The Cunning Wolf: Keeping Promises to Yourself and Others

Recently we've been forming our class lessons and discussions around Demi's book Buddha Stories.

In today's story a cunning wolf decides to make pious promises when it seems convenient.  We learn that it's much easier to make a promise than to keep one.

I asked my youngest students to tell me what they knew about wolves.  It's helpful for the children to understand that wolves eat only meat and are very smart about catching their prey.  We looked at some pictures of wolves.

Before the story I asked, "Have you ever made a promise to yourself or to someone else that was very hard to keep?  This is a story about a wolf who had trouble keeping a promise."

To be sure the little ones followed the plot I asked the following questions:
  • Why wasn't the wolf able to get food?
  • What did he decide to do when he couldn't reach any prey?
  • What happened when he saw the goat?
  • Was he able to catch the goat?
  • The wolf decided that since the goat got away, he had kept his promise after all.  Did he really?
  • What did the Buddha tell him?
With each lesson based on a Jataka Tale, I try to remind my students that the Buddha's concern was to end suffering.  I used some examples from a child's life to encourage them to consider how this particular story can help us prevent suffering for both ourselves and others.

Example 1: You promise your mom or dad that you will clean your room.  Then you push all your toys under bed and shove all your dirty clothes in the closet.  Have you kept your promise?

Example 2:  You say to yourself, "I'm going to be generous and share my toys when my friend visits."  You only offer them the things you least enjoy playing with.  Have you kept your promise to yourself? 

Then I asked:
  • How does breaking a promise hurt ourselves? (We feel bad, frustrated, disappointed, ashamed.  We lose other's trust...)
  • How does breaking a promise hurt others?  (They feel disappointed, angry, no longer trust us...)
  • How do we feel about ourselves when we keep our promises? (good, proud, happy, trusted...)
  • How do others feel when we keep our promises? (Happy, relieved, proud)
  • Is it good to make lots and lots of promises? 
  • What can we do instead of making promises to keep ourselves more honest and dependable?  (We can say I'll try. We can save promises for the most important commitments.)
The younger children colored in a picture I made with a coloring page and a simple quote.  You can download a copy of it here.  We laminated the pictures and threaded them with yarn to make little bookmarks to take home.  If you don't have a laminator, just paste the picture on colored paper or cardstock. 

I used this lesson with my older children too.  Rather than read from the book, I combined the text of the story, along with an article from Psychology Today about keeping promises.  We read it aloud.  You can print out the story and article together here.

Afterwards I asked the following questions to create a discussion:
  • What distracted the wolf from his promise?
  • What could he have done differently when he saw the goat?
  • Do you think that deciding that he kept his promise will help him in the future?
  • Was it realistic of him to make such a promise?  
  • Did he make his promise for the right reason?  
  • What can we learn from this story about making promises in our own lives?
My older students never like to be left out of a craft or project opportunity.  I encouraged them to make their own bookmarks using this template.  The Psychology Today article recommended three questions to consider before making a promise:
  1. What's my motivation?
  2. Is this realistic?
  3. Is this crucial? 
Their bookmarks included these questions along with the quote, "It's easier to make a promise than to keep it."  

I love the empowerment this lesson gives us.  There are tools here for building trust, confidence, and honesty with ourselves and others.  What a gift for our children and everyone they encounter.

May all be free from suffering by the power of the Triple Gem!

The Beautiful Parrots: Riches & Fame Come and Go Like the Wind

This lesson was shared with both my elementary and middle school students.

Buddha Stories by Demi beautifully illustrates 11 Jataka Tales. Most local libraries have a copy to lend.  It can also be purchased from bookstores in the US.  I chose this week's story from it's pages.

In this Jataka Tale, two lovely parrots are treasured as the king's favorite pets, at least until an entertaining little monkey arrives.  Suddenly the parrots are forgotten in the shadow of the new pet's funny faces.  An important lesson is learned about how quickly circumstances in our lives change and how difficult these changes become when we are too attached to things staying the same.

