Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dhamma For The Kids

I teach Buddhism in both the East and the West and even in places in-between, e.g. Singapore, which in the East but very Western. It's so interesting to notice the difference response to the Dhamma in different cultural milieus. Take audiences for example. In the East, e.g. Sri Lanka, its predominantly very old ladies with very young children - granny looking after the kids. Young people only ever come to the temple on festival days, and then partly to check out the talent. In the West it is predominantly the 20 to 45 age group with hardly a child in sight. Western Buddhism is primarily an individual and adult pursuit, not a family affair. This to me is one of several things that convinces me that, despite all the appearances, Western Buddhism is still not firmly established. Without Buddhist parents bringing up Buddhist kids, no enduring Buddhist community or identity can evolve. And without that, Buddhism may prove to be just a passing fad. However, I also notice that things are starting to change and the best sign of this is the number of Buddhist kids books now available. On a quick survey of the internet I found these books. Please forgive the length of this post but I couldn’t get the pictures to form up into twos or threes. I sometimes I hear Buddhist parents say things like, 'Of course I'm not bringing up Kyle as a Buddhist. I believe that every child should freely choose their own path.' I have serious problems with this (pseudo-liberal?) attitude. If the Dhamma is good enough for you, why isn’t it good enough for Kyle? Exposing your kids to the Dhamma doesn't mean you are robbing them of their freedom to choose. They can (and probably will) make up their own minds later anyway. There's a lot of superficiality out there, a lot of temptations and a lot of bad ideas. Giving your kids a good foundation in the Dhamma will help them better navigate through or avoid these (Have a look at the 'Jesus Camp' video and be frightened, be really frightened. I'm told the Scientologists have even started a kids 'outreach program').

9 comments:

Chela said...

i have seen jesus camp. and indeed i was scared.

if there's going to be a buddhist camp, i don't think it will be like that.


i remember too, that Vipassana society founded by S. N. Goenka has kiddie version. and i think that is a good way of bringing up children, and making them well-grounded in Dhamma.

Sheridan said...

Hello Bhante,

I have seen "Jesus Camp", too. It kept me up at night. It makes me think that the prevailing idea in my country is, "Our extremism is okay, because Our extremism is right!"

An irate Christian has even pulled a gun on me, as he couldn't out argue me in regards to the Bible. Though, I try and not let this sour me on the entire lot.

Buddhists in America, I don't believe, know how to package Dhamma to children. It is talked about in many Sangha's as a problem. Oratory for youth, however, isn't a skill that most Buddhists have, coming from higher education as they so often do.

I had commented you about the Thai forest tradition a while ago, and have not been able to get here to respond for a while. My sources are mostly the ones you have linked on your page! Buddhanet.net, accesstoinsight.org and the rest. The only one that you may not have access to is Kamala Tiyavanich's works. They are really remarkable.

To drag on this already horrendously long comment, I have a question. What are your thoughts on Buddha's Doctrine in regards to views? At the end of the "Karaniyametta Sutta", Lord Buddha states, "By not holding to fixed views, the pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed from all sense desires, is not born again into this world." And again, it is reitterated in Thanissaro Bhikkhu's translation of the "Magandiya Sutta":

'I argue for this'
doesn't occur to one
when considering what's grasped
among doctrines.
Looking for what is ungrasped
with regard to views,
and detecting inner peace,
I saw.

I was just curious, as thoughts on how my views were disturbing my Peace while watching Jesus Camp came up.

Thank you!

With Metta

Sheridan

David (TheDhamma.com) said...

Bhante,

I agree, the Dhamma will not be firmly established in the West without programs for kids and without the whole family being involved.

At Zen and Vipassana centers, the participants are almost all 20 to 40 as you say. Some Vajrayana groups, such as Shambhala (see: www.shambhalamountain.org/) have made some progress there. They have family programs, even retreats for the whole family.

I also like what you say about teaching the Dhamma to our children. The Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc., teach their religion to their children, why should we be any different. If it works for us, then I see nothing wrong with teaching our children.

David (TheDhamma.com) said...

(continuation from above)

In fact, in my opinion, if we do not teach our children the Dhamma, the only thing we will be doing is speeding up the decline of Buddhism or making it come about sooner if the decline has not begun.

Barry said...

I agree with your point that Buddhism will only take deep root in the West when it becomes a family matter.

But I also take a fairly spacious view of how that might happen, and how long it might take.

Western Buddhists of my age have raised children in the context of the Dharma. Whether or not my child chooses to practice Buddhism is less important to me than that she in some way embody the dharma in her life.

While Buddhist institutions are vital, the really important work is in the transformation of human lives. And that work does not depend on name and form - at least, not in my experience.

Paulo said...

Hello,

My first daughter will born in June.
And I can say that I became a Buddhist because of her.

When my wife and me started thinking of having a child, we thought that we needed a religion to help us. To help us avoid any kind of “jesus’ camps” and other traps in the way.

But when we go to dhamma centers or temples we don’t see children.

That made us worry if we had made the right choice.

Well, since the Buddhism is the only religious system that makes sense to us, now it’s too late to change ;)

But I’m also afraid if I will be able to find a Buddhist environment strong enough to help my child avoiding the traps of ‘jesus’ camps’ and even worst things out there.

Well… where I live, Buddhism is still a very new thing.
Maybe that kind of fear is the pioneers’ fear. The fear of being a “Christian” among “savages”.

I’ll do my part. I’m already buying Buddhist books for children (the few available in my language – but my daughter will have to learn English as soon as possible).

Metta,

Paulo
(from the distant central highlands of Brazil)

Paulo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alessandro S. said...

I believe most of western buddhists are scared their children might some day blame them what they blame their parents: having grown them into a religion they detest without having waited for them to have grown up enough to be able to decide themselves if and what religion they want to profess. I understand them. Take this, for instance: http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=9,6578,0,0,1,0
«Uma Thurman talks religion
San Francisco Chronicle, June 3, 2008

Los Angeles, USA -- Uma Thurman regrets her father never encouraged her to follow his Buddhist faith, because it meant she couldn't be rebellious.

The "Kill Bill" star's father, Robert, was the first westerner to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk, but never pressed his religious views onto his children.

Thurman says, "My father didn't impose his religion on us as children to the point that maybe it would have been nice to have a little more -- something to rebel against."»

Now, I understand your point and do not want to take an issue over it. But, don't you think that living in a buddhist family, that is, among people who cherish harmlessness, a lucid and dispassionate vision of man, society, the world and truth, who reject superstition and dogma, who respect the five precepts and who cultivate a sane method to discern truth from belief, don't you think that this makes the family more buddhist, even though this word is never spoken and no temple or ritual are ever brought up, than a family that every weekend goes to the temple to do merit and the like, all things that are, in my mind, what constitutes the "family religion" everywhere in the world? I'd rather let my children (as well as anyone else) wonder what makes me such a gentle and good man and consider: "This must have to do with his being a buddhist" than having them read buddhist religious literature they might detest and start associating with something that was imposed on them by a bossy father.

Joe said...

bhante, is it possible to pass me the links where you found these beautiful stories for kids?