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So, the keywords:

  • “replenish” — term sums up human-human relationship as per Jean Vanier’s book Becoming Human
  • “heartmindfully” — term translates citta = heart + mind + not forgetting the body
  • “to the 7th generation” — metaphorizes the long-term Indigenous responsibility for thought and action

Replenishing One Another

Heartmindfully, to the Seventh Generation

To explore the question of how cross-cultural knowledges can inform the directions and modes in which the human potential of individuals and their communities could unfold, the present paper samples paradigms within the Buddhist and Native North American traditions, and further expands the “difference” taxonomy with the philosophy behind Jean Vanier’s L’Arche network of homes for the disabled. The comparative exploration of such purposefully chosen disparate epistemic-experiential spaces shows that they in fact have in common relatedness to Self, Other, and broader ecosystems. What is more, their overlap matches aspects of Western paradigmatic rebellions such as feminism, ecological and systems thinking models, critical (race/equity) theorizations, a.o., and harkens to the pragmatism of Peirce, James, and Dewey.

The noted overlap is proposed as what can make a difference in education (institutional and life-long) by orienting it toward a world-wide consciousness shift for mutually beneficial thinking-feeling-acting. This is in tune with scholarly efforts that have yielded approaches/models such as Claudia Eppert’s (2010 & elsewhere) “intercultural healing ethic”, Daniel Vokey’s (2001) “moral discourse in a pluralistic world”, Scott Pratt’s (2002) “rethinking of the roots of American philosophy”, James Tully’s (2009, 2014) Indigenous-knowledges informed “public philosophy”, or Jean Vanier’s (1998/2008) tao of “becoming human”.

Starting with Buddhism, its multiple streams (the earlier Theravada Buddhism, the later Tibetan Buddhism, or Zen Buddhism), generated over a period of more than 2,500 years, has a relatively long tradition of exchanges with the West. As far as current insights about concrete applications in educational settings, a number of scholars have engaged key notions like “mindfulness” (in Pali: sati), “heartmind” (Pali and Sanskrit: citta), or the four “divine abodes” (brahmavihāras), commonly rendered as “compassion”, “equanimity”, “lovingkindness”, “sympathetic joy” (in Pali: karunā, upekkhā, mettā, muditā, respectively).

While mindfulness, with its relatively Buddhism-independent status in e.g. current neuropsychology and psychiatry, may not even qualify as cross-cultural translation (of sati) because it misses its content (see Don Nelson, 2010, for the “scientific approach” relying on brain state neurophysiological assessments in D.J. Siegel, 2007, a.o.), there are other notions which seem to exemplify that. A good illustration is the nondualistic “heartmind [and body]” (citta, as in bodhicitta), which, being a single word in Pali, lends an extra leverage to Claudia Eppert’s (2010) de-dichotomization project, and by extension to her argument for citta-informed “heartmind literacy” that, compared to the well exercised “emotional literacy”, is, one might say, a few steps ahead on the way to restoring humans to wholeness, and education to a matching mode.  In a similar vein, Mary Jo Hinsdale (2012) proposes an “ethic of love” to guide the interactions of a professor with her students (and vice versa, I’d add), whereby she replenishes Kelly Oliver’s “theory of witnessing” with the divine abodes, foregrounding “lovingkindness”. Just as Eppert, gaining conceptual-affective traction from Buddhism, argues for a revisioned “heartmind literacy” and also opens up the understanding (Nussbaum’s, a.o.) of the closely related notion of “compassion”, so does Hinsdale enrich Oliver’s argument, and her own, for a view of Self-formation that entails “mutual subjectivity” rather than being bound by the standard, descended from Hegel, of identity-building by way of “recognition” predicated on strife/confrontation.

In a cross-cultural dialogue, the Buddhism scholars discussed above are building bridges to ultural traditions from the “third world”, whether at its original geographical location, or transposed to any other point around the globe by migrants. By giving dignity to culturally distinct knowledges, and thereby to the Others that embody them and to the embedding cultures, the authors can be thought of as contributing substantially to Eppert’s “intercultural healing ethic” project.

