Compassion in Education; Heart-Led Learning.
Founded in 2009, Daylesford Dharma is Australia’s first mainstream primary school based on Buddhist philosophy. As a non-profit independent primary school, we combine the standard national curriculum with Buddhist practices of meditation and mindfulness to offer a unique, heart-led, and experiential learning environment.
Acknowledgment of Country
The Daylesford Dharma School acknowledges the traditional owners and custodians of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to Elders, past, present and emerging.
Our school community resides as custodians of land in Dja Dja Wurrung country, and we pay respect to their stories, traditions and living cultures.
Interim Principal Welcome
Welcome to our Daylesford Dharma School community. I’m Andrea Furness, Co-founder of the school and our Interim Principal. If you’re curious to learn more about how our primary school delivers a compelling vision to provide a quality contemporary education that is deeply embedded in Buddhist wisdom, then please explore the site and get in touch if you have any questions.
Here you’ll learn how our small community is growing our school by providing a sense of school family and belonging. You can also discover the unique learning opportunities that we provide our students with, in the landscape of the Dja Dja Wurrung country that our school is part of here in Daylesford.
A Mindful School
I feel very privileged to be involved with our students during these essential primary school years. As our students develop their foundation in education and look deeply with fresh eyes at the world they live in, we take great care to explore and develop their intrinsic positive behaviors. We support their investigations and experiences during these formative years with our integrated daily meditation and Awareness program. This is unique to our school, and supports our students (and all our learning community), to develop together the mindfulness required to meet challenges and opportunities as they arise, while we cultivate our intrinsic warm-heartedness and curiosity for the world.
We are located on 22 acres of open pasture that we are reafforesting. Our children are active Compassionate Citizens in their local community and engage in facilitated community learning experiences. Our students learn custodianship and understanding of our environment through our Bush School program and make and maintain deep connections to nature that provides them with rich learning opportunities. Each day as our students hold their attention in their classroom lessons, play in our creek, hit the cricket ball, disagree, learn to make peace…, Dharma School students are encouraged to cultivate an open mind and a generous heart, aware of their own and others’ unique abilities.
I hope to meet with you soon at one of our information evenings or on a school tour.
“I consider education to be an instrument. Whether that instrument is used rightly or wrongly depends on our basic human motivation…”
– His Holiness The Dalai Lama-
The Buddha as a Teacher
Siddartha Guatama who we know as the Buddha, was a wise and visionary educator, who during his lifetime taught for 40 years, and whose teachings have spread across the globe and continued to touch the lives of many individuals and communities for over 2300 years.
At the Dharma School, we engage in learning that comes from deep inquiry and authentic experience. We draw from the Budhha’s teachings to provide a framework for us to see and experience life as it truly is. Our students look deeply at the world they live in, with awareness of all the challenges and opportunities that exist, as they cultivate their innate potential to make a positive difference. This learning approach is similar to how the Buddha recognised the existence of suffering and discontent, encouraged deep inquiry into the root cause for this, and then taught a pathway to reduce suffering and increase happiness.
Dharma means “that which protects the mind and brings about contentment”. This also means, protection from suffering while on a path that brings happiness and contentment. This was essentially the Buddha’s teaching. Our search for happiness is usually based within the sensory realm and in our Western education system, there has generally been little education focused on how happiness can be established as a mental quality. Establishing this awareness for children at an early age is one of the motivations of the Dharma school curriculum.
This inner education is delivered at our school through a graduated and age-appropriate daily program called the Awareness program. It involves developing essential human qualities such as kindness, compassion, patience, sense of contentment, generosity of spirit, perseverance, and altruism- an attitude of “what I can give versus what I can take”. It includes the development and familiarity with meditation and mindfulness practices as tools that are integrated throughout the school day, to support this inner development. Developing these foundational inner qualities provides a stable base for clarity and engagement that enables a deep exploration of the academic curriculum to flourish.
Education that Develops Wisdom and Compassion
Realising wisdom is to directly see and understand for oneself, guided by valid reasoning. We teach children to question, to listen to other’s views, to take time to examine facts before they form beliefs, and to be open to changing beliefs.
While wisdom covers the comprehending side of our nature, compassion covers the emotional or feeling side of our nature. Compassion is made up of two words, ‘co’ meaning together and ‘passion’ meaning a strong feeling. And this is what compassion is. When we see someone in distress and we feel their pain as if it were our own, and strive to eliminate or lessen their pain, then this is compassion. When we establish this compassion as a stable quality, we then strive to extend this to all beings without exception.
