BUDDHIST LEADERSHIP TRAINING
Towards a New Paradigm of Spiritual Growth for Ecology, Sustainability and Social Justice
4 September 2016 – 4 March 2017
The collaborative INEB and ETA Buddhist Leadership Training took place from 4 September to 4 March, 2016. This course was inspired by the experiences of facilitating new paradigm leadership empowerment courses to diverse groups of activists and grassroot community leaders in Southeast Asia, China and UK.
At its core is a vision to provide activists and practitioners with the spiritual energy, perspectives and skills to be able to work for social change, especially by emphasizing the ethical and spiritual dimensions of how to engage in the world and find solutions to questions about how to live together at a time of increasing social and environmental dislocation and degradation.
This was facilitated through providing space for contemplative reflection, connecting with nature, and cultivating attention in daily life; critical and systematic analytical skills to understand complexities of the modern world, especially the root causes and connections to structural violence; and experiential learning to draw lessons learned from encounters with inspiring examples of wellbeing communities. While the course title denoted a Buddhist focus, the invitation was to practitioners from all religions and beyond, who have willingness to explore and practice core values of compassion, wisdom, contentment and non-violence.
Wongsanit Ashram – an eco-spiritual community near Bangkok – was a base for learning, and some modules the group went out to see the reality in the field, for example to learn experiences with slum community dwellers, indigenous hill-tribe communities, and other places of practical study outside the Ashram. The course was in itself, an attempt to build a learning community as a lived example of how to create tangible, sustainable alternatives. By fostering critical consciousness and building caring and compassionate relationships among participants that were embedded within a wider understanding of the interconnections between humans and nature, it was an attempt to explore the possibilities of how to live wisely and act to change the damaging cultural, economic and political structures in the world beyond the training space.
In total, 116 participants joined at different times over the 6 months of the course from Southeast, East Asia, Europe, China and US. This was an incredibly diverse and rich learning community in terms of culture and worldviews, life experiences and knowledge, which contributed to the overall learning experience in ways that fostered willingness for dialogue, openness and empathy.
The 6 months of the course was broken into 2 semesters, the first with a focus on personal and interpersonal practices for healing, transformation, and wellbeing, as well as a foundational exploration into the four dimensions of sustainability through ecological, eco-political, social and worldview components, which integrated the Gaia Education Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) curriculum.
The second semester focused on exploration of socially engaged Buddhist principles that address root causes of social issues, and complementing theories and practices for social change. In order to deepen the learning experience, participants were also able to explore applications in practice from diverse communities around Thailand, especially community organizing models with marginalized communities, Sangha models of community engagement, and traditional and intentional eco-communities. They were also able to learn the fundamentals of sustainability design, to provide a framework for integrating their learning into their own living situations.
The final module of the course included a Training of Trainers in Participatory Facilitation Skills for Empowerment (accredited under Gaia Education). An important assumption is that contribution to society includes being able to share and facilitate learning processes among others. This module emphasized the skills needed to put learning into practice in ways that empower others to also contribute to changing damaging cultural, economic and political structures.
The training was a deep and meaningful experience for participants, especially the focus on mindfulness as a requisite foundation that enabled an expansion and deepening self and group learning into a holistic process of personal, social and spiritual growth.
“After 10 days I have found that being a facilitator is also the practice of how to be yourself. It’s a practice of becoming yourself.”
“I remember speaking about ego, and I am reflecting now that as a facilitator it is easy to get trapped in that space of ego. And I am guilty of that, I have stood in front of the class and told my opinions and my judgements, so I have appreciated this opportunity to release that, and I know I won’t be doing that again. I have learned a lot about harvesting the wisdom from the group, and releasing myself from that process, but at the same time bringing myself back in to the role of holding space and nurturing people. I am appreciative of the fact that we got to live in this community of practice together.”
“What I take away from this time here, is this mindfulness practice; how to bring this into my facilitating. And how to trust my intuition, how to trust it and allow it to take me to wherever it needs to go.”
Overall, the training has resulted in participants with increasing self-awareness, qualities of compassion, wisdom and generosity, and a clearer understanding of present structural violence -both at macro and micro levels. Participants have become better informed and have increased sensitivity to the root causes of the state of ecological and social destruction that is happening across the globe, along with serious learning on skills and methods to make the world a better place to live for all beings through community organizing and creating social movements.
The learning outcomes of the course were displayed in the journeys of personal transformation and the commitment to social transformation of the participants, inspired by the flow, interconnections and breadth of learning within the training.
Daniel Shienwald, UK
“The course in Wongsanit was such a perfect learning experience. I really valued everything about it. The learning we achieved was so deep I regularly experience moments in my life where I can pinpoint a new positive behaviour or insight to a particular module of the BLT course. The parts I would like to especially thank you for are the modules of the course you put together and the fantastic facilitators you got to come and teach them, your technique of facilitation which I value so highly and your ability to envelope us all in a field of support so that we could explore and discover things that would otherwise be too far out of our comfort zones. Thank you”