Appendix 3: Controversy over the FWBO's Education Work
b | Letters to the Times Educational Supplement
I was very disappointed to see in your article 'Buddhist Group "Misleading" Pupils' (TES 12/6198; p.10) accusations against the FWBO and the Clear Vision Trust which are both unsubstantiated and unfounded.
In my view it is wrong of your paper to repeat these damaging accusations, without attempting to establish their veracity. Neither Lord Avebury, nor the Liberal Democrats have produced a scrap of evidence to support them - and neither has the TES. Indeed both Lord Avebury and the Liberal Democrats tell us they have not seen any Clear Vision material. A responsible approach would have pointed out this lack of evidence.
The TES had a further responsibility to ask whether these claims were well-founded. In fact Clear Vision's materials cover the key doctrines and practices common to all Buddhist traditions, as outlined in the SCAA model syllabus. Numerous leading figures in the RE field will vouch for the integrity and value of its materials, and its work supporting teachers dealing with Buddhism in response to their Locally Agreed Syllabus.
In addition to repeating the claims of others, the TES has exaggerated them.
1. The claim that the 'FWBO is accused of ignoring spiritual tenets and inflating the spiritual importance of figures from its own leadership' is unattributed and has no basis in any of the published material. It touches on the fact that what is happening here is a disagreement among Buddhists about the nature of the Buddhist faith. In its uncritical repetition of these views the TES risks supporting a sectarian stance.
2. 'Orthodox Buddhists posted a critical dossier on the Internet.' The Internet document is anonymous (a fact that is not mentioned). The effect of this statement is to contrast these 'orthodox' authors with the FWBO's presumed unorthodoxy. However, the FWBO does consider itself to be orthodox. The TES has therefore taken it upon itself to judge what is orthodox in Buddhism - which is surely an abuse of its position.
3. Your article gives a strong impression that something is badly wrong with the FWBO and its educational work. However, it almost entirely fails to specify the nature of these concerns, the one exception being the claim that Clear Vision material ignores the Theravada school. I find it hard to see that in itself this would justify these concerns; and in any case it is quite incorrect. Clear Vision materials illustrate the variety and diversity of Buddhism and show Buddhists from a number of schools including the Theravada.
I hope you will do everything in your power to redress the damage you have done a respected and valuable educational body.
FWBO Communications Office
St Mark's Studios
London N7 8SJ
The above was publised in the TES 20.6.98
Written to the Editor, the TES; published 3.6.98
I am writing to you as Secretary of the Association of Religious Education Advisors and Consultants (AREAC) regarding the article 'Buddhist Group "Misleading" Pupils'.
The vast majority of Local Education authority advisors are members of the association and know the work of the Clear Vision Trust and the educational materials it has produced. They find that these resources are of a high and professional standard, are well-regarded within the RE profession and have been effective in the teaching of Buddhism across the key stages.
Some of the members of the Clear Vision Trust are themselves teachers who have been employed in an advisory capacity by an LEA. They are well aware of the issues involved in non-confessional RE and the need to maintain breadth and balance in their materials. Of course they represent a particular view of Buddhism, but this is no different from Catholic or Quaker materials being used in the classroom.
Part of the process of religious education is to allow students to look at a variety of faith stances, both within a particular religion and through different religions. It is up to the teachers to ensure that students are presented with a range of evidence to enable them to make considered evaluations. The Clear Vision Trust resources make a valuable contribution to this process.
Written to the Editor, the TES; but not published.
I refer to your article 'Buddhist Group "Misleading" Pupils' which appeared on June 12 1998. Allegations were made against the Clear Vision Trust for misrepresenting Buddhism in the educational videos it has produced. In the article a 'leading Buddhist' was quoted as saying that the material presented is fundamentally incorrect and varies dramatically from traditional Buddhist doctrine. One who has a clear understanding of the fundamentals of Buddhism will have difficulty in trying to fathom the basis of this allegation.
The material in the video is organised around the Three Jewels - the Buddha, his teachings and the spiritual community committed to the practice of these teachings. The Three Jewels represent the very heart of Buddhism and define what Buddhism is. Fundamental doctrines such as the Four Noble Truths, the practice of Buddhist ethics and compassion have also been highlighted in the video. They also constitute the basis of the Theravada school of Buddhism. I am therefore surprised that 'the video has been criticised for not dealing with a central tenet of Buddhism, the Theravada tradition.'
If 'tradition' here refers to the socio-cultural traditions associated with Theravada Buddhism, one would have to deal with its different variants, namely the Sri Lankan, Thai, and Burmese Theravada traditions - all of which are hardly relevant to Buddhism in Britain. Some Asian Buddhists have tried to plant the traditions of their respective countries when introducing Buddhism to the West. In many cases such traditions are more of a hindrance as it is difficult for Westerners to identify with a culture that is quite foreign to them. Buddhists need not be bound to such traditions. What is important is to distill the essence of Buddhist teachings and to apply it in the context of one's society and culture. This is apparent in the countries influenced by Buddhism in its 2500 year history. Western Buddhists should therefore evolve their own tradition of spiritual practice in a manner that is relevant to them , without having to compromise on the spirit of Buddhism. This is what I appreciate about the educational videos of Clear Vision Trust in particular, and the work of the FWBO in general.
I am a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk ordained in Theravada Buddhist tradition. I am presently residing in Singapore where I act as the spiritual advisor to the Buddhist Library, which is a Buddhist educational and resource centre. We have used the videos in question for teaching Buddhism to both children and adults. The videos are highly acclaimed by those who have watched them. Great appreciation is given to the presentation of Buddhism in a manner that is relevant to contemporary modern society, even to a 'traditional' Asian one like Singapore.
Venerable Bellanwila Dhammaratana
Buddhist Research Society
9 Lorong 29
Gelang 0401 Singapore 388065