Children whose education focuses upon the development of wisdom and compassion are more likely to grow into adults who live a life of compassion and kindness. Self-compassion is an important focus in this development, and this genuine self-concern can gradually mature into concern for others, as one sees that others are really not so different from ourselves in wanting contentment and to avoid suffering.
“The human heart is basically very compassionate, but without wisdom, compassion will not work. Wisdom is the openness that lets us see what is essential and most effective.”
-Venerable Khandro Rinpoche-
The Five Precepts- guidelines for living happily
The 5 precepts come down to us from the Buddha’s time and serve as guidelines for our conduct. They are like a road map to guide us to make virtuous choices with our behaviour – to guide our body, speech and mind. They can self-empower us to check in on our motivation and our actions, to avoid making choices that bring us more suffering. Our school community is guided by these precepts.
REVERENCE FOR LIFE
We are committed to protecting people, animals, plants and minerals from harm.
We care for them in a way that we would like to be cared for ourselves,
We respect all life.
Understanding the delicate balance of our ecosystem and avoiding upsetting this, as much as possible, is an important practice.
Our focus on vegetarian/vegan foods aims to teach children that we are able to make choices to reduce our impact on other beings, while still maintaining a healthy and nourishing diet.
For our younger children, reverence for life is often demonstrated in practical ways, such as being mindful of little creatures and demonstrating a desire to care for and protect them.
As children develop in their understanding, we start to see more intentional and informed choices. Some make an independent choice to follow a vegetarian diet. Others actively engage in the protection of animals or are activists to protect and preserve the natural environment. In these early years, we place great importance on learning to appreciate and love the fascinating living world we are part of. As children move into the older grades we begin to include a focus on what we can do to protect life for all.
DEEP LISTENING AND LOVING SPEECH
We listen deeply and use mindful speech.
We speak truthfully, using words that inspire confidence, joy and hope. We speak and listen in a way that can help ourselves and others.
For our younger children, who are developing their vocabulary around loving speech, we know that they are also wanting to experiment with cause and effect through their language. It is not uncommon for our younger children to play with words such as bum and poo, and to test how these words are received by their peers and also by adults. We focus our teachings on redirecting and helping children to develop a vocabulary of kind and loving words. We also provide opportunities to practice this language through activities such as setting intentions and participating in sharing circles.
In our older children, the use of language starts to become more nuanced. We work to teach them compassionate communication, and to develop strategies to resolve differences in peaceful and harmonious ways.
Children are supported to understand that to speak the truth is to follow the path of righteous behaviour, and to have the courage to speak openly and honestly, without fear of punishment.
We are respectful of our bodies and the bodies of others.
We are committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of our energy and cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness.
We teach children strategies for caring for their bodies and minds in harmony. This is put into practice by recognising where in their bodies they feel emotions, whilst also practising breath work and learning how to transform emotions.
We teach children to shape their own personal ‘body bubble’, and to enter into others’ bubbles only with respect and permission.
We guide children to understand the range of emotions we experience, and to consider how to express and manage emotions without impacting others’ sense of security and safety within their own bubble.
In younger children, understanding of body responsibility is very much based on developing an awareness of space and movement. As children become older we move towards a deeper understanding of caring for our body as a system and making educated and informed decisions in how we care for our bodies with reverence.
We choose food, drink and activities that are healthy for ourselves and others.
We contemplate interdependence and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy and well-being for all living things.
We prioritise nude food to encourage nutrition and reduce packaging, local produce and products to reduce food and product miles, and reuse of materials where possible. Our ‘thrifty’ mindset allows us to consider our carbon footprint.
We have an ethical purchasing policy that guides our school’s consumer decision making in order to minimise the impact we have on people, communities and the environment.
In our younger children, much learning comes through observation of others and the practises that are implemented by the family, while in older children, they are starting to make their own decisions around what they consume, perhaps by making their own lunches, or starting to prepare meals at home and by showing discernment in decision making.
We do our best to share and be generous when we think, speak and act.
We give compassion to those in need.
We always ask when borrowing.
We believe that being generous and honest allows us to truly connect with the best in ourselves.
In younger children, generosity is often demonstrated in the sharing of personal possessions.
In older children, the notion of sharing time and energy to help guide and support others becomes more pronounced, particularly as they start to develop their own ideas around being a good friend. The notion of service to one’s community also becomes more pronounced.
EVERY CHILD’S INNATE POTENTIAL
In Buddhism, there is the understanding that all beings have a Buddha-nature. This Buddha-nature is the innate potential to be enlightened at the deepest level. This natural potential allows for the mind and heart to be fully cultivated at its deepest wisdom level, joined with fully developed compassion.