“Ah rah pat sa na di di!”
~ My daughter, Nissa, shouting the mantra of Manjushri, Bodhisattva of Wisdom
I can’t believe how interested my daughter is in Buddhist practice.
She seems more interested in learning about Buddhism than she is in learning about almost anything else. Taking her to the Sunday Dharma School at the Rime Center makes her very happy. She is thrilled that I teach her and the other children about Buddhism. A lot of the children are, actually.
There are usually 10 to 15 kids, between the ages of 4 and 12. It’s hard to have lessons that can interest the very young kids and the oldest ones, but we do pretty well. I feel like I’ve learned as much from the kids as they have learned from me and the other teachers.
I am in charge of Dharma School, but I have to admit it’s more something I fell into than something I earned.
We chant mantras at the Rime Center. We chant them in a nice and relaxing way. When the children chant the mantras, they get excited. Nissa shouts the mantras—sometimes, the other kids giggle. But it makes me wonder, why shouldn’t we be excited about chanting a mantra for greater wisdom or compassion? It is exciting, isn’t it? When I hear adults chanting mantras they often sound bored or disinterested. This is not the case with children. They really get into it!
Buddhism teaches the interconnectedness of all things. Kids seem to understand that intuitively. Maybe as we get older, we accumulate more delusion. I’m not sure. But children seem to take to learning about some of the deepest Buddhist concepts very well.
And they are compassionate too, most of the time. Nissa saw some kids squishing bugs on the sidewalk one time and asked them to stop. I asked her why—she told me that she felt compassion for the bugs. They weren’t doing anything wrong. They were just outside living their bug lives.
With only a few exceptions once in a while, all of the kids in the Dharma School want to be there. But, some of them do have trouble focusing sometimes. They are excited about participating and sometimes they get too excited. They get to make offerings to the shrine and lead mantras. We all do prostrations together, with a child leading us. Letting them participate is important, and they certainly learn more through participation than they do simply listening.
But, it’s not all reciting mantras. We also do activities. Sometimes we do crafts and sometimes we read stories to the children. The kids usually enjoy crafts the most. My daughter has had the opportunity to make her own Tibetan Prayer Flag and her own Thangka. She was very proud of them. I put them on the wall in her bedroom. I don’t know if the other children are as proud of their crafts as my child, but I suspect they are.
Many children love feeling like they’ve created something of value.
Then, we let all the kids play. There are a few games and toys in the Dharma School. I am very glad to say that in spite of their diverse age differences, all of the kids seem to play together very well. There are very few arguments, and there is no fighting. They act like a community. That could be because of the very positive atmosphere of the Rime Center, or I suppose it could be because they are being raised by their parents with Buddhist values. It’s a great thing to see.
I’ve learned so much about the Dharma from practicing it with children.
I would like to see more parents get involved in the Dharma School. Very few of them come up to see what we do. Most of them are in a rush to go downstairs and participate in the Buddhist Service, which is fine, but I think they would benefit from seeing how the kids do it once in a while.
I think that practicing Buddhism with children is just as moving as practicing Buddhism with other adults, maybe more so. Helping them learn is a very rewarding spiritual experience.
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Ed: K.Macku/Kate Bartolotta