Teacher Resources
Buddhist Places

Suggested Grade Level: Grade 10, World History, Culture, and Geography—The Modern World ; Grade 12, Principles of American Democracy
Subject: Social Studies, History
Estimated Time: Up to 1 week

Seated BuddhaSeated BuddhaMaitreya, the Buddha of the Future





Seated Buddha
Sri Lanka, 12th century
Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Mark Phillips and Iuliana Phillips, 2001.56.62

Seated Buddha
Vietnam, 19th century
Lacquered wood
Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Museum Purchase with funds from the Bressler Foundation, 1996.28.2

Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future
Tibet, early 14th century
Silver with traces of gilding
Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift from the Nancy King Collection, 2001.1.1

Many of us in the West consider Buddhism to be one of the most peaceful of the world religions. After all, the Buddha spoke of the wisdom of the Middle Path, which counsels believers to act and speak rightly, without clashing with others. And yet, in the 20th and 21st centuries, nations in which a significant portion of the population practice Buddhism have been torn by conflict. Often global political conflicts have affected an entire region; in other nations, ethnic tensions have led to bloodshed and violence.

These artworks provide an entry point for students to research and present their ideas and findings about strains shaping regions where men and women practicing Buddhism have had a significant role in shaping their countries’ histories.

Lesson Objectives
1. Understand basic tenets of Buddhism as they relate to the practitioner’s daily, social and political life
2. Gain specific content knowledge of ongoing political events within Southeast and Central Asia
3. Hone library and internet research skills.

Instructional Materials

Activity and Discussion
The three artworks above--from Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Tibet—all represent nations that have had significant events take place that relate to their Buddhist populations. Students should use historical analysis or literary devices such as haiku to reflect on the way these artworks connect to the events they are exploring. Ask students to form groups to research and present their findings on:

1. Present-day conflict between the Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka. What is the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka? Of Hinduism? What role does Buddhism play in Sinhala nationalism? Do students, based on their research, have recommendations for resolving the conflict?

2. In 1963, a Buddhist monk burned himself to death in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) to protest the Catholic government’s banning of Buddhist celebrations. His act brought world attention to Vietnam and the role of the U.S. government in supporting what some saw as a corrupt regime. What were the issues surrounding the monk’s protest? How did his action mesh with Buddhist beliefs? What is the history of Buddhism in Vietnam and what role does it play today?

3. Before the 1950s, Tibet was an independent nation isolated from the rest of the world. What happened to change Tibet’s isolation? What role has a Buddhist leader played in keeping these events in front of the eye of the world?

4. In spring 2001, the government of Afghanistan destroyed the monumental Buddhist statues carved hundreds of years ago. What is the history of Buddhism in Afghanistan? What is the history of the statues of Buddha in Bamiyan? Debate: should the statues be rebuilt?

California State Educational Standards:

Grade 10
10.9 Students analyze the international developments in the post-World War II world, in terms of:

2. the causes of the Cold War, with the free world on one side and Soviet client states on the other, including competition for influence in such places as Egypt, the Congo, Vietnam, and Chile

4. the Chinese Civil War, the rise of Mao Tse-tung, and the subsequent political and economic upheavals in China (e.g., the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the Tiananmen Square uprising)

10.10 Students analyze instances of nation-building in the contemporary world in two of the following regions or countries: the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and other parts of Latin America, or China, in terms of:

4. challenges in the region, including its geopolitical, cultural, military, and economic significance and the international relationships in which it is involved the recent history of the region, including the political divisions and systems, key leaders, religious issues, natural features, resources, and population patterns the important trends in the region today and whether they appear to serve the cause of individual freedom and democracy

Students in grade ten study major turning points that shaped the modern world, from the late 18th century through the present, including the cause and course of the two world wars. They trace the rise of democratic ideas and develop an understanding of the historical roots of current world issues, especially as they pertain to international relations. They extrapolate from the American experience that democratic ideals are often achieved at a high price, remain vulnerable and are not practiced everywhere in the world. Students develop an understanding of current world issues and relate them to their historical, geographic, political, economic, and cultural contexts. Students consider multiple accounts of events in order to understand international relations from a variety of perspectives.

12.9 Students analyze the origins, characteristics, and development of different political systems across time, with emphasis on the quest for political democracy, its advances and obstacles, in terms of:

4. the consequences of conditions that gave rise to tyrannies during certain periods applied to at least two countries (e.g., Italy, Japan, Haiti, Nigeria, Cambodia)

5. the forms of illegitimate power that twentieth century African, Asian, and Latin American dictators used to gain and hold office and the conditions and interests that supported them

8. the successes of relatively new democracies in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the ideas, leaders, and general societal conditions that have launched and sustained or failed to sustain them

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