A deep understanding of human development, from infancy to adulthood, is at the foundation of the Middle Way Education and influences all aspects of our comprehensive model, including pedagogy, teacher training, school design, and the scope and sequence of our curriculum. What makes the Middle Way Three-Branch model unique is that it merges current research on human development in the fields of psychology, medicine, and education with Buddhist psychology and practice.
The Three Branch model is based on the development of body, speech, and mind, and is guided by the classical Buddhist threefold training of Prajna, Samadhi, and Shila, which support and refine cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development
In the context of education, Prajna, Samadhi, and Shila can be understood as knowledge, meditation, and discipline. On an ultimate level, they are perfected, naturally arising qualities. On a relative level, they are the paths that students travel toward progressively understanding and manifesting these qualities through body, speech, and mind. On a practical level, they serve as a reference for teachers in tracking students’ learning and differentiating instruction.
The Three Trainings are perfected by the Buddhist practices that lead to liberation: right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration, right intention, and right view. In the course of training in Shila, right speech, right action, and right livelihood naturally arise. In the course of training in Samadhi, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration naturally arise. In the course of training in Prajna, right intention and right view naturally arise.
Physical Development | Manifesting with Confidence in the World
Our physical body is the vehicle of all of our actions from birth to death. When the stages of physical development are aligned with the three trainings, the capacity to embody the teachings of wisdom and compassion increases. With Shila, the relationship to physical form is refined, intrinsic discipline and confidence unfold, and a sense of contentedness grows. With Samadhi, the power of form as a vessel for cultivating meditative awareness and compassion is realized. With Prajna, view is applied to physical conduct, understanding why and how we do what we do. And knowing our limits — and our limitlessness — confers inspiration and confidence.
Humans grow through stages of social-emotional development, expanding from familial connections into the development of community and the eventual connection with society as a whole. In order to live harmoniously at all of these stages, an awareness of our connection to others is essential. When the stages of social-emotional development are aligned with the three trainings, the capacity to exchange with the world with wisdom and compassion increases. With Shila, we become aware of how our conduct impacts relationships. With Samadhi, non-distraction is the foundation for developing compassion for all beings. With Prajna, an understanding of dependent arising strengthens our appreciation for the necessity of relationship and a reverence for other is cultivated, while an understanding of the logic of emotions increases self-knowledge.
Cognitive growth starts in infancy with limited distinctions between self and other. As children grow, they move through stages of concrete, critical, and systems thought, and the ability to understand oneself and the outer world is progressively sharpened. When the stages of cognitive development are aligned with the three trainings, wisdom and compassion increase and students develop a deep understanding of the phenomenal world. With Shila comes an awareness of the far-reaching impact of personal conduct, and the habit of mind training is developed. With Samadhi, meditative focus is used for increasingly complex cognitive tasks. When cognitive development is trained with Prajna, the realm of pure intellect, metacognition is magnified. When the root cause of suffering is observed with pure intellect, it can be cut at the source.