As a student, exposure to a diverse range of religions is important, as it allows us to gain a wider knowledge of these religions, and it also teaches us to empathise and understand other perspectives.
Year 11 Christian Studies students have had the pleasure of hearing from a range of guest speakers, as a part of our study of the ‘Big Five’ world religions. Recently, the Year 11 cohort gathered to hear from guest speaker, Gawaine Powell Davies, who spoke to us about Buddhism. Gawaine has practised Buddhism for around 20 years and is currently the Chair of the Buddhist Council of NSW and Vice-President of the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils, so he is certainly an expert in the religion.
Gawaine started the talk with a captivating statement – in his opinion, Buddhism is not actually a religion, but instead, a philosophy or way of life. This took many students by surprise, but he soon explained what he meant, by arguing that unlike other formal religions, Buddhists don’t worship or serve a single God. The main objective of Buddhism, he explained, is to reach the enlightened state of nirvana, a sort of heaven where the soul is free from greed, hatred, delusion and the cycle of rebirth known as Saṃsāra.
Gawaine explained that this is achieved is through the Noble Eightfold Path, which he broke down into three categories – morality, mental development and wisdom. He then turned his attention to suffering, speaking of The Four Noble Truths: Dukkha (the truth of suffering); Samudāya (the truth of the origin of suffering); Nirodha (the truth of the cessation of suffering); and Magga (the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering).
All of this was fascinating, as the majority of the boys, including us, knew very little about Buddhism prior to the talk. Like all the religions which we have learned about, Buddhism shares some similarities with Christianity. For example, the teachings and values taught by Buddha (dharma) include kindness, patience, generosity and compassion, which are also practised by Christians. However, overall, Buddhism is a drastically different religion than Christianity, which explains why the content was so foreign to much of the audience. Nevertheless, the talk was both thought-provoking and enjoyable.
On the surface, we have gained valuable insight into each religion and learned about their interesting stories, teachings and beliefs. We believe that each of these presentations has had an effect on our learning as each religion has presented something, be it a story, concept or philosophy, that is worth reflecting upon or has been interesting, in the very least.
For example, the presentation on Islam articulated many interesting stories from the Quran; from Hinduism, we gained an awareness into the style of polytheistic belief system; and the presentation on Buddhism discussed how the Buddha himself struggled with and resolved the toughest issues of life including loss, grief and death – issues to which we can all relate to as people. This inquiry into a variety of religious philosophies has allowed each student to know a bit more about what the person next to them might believe.
However, more important than acquiring knowledge about these religions, is the value of appreciation and empathy for different perspectives that we have been exercising. The exposure to this variety of religions reflects some of the many different perspectives we may encounter in life. In learning about these faiths, we are not only outlining differences in beliefs but also finding common philosophical ground between religions, including our own.
From this experience, we believe the most important thing that we learnt was to always try to empathise with another perspective by finding common ground in beliefs, regardless of how different the faith or its beholder may be. Throughout this course, the diverse presentation of religions has proven to be a valuable experience that, as young men, we should take on board as we mature and develop our own moral compasses.
For over a hundred years Trinity Grammar School has educated boys, imparting knowledge and understanding of the world we live in, and recognising the importance of spiritual qualities in every sphere of learning. Our mission is to provide a thoroughly Christian education for boys from Pre-Kindergarten to Year 12 in mind, body and spirit.
Fuelled by a pastorally aware culture with exceptionally high levels of individual student attention, we aim to know, understand and nurture each student to help him realise his potential, passion and purpose in life.
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