Academic Exchange Quarterly Spring 2003: Volume 7, Issue 1

Teaching Mindfully
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Digital Literacy and the “Middle Way” 

While contemporary teachers are expected to encourage students to learn how to use 
the internet, email, and streaming discussions (electronic bulletin boards), these 
forms of communication can also erode mutual respect between students and teachers.  
Instant communication by email and relatively anonymous communication in class 
chat rooms or streaming discussions may tempt students to express hostilities toward 
their teachers that are seldom articulated in person.  As a teacher, it can be 
difficult not to react with resentment toward the student when such a missive is 

The “Middle Way” taught by Buddha may be helpful as we consider how to use electronic 
communications in our courses and student relationships.  According to Bukkyo Dendo 
Kyokai’s 1995 edition of The Teaching of Buddha, Buddha’s Middle Way avoided the 
extremes of asceticism and indulgence:  Three ways of practice lead to the Noble 
Eightfold Path, which entails four viewpoints to consider, four procedures to follow, 
five faculties to use, and the perfection of six practices.  “The four right 
procedures are: First, to prevent any evil from starting; second, to remove any evil 
as soon as it starts; third, to induce the doing of good deeds; and fourth, to 
encourage the growth and continuance of good deeds that have already started.”   

While we can establish ground rules for electronic communication, as we do for 
classroom and written communication, we cannot prevent students from posting 
inflammatory messages on a bulletin board or sending us nasty email.  However, we 
can try to implement the other three procedures.  Shakyamuni Buddha once taught his 
disciples to endure others’ provocations peacefully when they asked to leave an 
inhospitable town and avoid others like it.  “There will be no end in that way.  
We had better remain here and bear the abuse patiently until it ceases….There are 
profit and loss, slander and honor, praise and abuse, suffering and pleasure in this 
world; the Enlightened One is not controlled by these external things; they will 
cease as quickly as they come.”   By refusing to respond in anger or with sarcasm, 
we can deflate some of the power of hostile electronic communication.  As Buddha 
also taught, “Resentment should not be cherished for long….Resentment can not be 
satisfied by resentment; it can only be removed by forgetting it.”   

By listening to students’ concerns and dealing with those concerns fairly in spite 
of the manner in which they are communicated, we may hope to demonstrate better 
behavior, a different way of relating. “Hatreds never cease by hatreds in this world.  
By love alone they cease.  This is an ancient Law.”   Finally, we can encourage 
growth by admitting our own mistakes in the student relationship, even when they may 
be relatively small in comparison to the rancor or behavior of the student.  As a 
teacher, I should be the more mature one in the relationship, held to a higher 
standard.  Buddha observed, “It is easy to point out the mistakes of others, while 
it is hard to admit one’s own mistakes.  A man broadcasts the sins of others without 
thinking, but he hides his own sin as a gambler hides his extra dice.”  By 
demonstrating humility in this area, we can hope to encourage the student’s own 
desire for integrity. 

On the other hand, students bear responsibility for their own behavior, electronic 
or otherwise.  According to Mahayana Buddhist teachings, “A pupil should always rise 
when his teacher enters, wait upon him, follow his instructions well, not neglect an 
offering for him, and listen respectfully to his teaching.”    While most of us 
cannot expect this kind of behavior from students (though I did experience it when 
teaching at the Japan Global Academy for Pastors), Buddha’s Middle Way of 
student-teacher relations is a reminder that many of us tend to set the bar too low 
in our expectations for student behavior.  In setting ground rules for student 
communication in the classroom and electronically, we have both a right and a 
responsibility to demand respect not only for other students but also for ourselves.  
“At the same time,” the passage continues, “a teacher should act rightly before a 
pupil and set a good example for him; he should correctly pass on to him the teaching 
he has learned; he should use good methods and try to prepare the pupil for honors; 
and he should not forget to protect the pupil from evil in every possible way.  If a 
teacher and his pupil observe these rules, their association will move smoothly.” 

We need the support of colleagues and administrators to create and maintain student 
relationships of such consistent equanimity, especially when it is as easy for us as 
it is for students to email a thoughtless message or response.  “On a trip a man 
should travel with a companion of equal mind or one who has a better mind; one had 
better travel alone than to travel with a fool,” declares a Buddhist proverb.   We 
cannot expect our students to provide the level of companionship we need for a mature 
intellectual and spiritual journey.  

As we continue to explore new ways to integrate digital literacy into our teaching, 
we have to acknowledge and address the temptation to disrespect each other that 
these new technologies create.  As teachers, we must model – even pioneer – ways 
of using these new communication formats with integrity to encourage intellectual 
freedom, growth and maturity.  Like Buddha, we can teach both through explanation 
of specific practices and through the example of our own self-discipline: “The 
teachings which I have given you, I gained by following the path myself.”

Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai. The Teaching of Buddha. Tokyo: Kosaido, 1995, 332.

Heather Ann Ackley Bean, Ph.D.
Azusa Pacific University 

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