where the academic standards are high.”
This latest project follows the recent success of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s two earlier Dharma-founded education initiatives:* Middle Way Education, an independent not-for-profit organization inspired by Rinpoche’s vision for Buddhist education for children, and Middle Way School,** a pilot school in New York offering an innovative contemporary education founded in Buddhist philosophy and practice.
“The goal of the Blue Lion Preschool and curriculum is to create an early childhood setting that fosters the development of essential soft skills and is steeped in an understanding of how to live in harmony and balance, with self and others, rooted in the teachings and practices of the Buddhist tradition,” says Heather. “We hope that many people worldwide will be inspired by the Blue Lion Preschool in Singapore, and will in turn want to open their own local Buddhist preschools.”
Although Blue Lion is a distinct project from Middle Way Education and Middle Way School in New York, all are inspired by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s philosophy and supported by the nonprofit Khyentse Foundation. And all aim to develop replicable curricula and teaching methodologies based on Buddhist values and principles, reflecting Rinpoche’s vision of how the Dharma can flourish and nourish society, for the benefit of all beings.
“Due to very different education environments in different countries, these two school projects are being run in parallel,” Heather notes. “The Blue Lion Preschool and its curriculum are focused on early childhood, while Middle Way School aims to cover early childhood, elementary, and middle school—and possibly also high school in the future. There are, of course, vast areas of overlap and deep similarities between the views and values of both schools. And we are all good friends, sharing ideas and aspirations as both schools evolve and grow. There is definitely a kindred spirit and deep friendship between the two schools.”
Educational reform is not only key to ensuring the long-term survival of the Buddha’s teachings, but, as Rinpoche himself observes, is essential for creating a fairer, more equitable world: “When it comes to Buddhist education, I’m not necessarily talking about a school where we teach sutras and make children recite shlokas,” says Rinpoche. “I’m talking about a school or curriculum or system that puts emphasis on being a decent human being rather than on being rich.”
“Rinpoche named the Singapore preschool Blue Lion after the noble mount—symbolizing wisdom—ridden by Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and insight, and the teacher of all buddhas past and present,” Heather observes. “Khyentse Foundation is supporting the writing and creation of the curriculum, and the aspiration is that the foundation will oversee its dispersal to interested parties in other countries who want to open their own preschools in the future. Khyentse Foundation has also helped with financial support for the school.”
Khyentse Foundation was established by Rinpoche in 2001 with the aim of promoting the Buddha’s teaching and supporting all traditions of Buddhist study and practice. The foundation’s activities include major text preservation and translation projects, support for monastic colleges in Asia, a worldwide scholarship and awards program, the development of Buddhist studies at major universities, training and development for Buddhist teachers, and, of course, developing new modes of Dharma-inspired education for children.
“I think the aspirations for the Blue Lion Preschool are vast and, at the same time, very down-to-earth,” Heather emphasizes. “Early childhood is so often overlooked, probably because it’s not very glamorous. Early childhood is associated with messy work, such as diaper changing and toilet training, but the reality is that early childhood is the ground, the foundation of all of humanity. There is no other time in human life when so much is learned in such a brief period of time and yet early childhood is rarely the focus when talking about education.
“Early childhood is often seen as simply a time when children mindlessly play. All of us involved in the Blue Lion Preschool project understand that ‘play’ in the early years is anything but mindless; it’s noble. Children’s play is serious work; the children are exploring, learning, and acquiring all of the soft skills, such as adaptability, communication, critical thinking, executive function, problem-solving, conflict resolution, time management, and self-regulation, to name just a few essential life skills. These soft skills are the foundation for success in later academic learning as well as the keys to a fulfilling and meaningful life.”
Born in Bhutan and now largely based in Himachal Pradesh, India, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche gives teachings all over the world. He is the son of Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and was a close student of the Nyimngma master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910–91). He is recognized as the third incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–92), founder of the Khyentse lineage, and the immediate incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1893–1959). In addition to Khyentse Foundation, his projects include 84000, a non-profit global initiative to translate the words of the Buddha and make them available to all; Siddhartha’s Intent, which organizes, distributes, and archives his teachings; Lotus Outreach, which directs a wide range of projects to help refugees; and more recently The Lhomon Society, which promotes sustainable development in Bhutan through education.
“The most important quality of a teacher is kindness,” Rinpoche notes. “Teaching should not be treated as a job. It is a big responsibility, you are actually responsible for somebody’s life. After teaching Buddhist philosophy in both the East and West for many years now, I realize it is time to think seriously about future generations, and how we as a community can best prepare them for the challenges and opportunities this life presents.”
* Khyentse Foundation Announces Two New Buddhist Education Initiatives (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Middle Way School in New York Opens Doors to New Students (Buddhistdoor Global)