How Can Educators Teach about Buddhism?

Posted On 9 Jan 2022 by religionmatters

How Can Educators Teach about Buddhism?

Dr. Tim Hall

On a recent trip to Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art with its special exhibit, Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice Across Asia. This temporary exhibit will be shown until February 6th, at which time it will be moved to a permanent location in the museum. So I am using this blog to share my experiences at the exhibit with additional resources for educators who need more content to teach about Buddhism in their classes. I will begin with resources associated with the exhibition and then provide more general classroom resources while noting particular pedagogical perspectives to consider. 

Buddhism has influenced and been influenced by the cultures of Asia, since its earliest beginnings in India with Siddhartha Guatama (563–483 B.C.E.) or the Buddha. This influence is evidenced in Buddhist art, a source of beauty and contemplation, displayed in Encountering the Buddha. This exhibit has over two hundred objects that date over two millennia. Educators can use the artworks to demonstrate the core principles of the cultural studies method to understanding religion as follows:

  1. religions are internally diverse
  2. religions change over time
  3. religions are embedded within cultures.

My Pictures of Paths to Perfection

Paths to Perfection: Buddhist Art at the Freer | Sackler

Published by Freer|Sackler, The Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art, (Washington, D.C., 2017), pp. 230.

This book accompanies the exhibition. It offers an excellent resource for educators and students who may want to learn more about the objects in the exhibit. Educators can sample a PDF of the first 24 pages of this wonderful resource here

Buddhism Readings for Educators

Buddhism Readings for the Classroom

Below are two short religious literacy text sets sorted by grades K-2 and 3-5 for Buddhism. Please note that teachers should read and review texts before using them in the classroom to ensure alignment with curricular goals. 

Grades K-2

Bullard, Lisa, and Holli Conger. My Religion, Your Religion. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, 2015. This book provides a multi-perspective story on four major religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism.

Coombs, Kate, and Anna Emilia Laitinen. Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2017. This book showcases mindfulness poems for young readers.

Ware, Marisa Aragon. Where’s Buddha? New York, NY: Bala Kids, 2019. This text demonstrates the perspective that Buddha can be found everywhere. 

Grades 3-5

Ajmera, Maya, Magda Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon. Faith. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2009. Photographs document how children around the world celebrate their faith traditions.

Bortzer, Etan, and Robbie Marantz. What Is God? Willowdale, ON: Firefly Juvenile, 2002. This text provides a comparative introduction in text and colorful pictures to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and their sacred texts.

Buller, Laura. A Faith Like Mine: A Celebration of the World’s Religions – Seen through the Eyes of Children. London, England: DK Publication, 2006. A comprehensive informational text provides plenty of pictures that detail the major and even some of the world’s more minor faith traditions.

George, Charles. What Makes Me a Buddhist? Farmington Mills, MI: Kidhaven Press, 2005. This text discusses the origins, beliefs, praxis, and celebrations of Buddhist faith tradition.

Glossop, Jennifer, and John Mantha. The Kids Book of World Religions. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2013. An informative text details the major faith traditions of the world.

Marsico, Katie. Buddhism. Ann Arbor, MI: Cherry Lake Publishing, 2017. This text, which is part of the Global Citizens: World Religions series, describes Buddhism through text and pictures.

Osborne, Mary Pope. One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship. New York, NY: Knopf, 1996. A non-fiction story uses photographs to detail seven major faith traditions today.

Saiwai, Tetsu. The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography. New York, NY, 2008. This excellent manga biography of the Dalai Lama provides insight into Tibetan/Chinese politics. 

Wills, Anna, and Nora Tomm. Who Believes What? Exploring the World’s Major Religions. Toronto, ON: Owlkids Books, 2018. 

Videos on Buddhism for the Classroom

Harvard Divinity School: Religion and Public Life: Buddhism

Religion for Breakfast: Who is the Buddha?

Religion for Breakfast: What is Buddhism?

Harvard Divinity School: Religion and Public Life: Misunderstandings about Religion (Cultural Studies Approach to Religion)