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KACAMATA KU: Reimagining Education Based On Bhutan’s “Four Friends” Legendary Story

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

In Bhutan, one of the popular stories relates to the “four friends.” There are paintings and needlework that depict the same.

Only to find out that the “friends” are not human beings – many would not have expected so. Instead, they are non-humans: namely, a bird, a rabbit, a monkey, and an elephant. However, this has not always been the case for them.

The now four friends were once against each other, harboring the sentiments of disrespect and dislike for one another. This revolved around a tree in their area. All four of them felt entitled to the fruits of the bountiful tree.

In determining who was the most deserving, each of them shared their story of the tree. The elephant went first. According to the elephant, when it first saw the tree, the tree was around the elephant’s height, big and strong.

The monkey chimed in and said that when it first saw the tree it was around the monkey’s size, still a growing plant. Then the rabbit shared that when it first saw the tree, the tree was so small that the rabbit could drink the dew drops from its leaves.

Finally, it was the bird’s turn to speak. The bird recalled that it had dropped a seed where the tree was now growing, making the bird the first one to ever be in the area.

Unbeknownst to them, all four of them had contributed to the growth of the tree. It started when the bird “planted” the seed in the soil. As it grew, the rabbit took care of it ensuring that it became stronger and taller, and then the monkey came into the picture.

 

 

Being a creature that is familiar with trees, the monkey provided the extra care needed for the seed to turn into a lush fruit-bearing tree. Later, as it grew into a magnificent tree, the elephant with its enormous size came to protect the amazing bounty of fruits from being destroyed by those prone to irresponsible behaviors, including human beings themselves.

Finally, the time came to share the produce as the result of the collective labor of the friends.

Yet, from among the four, none was able to reach the fruits amply on their own. Or in a sustained way. As a result, they came together again to work out a plan of action to fully benefit from the tree.

It was agreed that the bird should be given the honor of picking the hanging fruits first. Then, the rabbit, monkey, and finally, the elephant according to their order of involvement. To ensure that all of them were treated “fairly,” the bird was asked to rest on top of the back of the rabbit.

The latter is privileged to sit on the monkey and in turn rides on the elephant.

In that way, all of them will have a chance not only to taste the fruits of their labor of love but also to lend support to each other’s needs.

The disrespect that they used to harbor against one another because of their own “uniqueness” and lifestyles eventually gave way to mutual respect and friendship as their understanding grew deeper.

It further deepened the need for interdependency between all the creatures, highlighting the importance of co-existence in sustainable and harmonious ways. For this, all creations and beings are said to be interconnected in a world of peace and compassion so that “no one is left behind” as prioritized as a matter of concern in today’s world of education. Any form of disruption, especially one that harms and causes negative impacts, can be very costly indeed. Resulting in the millions suffering indefinitely – shame, discrimination, or just plain biases. Let alone, the ecological environment as well as the spiritual equivalent.

In Bhutan, it goes against the national creed of Gross National Happiness (GNH) that framed the nation into what it is: Happiness is a place!

Indeed, the seemingly simple story has a lot of lessons to convey. That is, it can be easily applied in trying to Reimagine Education as that case was last week when an International Symposium was held at Paro College of Education, Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) together with the Ministry of Education.

According to the Vice-Chancellor of RUB, in 2010, Bhutan’s Ministry of Education introduced a whole country ‘Educating for GNH’ initiative. “The program was designed to infuse GNH-based values and principles, such as awareness, kindness, respect, compassion, gratitude, and resilience, into all aspects of school life.”

Recognizing the various challenges with implementation, program development, assessment, scaling, and sustainability, “a renewed focus on GNH-based education” was planned to reinitiate an academic dialogue for furthering understanding and action, based on the profound philosophy of GNH, to enhance the quality of education for a better humanity by connecting with like-minded scholars, educators, thought leaders, institutes, organizations, and colleges, from around the world.

It aimed to weave new professional networks, integrate creative insights, and activate as well as mobilize the collective wisdom for a better future and world.

GNH, after all, is a Bhutanese developmental paradigm that seeks to find a balance between materialistic gains and sustainable, equitable spiritual human development.

The underlying principles are informed by a holistic understanding of individuals, community, society, ecology, and life. The story of the “four friends,” no doubt, has a very apt place through the GNH-based education, starting from the phase of “planting” the seed such that it is well-rooted as it rises to be a magnificent tree of abundance with fruits for all to share!

Each phase mirrors the four levels from pre-school to tertiary education. This resonates well with what Buddha said in one of the famous sayings: “Just as a tree, though cut down, can grow again and again if its roots are undamaged and strong, in the same way, if the roots of craving are not wholly uprooted, sorrows will come again and again.”

This profound reminder emphasizes the need to address the root causes of suffering rather than being bogged down with superficial (human-made) issues of today’s materialistic wants over the inherent spiritual needs.

In other words, it must go beyond isolated technological actioning, and reach out collectively in transforming the entire mind-(heart)set and behavior, like the “four friends,” in global terms compassionately.  – BACALAHMALAYSIA.MY

  • The writer was an invited panelist in the Symposium held in Paro, Bhutan

 

BacalahMalaysia Team

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