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Penn class teaches students how to live like monks

Associate professor Justin McDaniel’s religious studies class on monastic life and asceticism gives students at the University of Pennsylvania a firsthand experience of what it’s like to be a monk.

Students participating in the class are required to observe disciplines drawn from various monastic traditions, including refraining from using any technology other than electric lighting, quitting coffee and alcohol, avoiding physical contact and prolonged eye contact, and eating only unprocessed foods.

Students also have to follow a dress code, with males wearing black shirts and females wearing white shirts, and males and females have to sit on opposite sides of the classroom.

That’s not all.

No makeup, jewelry or hair products. Laptops are prohibited; notes can be taken only with paper and pen. And don’t even think of checking your cellphone for texts or email.

The disciplines are introduced gradually, but there is a full month of intensive restrictions that begins in mid-March:

Students can only eat food in its natural form; nothing processed. They can’t eat when it’s dark, nor speak to anyone while they eat. They must be celibate, foregoing even hugs, handshakes and extended eye contact. No technology except for electric light. They can read for other classes, but news from the outside world is forbidden.

Students are required to confess and acknowledge any transgressions of the rules in their class journals.

There are no exams for the class, which is graded entirely on the basis of participation and personal integrity.

Students see many personal benefits flowing from participation in the class.

As a nursing major at the Ivy League school in Philadelphia, [sophomore Madelyn] Keyser [20, of Castro Valley, California] said she hopes the class will help her become more observant and a better listener to her patients.

Students also have to write in a journal every 30 minutes during their waking hours. And required course research cannot be done online — students must consult books and librarians, or have conversations with religious leaders.

Freshman Rachel Eisenberg said she enrolled because it’s important “to figure out yourself before you can really help other people.”

“It would give me a chance to really listen to myself and focus on my needs and feelings,” said Eisenberg, 18, of Miami.

There were 100 applicants for the course, but this was whittled down to 17 students.

McDaniel’s course sounds like a fascinating way for students to learn about themselves.

via the Houston Chronicle

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Bodhipaksa is a Buddhist practitioner and teacher, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, and a published author. He founded Wildmind in 2001. Bodhipaksa has published many guided meditation CDs and guided meditation MP3s.

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