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Zen Driving Lessons

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Zen Driving Lessons

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Zen Driving Lessons

Zen Driving Lessons

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Sarah Hughes of member station WAMU reports on a driving school in Southern Maryland that employs a Buddhist monk as an instructor.


Safe driving requires concentration, good manners and in parts of Maryland maybe even a hint of spirituality. Folks at the American Driving School in southern Maryland have come up with a way to put zen into driver's education. From member station WAMU, Sarah Hughes reports.

SARAH HUGHES reporting:

When Tao Winn(ph), a 17-year-old from Maryland, signed up for driver's ed, she thought the course would just cover the basics.

TAO WINN (American Driving School Student): I expected it to just be all about how to drive your car. I never really realized that so much of driving is in your mind.

HUGHES: Winn's teacher turned out to be a Buddhist monk who weaves a little philosophy into the class. He's not out to win converts; he just wants to help create a common ethic of caring on Maryland's roadways. Bante Ubaratana(ph), who wears neon orange robes and walks barefoot in class, introduces one of his favorite topics to the students.

Mr. BANTE UBARATANA (Driving Instructor, American Driving School): Emotion. What is the emotion? Have--anybody have the emotion? Do you have emotion?

Unidentified Student #1: Yes.

Mr. UBARATANA: What kind of emotion are you having?

Unidentified Student #1: Happy, angry, confused.

Mr. UBARATANA: Confused. That's emotion, right. And when you get mad, what are you going to do normally? Tell me.

Unidentified Student #2: I usually get frustrated.

Mr. UBARATANA: Anger isn't a good thing to meditate. You know, if you mediate anger, anger, anger, it's all negative forces. There's a kind of sickness ongoing.

HUGHES: Ubaratana tells the students that driving while angry, nervous or agitated is a risky venture.

Mr. UBARATANA: Emotion driver, when get someone emotion, cannot perceive the world a dangerous thing. He cannot look what's going on. It is dangerous. I mean, it has--that's why happening more accidents. So awareness, alertness, concentration, mindfulness--very important thing the driving field.

HUGHES: Keeping focused and calm, he says, helps protect the driver and those around him. He calls that `a blessing to the Earth.' High school student Tao Winn says her challenge will be staying calm behind the wheel.

WINN: Take a deep breath and just relax myself, and just clear my mind from what's really making me nervous.

HUGHES: Another student, 16-year-old Joy Lee Ang(ph), says she's also going to practice mindful driving on Maryland's roadways. To her, that means putting herself in the other driver's shoes.

JOY LEE ANG (American Driving School Student): Because the world doesn't revolve around you. It's not--the world's not going to be the way you want it to be.

HUGHES: Bante Ubaratana says even he struggles to practice loving driving. He spends several hours a day in his blue minivan getting to classes or running errands for his temple, and sometimes he loses patience with drivers who switch lanes without signaling. But then he tries to empathize. Maybe they just had a rough day. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Hughes.

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