Similarly valuated flows can be tracked in Scott Pratt’s argument for a pre-contact “Native pragmatism”, which foreshadowed the classical pragmatism of Peirce, James, and Dewey. He conceptualizes four foundational principles that drive it, namely, interaction, pluralism, community, and growth. By closely following the historical record of exchanges between Indigenous peoples of the American North-East and European settlers, he projects a connection, however indirect, to the founders of American pragmatism, in whose later philosophies he sees the four principles resurfacing. Thus, in a radical move, he puts Indigenous knowledges and their embodying humans, not just on a par with (post-)settler America. In effect, he aligns them with the original colonizer, Europe, whose cultural elites treated the New World as an intellectual clone at best, and first peoples as epistemologically (and even bodily) invisible, only giving grudging (if any) recognition to pragmatism as the first properly American philosophical approach. Taking a look at the West Coast, Richard Atleo, among a growing number of Indigenous scholars, has shown that the Nuu-chah-nulth worldview of tsawalk, or “ontological unity” (a.k.a. interconnectedness), can go far in suggesting an ecologically oriented way of being in the world, informing public activism and state policy (cf. Tully’s public philosophy). As is well known, a number of Indigenous nations pledge responsibility for the world, as the idiom goes, “to the seventh generation”.

Switching situatednesses from the ethnic-political to the embodied, through his work with L’Arche homes for the disabled, Jean Vanier develops a philosophy that is very much in line with the deeper relatedness message of the previous theorizations. “Becoming human” shapes up as the process that teaches one to love difference and its presumed uncanniness/inferiority as well as, and, conversely, to believe in oneself and in the possibility and reality of being loved despite one’s difference.  Far from surprisingly, Vanier shares that the able-bodied and privileged can learn how to give love to the least attractive, in what can aptly be described as the “to and fro” of relationship that is mutually replenishing.

To conclude, in establishing a common denominator the juxtaposition of concordant “old” and “(re)new(ed)” knowledges of relatedness to Self, Other, and the rest of (a)biotic Nature may be downplayed as a cliché (cf. the so-called Golden Rule of loving one’s neighbour that is cross-culturally pervasive). However, I propose to treat the established convergence as an affirmation of a “real would-be” (in Peircean terms) and an opportunity for a turning point in human history. By this token it becomes a promising, edifying (in Rorty’s 1979 terms), formal and public education agenda for the directions and modes in which to think, feel, intuit, act,… and ultimately live-with, and live on.

 

References

Atleo, E. Richard a.k.a. Umeek (2004) Tsawalk: A Nuu-chah-nulth Worldview. Vancouver and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press.

———- (2011) Principles of Tsawalk: An Indigenous Approach to World Crisis. Vancouver and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press.

Eppert, Claudia (2010) “Heartmind Literacy: Compassionate Imaging and the Four Brahmavihäras”, Paideusis 19, no 1 (2010), pp. 17-28.

Eppert, Claudia and Hongyu Wang, eds. (2008) Cross-cultural Studies in Curriculum: Eastern Thought, Educational Insights. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum/Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

Hinsdale, Mary Jo (2012) “Choosing to Love”, Paideusis 20, no 2 (2012), pp.  36-45.

Nelson, Donald (2010) “Implementing Mindfulness: Practice as the Home of Understanding”. Paideusis 19, no 1 (2010), pp.  4-14.

Nhat Hanh, Titch (1998) Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism. Berkeley: Parallax Press.

Oliver, Kelly (2001) Witnessing: Beyond Recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pratt, Scott L. (2002) Native Pragmatism: Rethinking the Roots of American Philosophy. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Rorty, Richard (1979) Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979).

Tully, James (2009) Public Philosophy in a New Key. Volume I: Democracy and Civic Freedom, Volume I I: Imperialism and Civic Freedom. Cambridge University Press.

———- (2014) On global citizenship: James Tully in dialogue. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Vanier, Jean (1998/2008) Becoming Human. CBC Massey Lectures Series. Toronto, ON: House of Anansi Press.

Vokey, Daniel (2001) Moral Discourse in a Pluralistic World. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

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