A Buddhist monk in a saffron robe sits on the floor playing a drum in front of a temple display
March 31, 2022

The Beauty of Interdependence: Buddhist Teachings for a Regenerative Learning Model

Students in Mr. Housiaux’s Buddhism group are making amazing discoveries right in their own backyard
by Olivia ’22

How can one be alone in a crowd? In my four years at Andover, I have learned to define and demarcate spaces. I am troubled often by the ease with which I, and perhaps many of my peers, have slipped into a “me vs the world” mindset. The pressure and desire to be remarkable, distinct, and alone often comes at the sacrifice of authentic, engaging, and collaborative learning. These practices of comparison and cross-examination emerged naturally, in part due to the academic rigor of the institution, but also the general student culture of frenzied studying and “grinding.”

Some of these sentiments arose from vulnerable discussions among the twenty-something students and four key faculty members facilitating the Workshop. In the past week, I’ve felt that I’ve been more honest, critical, passionate, supportive, and kind than I have been in much of my time in school.

The opportunity to be in community, without underlying tones of competition or loneliness, has brought much warmth to my heartmind and has greatly expanded what I envisioned learning to be.

To reflect on the *Workshop as a whole, the opportunity has allowed me a chance to examine structures of power in my relationships and community. By removing facets of schooling that often induce feelings of shame, fear, and anxiety—for example, grades, long-form lectures, huge class discussions, and more—I’ve been able to share what I know, and more importantly, what I don’t know.

In the first few weeks of class, all Workshop students have all been engaged in sustainability projects under Ms. Guerette, Andover’s sustainability coordinator who supports many environmental initiatives on campus. We picked carrots at the Abbot Learning Garden, sanded and painted the shed, and organized some of the student activities materials. The practice of giving and helping the community through simple and tangible actions was something I hadn’t experienced in many of my high-intensity classes on campus. Rather than being alone and vying to be remarkable, I experienced the joy and generosity of being enriched in community.

This past week, we all sat in a circle and generated over fifteen ideas and suggestions on how to encourage sustainable practices on campus. Zeena ’22 and I volunteered to work on a blog to highlight some of the different projects, including a “Weekender” project boosting environmental weekend activities, “F2T” [Farm to Table] which would allow the garden to grow microgreens for the school, and “W^2” [Workshop2] which would raise environmental awareness education through workshops. Although Zeena is not in my subgroup working with Buddhists in the Merrimack Valley, it was such a gift to work closely with her and all of the Workshop members. Building community and challenging a culture of loneliness is something that the Workshop does quite well.

To reflect a bit more on the Buddhism project, I am so excited to work with Taylor ’22, Haruka ’22, Loulou ’22, Lesley ’22, and Melissa ’22 under the guidance of Workshop teacher Mr. Housiaux and the incredible Chenxing Han, scholar and author of Be the Refuge. As a team, we are exploring Asian-American Buddhism in our local region. We have been lucky enough to travel thus far to a Vietnamese temple (Chùa Tường Vân), a Chinese temple (American Wisdom Association or 般若寺), and a Thai Temple (Boston Buddha Vararam Temple.) The generosity of all monks, nuns, and laypeople at these temples cannot be understated. On the first day of traveling, we met Thay, the Abbot monk of Chùa Tường Vân as well as Tham, a layperson and educator of the temple. We were given so many gifts of knowledge and traditional Vietnamese treats. As we stepped into the temple, we were shown how to bow properly and show thanks and respect. Tham was gracious enough to offer English translations of some of Thay’s words. Thay performed an incredible chant that made use of singing and drumming and explained the importance of family, interdependence, balance, and compassion.

In one reflection, it is difficult for me to encompass the sheer amount of learning, experience, and kindness I have experienced this week. The openness and compassion at all three temples, as well as the wisdoms of Chenxing and Mr. Housiaux have only strengthened what I know of the Workshop so far. The opportunity to be in community, without underlying tones of competition or loneliness, has brought much warmth to my heartmind and has greatly expanded what I envisioned learning to be. It has taught me that there is so much more for me to know about what an education can be.

The "Listening to Buddhists in Our Backyard" group includes Olivia ’22, Taylor ’22, Haruka ’22, Loulou ’22, Lesley ’22, and Melissa ’22.

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*THE WORKSHOP

Each spring term, the Workshop welcomes 20 seniors to this interdisciplinary, project-based course. With an eye toward reimagining what school can be, the Workshop is the senior’s onlyacademic commitment for the entire term. Instead of splitting their time and attention into units of distinct courses and fields of study, they work closely with peers, faculty, and community and global partners on a series of linked, interdisciplinary projects that revolve around a single theme. Within a chosen theme, students explore areas of personal interest. This year's theme is Experiments in Education.

During the first few weeks of the term, students are working on one of four faculty-led projects. We will be featuring blog posts by students during this time.

  • Historiography (led by Chris Jones)
  • Listening to Buddhists in Our Backyard (led by Andy Housiaux)
  • Andover’s CAMD Scholars Program: Advancing DEIJ Teaching, Learning, and Community Outcomes (led by Corrie Martin)
  • Bias (led by Nicholas Zufelt)

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Categories: The Workshop, Featured

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