What follows are some of my thoughts after teaching a short unit on Eastern philosophy for the first time to high school students in the Spring of 2005.

“Don’t let privilege and power get into your heart. If it has gotten in your heart than we as an institution have failed.”

I didn’t expect to hear these words when I headed back East for my brother’s graduation from Harvard Business School. Since I left Manhattan and a very promising career at ABC News to become a schoolteacher part of me has found it very difficult to connect with a world I was once very much a part of.

At ABC I felt like I starred in my own sitcom, “Undercover Yogi.” I was absolutely ecstatic when I ended up at a school where I got to teach a unit on Eastern Philosophy!

On my desk at home where I do most of my lesson planning I’ve placed a quote that reminds me of my ultimate goal as an educator: “To educate is to guide students on an inner journey toward more truthful ways of seeing and being in the world.” (Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach) A year ago, to the shock of my friends and family, I left Manhattan and a promising career at ABC News to become a high school teacher. At ABC I felt like I starred in my own sitcom, “Undercover Yogi,” I was absolutely ecstatic when I ended up at a school where my job included teaching a unit on Eastern Philosophy!

Growing up in a Brahmin household made me realize at a very young age that one can study and practice Eastern Philosophical traditions for lifetimes and yet only scratch the surface. Faced with the formidable task of exposing students to a philosophy you can only really understand experientially I had my seniors chart moments of satisfaction and dissatisfaction for one week in an attempt to prove or disprove the Buddha’s First and Second Noble Truths. Teaching and learning is powerful when it is meaningful. I knew that I couldn’t just lecture about the Noble Truths! I also had them keep a journal for the unit where they recorded their experiences practicing “conscious eating” and reflected on excerpts of readings we talked about in class. At the end of the unit students handed in reflections about what they learned if they learned anything at all. Here are some excerpts:

“If anything, this unit has helped me not only heighten the awareness of the most elemental, and consequently, ignored, characteristics of my Self, but also reevaluate my motivations in life.” – Alex 

“I’ve learned that if I become obsessed with worldly success I will be very unhappy. In our society the best available course of action is to live your life to the fullest without fear of failure and without jealousy, and to be content with the hand you are dealt.” – Max 

“Through the satisfaction/dissatisfaction lab I learned that desires are not entirely detrimental, but rather those desires for something which one obsesses over lead to discontent and suffering. One should not dwell on what one does not have, and should rather accept that which is present. I have also realized that struggling against nature leads to frustration and that it is best to follow the Tao. This unit has also opened my eyes to the way I temporarily think. Indeed, most of the time, I am thinking ahead to what is coming up, or what has happened in the past. I rarely just exist in the moment and should learn to spend more time actually enjoying what is happening, rather than thinking about what will come.” – Naomi 

“First of all, the idea of letting go of expectations, although the hardest thing to do, may be the most significant lesson of this unit. If only I didn’t care where I got into college, my life would be so much less stressful. Along with that idea is the concept of living in the moment, something that I truly believe our culture discourages, much to our detriment. Too looking into the future or re-living past experiences spoils many of our happy moments. The other experience that I found truly valuable was the satisfaction/dissatisfaction lab. While I found the results interesting, the most beneficial part of it to me was the process itself. Just as the classic science experiment of recording everything you eat heightens your awareness of what you put in your body, this lab really made me more aware of how I feel from moment to moment. It was a wonderful experience to really think about when I am happy and what makes me so, and the same for when I am unhappy. Mostly, it demonstrated the importance of the small things in life, which we often forget when overwhelmed by larger issues.” – Hannah 

“This class made me see what was wrong with my life…Before I didn’t think about why I lived the way I did or if I was accomplishing anything.” – Chelsea 

“My beliefs changed through this unit…Eastern philosophy offered a different path to the truth, that being the study of oneself.” – Casey 

“At first I was very skeptical, the teachings seemed to be not to care about the world, live in the moment. I imagined murderous mobs roaming the streets, the loss of morality, and general mayhem. It has been my experience without lots of moral advice and a strong system of government; humans tend to act very poorly in large groups. As I learned more about Eastern philosophy, however, I realized the goal is not to withdraw from the world, or not care what happens. The goal, it seems, is to care very intensely about the world, to do the right thing at all times, to follow your heart down the correct path. The detachment is not from the world, it is from the results of your actions.” – Conrad 

“This unit hasn’t so much answered questions as it has raised them. I never expected to find the sort of conclusions or peace that some seek in Eastern philosophy. Had the unit settled some of my fundamental questions, I would have not only distrusted it but also come away somewhat disappointed. Like Siddhartha, I don’t think I am at a point where I readily accept some teachings to the exclusions of others, or of my own experiences. In particular, I found the discussions we held on altruism, love, freedom an satisfaction particularly interesting.” – Julia

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