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Exploring Human Nature: A Journey of Balanced Life

The first half of the Fall semester modular period 2 has recently come to an end. Parami offers a variety of exciting courses, including What is Human Nature? Across-Cultural Approach, taught by Dr. Will Buckingham, a visiting faculty member at Parami. In the class, the students have studied a lot of different philosophical traditions from ancient Greece, ancient China, Buddhism to contemporary philosophy, particularly exploring Confucianism and its insights into ethics and society.

Throughout the 8-week course, students got a chance to explore some of the most profound questions about human nature, drawing from history, literature, global philosophy, anthropology, and the sciences. The lectures also touched on the political and ethical implications of how we think about human nature, including both the limits and possibilities that are ours by virtue of being human. 

For the mid-term paper, the students wrote insightful and reflective essays exploring concepts drawn from Confucianism and the ideas from the course that most sparked their interest.

“I found some of the concepts from Confucianism interesting. I can relate them to some of the philosophical ideas in Buddhism. Xunzi said that to live a peaceful life, we have to learn to manage our desires. Meanwhile, in Buddhism, we believe in eradicating desire. In reality, we cannot eliminate our desire completely, but we can learn how to control it,” said Thiha, a graduate student from Mon State. 

In the course, students also learned about the philosophy of Mengzi, or Mencius, another Confucian philosopher who argued that human nature is good and every human is born with the shoots or sprouts of four virtues: Righteousness, Ritual propriety, Wisdom, and Benevolence. Mengzi argues that humans can only cultivate their inner goodness when they have all their fundamental needs and external conditions met as part of a flourishing society. 

“Different philosophers try to find a way of living for us to become better humans. Knowing about human nature is important for youth, but for this, we need to develop the right philosophy and right understanding,” Thiha continued. 

Students also explored the work of another Confucian philosopher, Xunzi. Unlike Mengzi, Xunzi argued that goodness is not natural to a human being. To be good, we need to cultivate goodness. We need to create goodness artificially instead of bringing out our inner goodness. And one way we do this is through education.

Zun, a graduate from the 6th Cohort of Parami Leadership Program (PLP), reflected on the concept saying that “I agree that we need education, but we cannot just follow one mentor’s wisdom. If the mentor is giving us the wrong concepts, then we need to change to another. Otherwise, education is counterproductive. You need to differentiate what is good and what is bad.”

One of Xunzi’s arguments is that ritual brings about harmony. But ritual does not have to be religious. There are lots of ritual ways of bringing people together and creating social harmony. “I like the aspect of bringing people together,” Zun said. “An example of a non-religious ritual is the Yangon Film festival held in Yangon in 2019. It was free and accessible for everyone regardless of social status and socioeconomic background. So you could see this as a ritual that brings people together and brings their goodness together.”

But if ritual brings about harmony, is this harmony only temporary? Here, Zun raised some thought-provoking questions about creating sustainable happiness and social harmony. "How can we make this temporary happiness and harmony last longer? How can we bring social harmony to last longer than just one event? Are we going to keep making this ritual like every week of every month? Or are we going to change the entire social structure to cultivate more goodness in people, as Mencius suggested?" 

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