Students in conversation

Many individuals experienced a slowdown during the pandemic. In the time spent at home, there was opportunity for reflection, where we could reexamine our education or work, as well as our connections with family and friends. As in-person learning returns in the fall, the options for higher education remain at the center of this reassessment for many students and their families. 

The past year has inspired many to seek alternative options for their higher education, abandoning traditional four-year programs in favor of a path that will open doors and prepare them for the future, but that is also rooted in mindfulness. One example of this is Dharma Realm Buddhist University (DRBU). Located in Talmage, California, within the largest Buddhist monastery in North America, DRBU encourages a contemplative, slow approach to education. Students are not bound by departments, lectures, and hierarchy. Instead, students read a collection of books and discuss them with other students and instructors in a small seminar setting. Students are encouraged to slow down, focusing on the process of learning to create more freedom and opportunities for themselves. 

A slow approach to learning

While the concept of slow education is not a new one, the concept of slow food is more common. Introduced as a response to fast food in 1986, slow food encourages incorporating local ingredients and traditions to create a quality product. Small universities like DRBU enable students and faculty to build community as they grow and harvest the ingredients of mindfulness to cultivate and share a slow education with the entire campus. This practice demonstrates how a slow lifestyle can be integrated into every aspect of student life. 

A slow education counters the expected results in higher education, such as using test scores to measure success and obtaining a specific job after graduation. Instead, it is driven by the long-term effects that the process of learning has on a student’s whole life, from a career to social interactions. Slow education focuses on the process instead of the outcome, enabling one’s professional path to become limitless because there is no specific formula to achieve a certain result. 

When a student is not bound by a department track, they have the freedom to learn a broad range of topics. Without lecture halls, a student can learn in an environment that fosters collaboration and deep thought. Without hierarchy, a student can practice discovery and follow lines of inquiry that they choose for themselves, building confidence. For high school students looking to find careers that match their passions, it’s imperative that they gain the confidence to explore themselves and their interests without limitations.

A contemplative life and slow education lead to lifelong learning

A slow, mindful approach has benefits beyond higher education. As we encounter the infinite scroll in social media in our day-to-day lives, we are overwhelmed with information. It can lead us to draw connections and spot patterns where there might be none. By reacting too quickly or not taking time to understand all the facts, misinformation spreads and misunderstandings lead to large-scale conflicts. Through a slower approach, we hold the spirit of questioning paramount and foster the habit of uncovering our own biases in a kind and caring way.

The learning process requires each student to listen to multiple perspectives in a room and consider the vastly different experiences that lead to their classmates’ perceptions. This is more representative of the real world, where people of different ages, faiths, and backgrounds must coexist, sharing with and learning from one another. 

This listening is not purely intellectual but can also have an affective dimension. Because of its ties to Buddhist traditions, DRBU’s emphasis on contemplative exercises draws the student’s attention to these two dimensions. This type of education requires more “abiding” and “dwelling” than necessarily “advancing” or “progressing.” Learning from both the Eastern and Western worlds is also key to getting a global perspective. Together with the cohort-based shared inquiry classroom, these practices build a community based on an “ethic of care.” 

Collaboration, deep listening, working together, and an ethic of care—these are foundational qualities that underlie any successful citizen in our fast-moving society, no matter their specific profession. Cultural sensitivity and inner stability are incredibly valuable for employers. A slow education is an invitation to discover something deep about the world and about one’s self, where a career is one part of a long and fulfilling life.