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Discovering Dhamma: Helping My Son take Small Steps on His Own Path

By | 7/6/2023

Introducing children to the teachings of the Buddha and the practice of meditation is a topic that has increasingly occupied my thoughts, particularly as I consider my eight-year-old son.

Reflecting upon my own actions and their impact on him, I realize that being a positive role model is of utmost importance. Observing how he sees me as a person and perceives me during times of conflict, understanding the role that I play within our family, witnessing his reactions when I interact with strangers, discussing life's situations with him, all are crucial factors in shaping his understanding of the world.


A Balancing Act

One question that arises is how actively I should introduce the Buddha's teachings to my son. Should I remain passive, allowing him to discover meditation and the Dhamma on his own as he grows older, or should I play a more proactive role?

Since our society and culture significantly influences our children, the idea of a completely uninfluenced choice later in life is a mere fantasy. As the Buddha stated, "The gift of Dhamma exceeds all other gifts." Thus, I believe that it is essential to play an active role, albeit one that respects his own conditions and autonomy.


Taking Small Steps

To engage my son's interest in the Buddha's teachings, we began reading The Great Buddhist Stories Omnibus together—a captivating comic book featuring beautiful illustrations and a well-told account of the Buddha's life. Initially, his fascination was boundless, but as the days passed and the book's length became apparent (200 pages, requiring translation from English to Swedish), his enthusiasm waned.

This experience taught me the importance of offering small, digestible doses and refraining from pushing too hard. The same principle applies when sharing the Dhamma way of thinking. I must be mindful of my own attachment to his learning, and avoid conveying any sense of rigidity or urgency.

On another occasion, I shared with him the story of the fifth precept ("The Fifth Precept" from The Jataka Tales), which, adapted for children, humorously highlights the dangers associated with alcohol. The tale not only entertained him but also imparted valuable lessons in a lighthearted manner.

One item on our to-do list is organizing a "Kids’ Uposatha Day," during which we can engage in shared readings from texts like the Dhammapada, which teaches the purification of thoughts — a fundamental aspect of the Buddha's teachings. We might also explore concise discourses from The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, making the teachings more accessible and relatable for young minds.


Meditation as a Natural Practice

Meditation occupies a central place in our journey. During my daily practice, I invite my son to be present in the same room while he enjoys watching TV with headphones on. This routine has been established over the years and has normalized meditation for him. Occasionally, he interrupts my sitting to share an exciting moment or request a sandwich, which I happily prepare. He eagerly anticipates the time when he will be old enough to join the children's courses at the Center, as he has seen pictures of other kids having fun with games and activities there.

When my son was about five or six years old, I introduced him to meditation in a straightforward manner, instructing him to "be aware of his breath" and "concentrate on his breathing." I never impose long meditation sessions upon him; instead, we sit together for just a minute before he goes to bed. Afterwards, we express our good wishes for others, with him repeating after me: "May my mother be happy and peaceful." We extend these wishes to other family members, friends, and ultimately, to all beings. This practice fosters his understanding of compassion and cultivates a positive mindset.


Tangible Representations

In my home, I have statues and pictures of the Buddha. I personally like it, and I also like to think that each time my son sees these representations, a vivid image of the Buddha forms in his mind, making this revered figure less abstract and more relatable. It was a moment of amusement when he decided to playfully accessorize one of the statues with a necklace adorned with a big dollar sign and even placed sunglasses on the Buddha's serene face.


Addressing Life's Challenges …

One topic that often arises in children's lives is bullying or encountering unkind individuals. In such instances, I share with my son the metaphorical armor I wear, which shields me from being affected by hurtful words or actions. This armor is loving-kindness, cultivated through regularly sharing good thoughts and wishes with all beings, including those who are unkind. By emphasizing the transformative power of loving-kindness, I help him develop resilience and counteract fear, hurt, and aversion.

When we immerse ourselves in nature, I often seize an opportunity to discuss the inherent cruelty and challenges that most beings face. Recently, my son confided in me about an incident when he and his friend attacked some ants. Despite being aware of my strong stance against such behavior, he displayed his trust in me by sharing the circumstances. I took this as an opportunity to introduce him to the five precepts, also known in children’s courses as the five promises, to reinforce the Buddha's teachings on taking responsibility for our actions. I am delighted that at such a tender age, he is beginning to embrace this way of thinking, which I hope will serve as his moral compass as he grows.


… And the Reality of Dukkha 

During visits to my late grandmother, my son would initially exhibit fear when faced with the physical manifestation of old age in her ninety-year-old face and frail body. His subsequent inquiries about her appearance provided an opportunity to discuss the different stages of life. Exposing him to the realities of aging, illness, and ultimately death proved to be valuable experiences that fostered his understanding of impermanence.

Death is a topic that my son often contemplates, and when he once expressed the belief that nothing happens after death, I felt sensations of concern. Thinking quickly, I decided to share with him the Jataka tale of “The Goat that Laughed and Wept”. In this story, a goat about to be sacrificed suddenly bursts into laughter, revealing that it had been a goat for five hundred lives and was now on the path to being reborn as a human. Yet, the goat's laughter turns to tears as it realizes that the priest's previous actions in sacrificing goats had resulted in the goat's prolonged cycle of suffering. This tale brought joyous laughter to my son and allowed us to explore the consequences of our actions and the importance of compassion.

It fills me with excitement to be a part of planting the seeds of wisdom and compassion in my son's mind. Although he is the one ultimately nurturing these seeds, I am grateful to have the opportunity to provide him with the tools for growth. I believe that this endeavor serves a greater purpose. Teaching Dhamma to our children, the establishment of a Saṅgha even in the West will be one step closer, since this requires the involvement of multiple generations. By nurturing mindfulness and teaching our children the ways of the Enlightened ones, we contribute to the spreading of the Dhamma, like the rings that ripple across a pond, fostering the potential for a more enlightened society.

Note: Some of the points in this text are inspired by the short book How to Teach Buddhism to Children by Helmuth Klar.

Jeppe

Jeppe Strandskov

1 Comments

Benjamin Brashear
Date: 7/27/2023

Thank you for sharing this. I have a one year old son and I meditate every day while he naps in my lap. It’s been an immeasurable joy for me to share this with him. I’ve thought a lot about how to introduce him to the dhamma and really appreciate hearing from a father who has carefully and thoughtfully begun to instill these beautiful teachings.

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