Freedom From Fear

Introduction

This essay assignment asks students to connect ideas they've learned from studying the Dhammapada to Aung San Suu Kyi's essay "Freedom from Fear."

Motivation

Western students may have associated Buddhism with Tibetan Buddhism - this activity helps them see Buddhism in a different context, and how it can be used as a means of resistance.

Logistics

This is best done as an essay assignment to give students proper time to think through the relevant connections.

Texts / Connections

Relevant texts:
Dhammapada
Aung San Suu Kyi's "Freedom From Fear" (available here)

Courses and Topics

Introduction to Philosophy, Introduction to Asian Philosophy, Ethics, Buddhist Ethics

Activity Plan

Ask students to read the essay Freedom From Fear, by Aung San Suu Kyi. Give them the following essay prompt:

"Write a 2-4 page essay addressing the following questions:
Who is Aung Sung Suu Kyi? Why did she win a Nobel Peace Prize? What has her life been like?
What are the most important points in her speech “Freedom from Fear”? What does this speech have to do with the political climate in Burma / Myanmar?
What does the speech have to do with the Dhammapada? What is the relationship between desire and fear?"

In particular, it is nice for students to make the connection that for Buddhist, fear might stem from the same mistaken view of self that desire stems from, and thus both problems have the same root cause.

Discussion

Recently, Aung Sung Suu Kyi has made several controversial statements and decisions. This might provide a fruitful opportunity for discussing how we should evaluate moral exemplars who make moral mistakes and how we should adjust our own behavior, perspectives, and attitudes when we realize that even caring, thoughtful people can make big moral mistakes.

Authorship

Seth Robertson (University of Oklahoma)
sethrobertson@ou.edu