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The Understandings Guiding PBA's Total Curriculum

Pacific Buddhist Academy’s vision of the future world is greatly influenced by the hermeneutic of Shin Buddhism, which is, in turn, shaped by key Buddhist ontological understandings. The school perceives a growing global awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings; at the same time, it understands that interdependence is not an ideal but a challenge. Large-scale conflicts arise at the intersection of histories and cultural traditions, and are exacerbated by a global context of resource competition, the increasing mechanization of the workplace, and climate change caused by human excesses. 

All too often, it seems this context is accompanied by the polarization of discourse: many voices in the current political debates of the United States are characterized by extremism and protectionism, and it is not difficult to find analogues for these debates abroad.

These trends will continue for the foreseeable future, and likely become more protracted and extreme. Because of the school’s Buddhist heritage, the PBA sangha believes strongly that the world needs effective practitioners of peace. To achieve this, the school relies on a 2009 document it created called “Statements of Understanding” that delineate the drivers of the school’s curriculum.    

Buddhist understandings

  • The activities of PBA’s educational sangha, or learning community, are driven by three fundamental Buddhist understandings about the nature of being: the impermanent nature of being, the karmic conditions that have shaped our being and continually shape our being in the present, and the interdependent nature of being.
    • Impermanence: change is the fundamental constant of the universe. PBA should endeavor to nurture young people’s resilience to change, and their ability to feel gratitude for the experiences of their lives.
    • Karma: in each and every moment, individuals have the opportunity to make choices about the things they think and the actions they make. PBA should endeavor to empower young people by helping to nurture their ability to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions.

Interdependence: all beings are connected in a web of interdependence. This is a fact of existence, an ancient discernment of Buddhism, which recent theorists of globalization have only begun to appreciate. PBA should endeavor to nurture young people’s courage to affect the conditions of interdependence through compassionate action. 

  • The curriculum of PBA seeks to promote mindfulness, wisdom and compassion in its students. 
  • Mindfulness is a practice of awareness that requires careful internal and external observation. Mindfulness enables adolescents and adults to see the world as it really is, and to be fully aware of the present moment free from judgment. This awareness facilitates the individual’s ability to act with compassion.
  • Wisdom includes learning the essential skills and concepts of the basic disciplines. It places a premium on knowledge. But wisdom is also concerned with the use to which that knowledge is put. Critical and creative thinking are important to the application of wisdom. Adolescents must be able to think for themselves, to question the assumptions of ideas they encounter, and to decide for themselves the appropriate actions to take.
  • Compassion has two aspects: the experience of empathy for the suffering of another being, and the action taken by the empathizer to alleviate that suffering. Young people should learn the practice of dana, or selfless giving. They should also acquire the sophisticated affective and critical thinking skills necessary to understanding how best to practice dana, and how to discern which actions will best sustain others. 

Understandings of peace

  • PBA is an institution of learning. As such, it prioritizes the ability of its members to decide for themselves those actions necessary to promoting peaceful change in the world. Nonetheless, PBA is aware that education is active, and that the institution is embedded in a living culture in which real world issues of peace are at stake. Thus, the institution strives to adopt one of four institutional postures in its efforts to educate all members of its sangha about those issues:
    • Passive educational: the school educates students to learn values of peace education, become aware of current injustices, and equips them with the skills to make reasoned judgments, but the students are left to make their own decisions about the appropriate actions to take.
    • Compelling educational: the school educates students to learn values of peace education, become aware of current injustices, and equips them with the skills to make reasoned judgments, and the school compels students to take some form of action.
    • Dialogical: the school educates students and other stakeholders by turning school into a site of dialogue. It becomes a forum for representatives of a plurality of views to engage in dialogue on peace issues of interest to the local, national & intl. community. 
    • Representational: The school educates students by examining issues, taking positions on issues, and deciding on appropriate actions the school and students can take to advocate for desired outcomes.
  • PBA believes that individuals must cultivate inner peace in order to nurture peace in their families, communities & the world.
  • PBA believes that in order to promote peace in the world, it should practice peace. It seeks to integrate practices of compassion into its instructional methods, respecting the individual dignity and integrity of all members of its sangha, or learning community.
  • PBA’s mission of peace is informed by the emerging discipline of peace studies, and its interconnected strands: international education, human rights education, development education, environmental education, and conflict resolution education.
  • PBA believes that conflict is inevitable. Rather than seeking to end all conflict situations, which would be impossible, it seeks to empower its learners to manage conflict situations with mindfulness, wisdom and compassion.
  • PBA seeks to inculcate in its learners the awareness, understanding and motivation to promote sustainability in world cultures.

Understandings about learning

  • PBA believes that all members of its sangha are learners.
  • PBA is committed to learning by doing and sharing. It seeks to understand the learning needs of all members of its sangha, or learning community – students, first and foremost, but also participating adults – and to meet those needs by supporting and challenging all learners.
  • PBA believes that in order for young people to become effective democratic citizens, they should participate in democratic structures, both in the school and in the larger community.
  • PBA believes in integrating group learning activities across its curriculum; it also believes that effective teaming takes time and needs to be taught.
  • PBA seeks to integrate its learning activities with the larger community in which it is embedded; it believes that the larger community can often provide the best classroom, which is as much to say as the best opportunities for learning.
  • PBA believes in the importance of understanding the unique strengths and potentials of each of its individual learners. It seeks to promote those strengths and potentials.
  • PBA believes in holding students to high standards of intellectual and affective rigor, insofar as that rigor promotes lifelong learning and relevant competencies in their lives. 
  • PBA seeks to promote a balance of intellectual, physical, and spiritual fulfillment for its learners.