Before the tale I asked the children, "Have you ever felt replaced?  Maybe by a friend or sibling...Maybe you were the best at a sport and then someone joined the team who was even better than you... At school?  This is the story of two parrots who experienced the same feeling."

After the story I asked the younger children the following questions:

This is a lesson about expecting things to change.  We suffer less when we remember that things always change. 

I asked the children to offer examples of things that change.  They shared ideas about seasons, friendships, ages, jobs, homes... This lesson can open the door for young people to examine their thoughts and feelings about life events like the birth of a sibling, the loss of friendship, popularity, success and failures in sports and academics... Invite your students to visualize both the best and worst case scenarios in the things that matter most to them, making peace with both outcomes.  The ability to anticipate and accept change is a priceless tool.  Let's give it to our children as early as possible.

I found a cool parrot craft on Pinterest that I used with my younger students.

We added a quote from the story to our project.

We applied the words of the wise parrot to the folk song, Down By the Riverside:

Gain and loss and praise and blame
Pleasure, pain, dishonor, fame
Come and go like the spring.
                            (sing 2x's)
Why should a little parrot grieve?
                             ( 3x's)
Why should a little parrot sing?
                             ( 3x's)

May all be free from suffering by the power of the Triple Gem!

When I Make Silence

 This lesson can be shared with our youngest children, ages 4 - 7.

Jennifer Howard created this simple, peaceful book for her Montessori classroom.  She writes on her blog, " I wrote this book years ago to assist my 3-6 class with the Silence game. I found that providing examples of ways to make silence, especially for young children, assisted them with centering themselves and finding peace."  It is now a staple in most Montessori schools and Atriums.

Jennifer uses imagery like ocean waves, candles, and snowflakes to create mental images for our children of what silence looks and feels and sounds like.

You can order the book for $6 plus shipping through ParentChildPress or The Center for Children and Theology .  You can also email Jennifer through her blog if you would like to order a signed copy from her. 

For this lesson I used the following materials:
  • book: When I Make Silence
  • chime or gong ( I got mine here.)
  • a face clock
  • plain, white candle
  • candle snuffer (optional)

We sat in a circle on the floor.
Very quietly and calmly, I lit a candle.  They immediately grew calmer.
 First, we discussed the word silence.  I asked, "What is silence?  What does it mean?"
A few guesses came.  No noise...Not bothering your parents...Not talking
"Silence means not a sound."

Then we read the book together, taking time to talk about each image, connecting our own experiences to them.  Most of the kids will want to tell you about their summer vacations to the beach and the snow days.  Invite them to share and steer them back to the theme by asking questions like, "What did the waves do on the beach?  Can you imagine the waves as your belly goes in and out with each breath?" "How did the snow sound when it fell?" and so on.

Then very deliberately and rather ceremoniously I unwrapped my chime and placed it in front of me for all of them to see. "This is a chime.  I make it ring when I hit it with this striker. The special thing about this chime is that when I strike it, at first it makes a loud sound, but then it gets quieter and quieter.  It gets so quiet that sometimes it's hard to tell when the sound has actually stopped.  Let's sit very quietly and see if we can hear when the sound stops.  Close your eyes.  Don't open them until you can't hear the sound anymore."

They loved it.  They enjoyed it so much that I allowed each child to take a turn striking the chime while the others listened for the silence.

Then we listened for the clock.  With our eyes closed, we'd wait while someone struck the chime.  When the chime grew silent, we'd listen for the tick-tock of the clock.

Next we changed our focus to feeling our own heartbeats in silence.

Finally, I told the children that this time, after the chime went silent I was going to put out the candle.  Their job was to listen silently and keep their eyes closed until they could smell the smoke from the extinguished light.  Peace. Calm.  Stillness.  You could feel it in our little circle.

To end our session, the children were invited to choose one of the images from the book or an image of their own to create a picture titled, "When I Make Silence."
Once this lesson is introduced, this practice can be used on a regular basis, weekly even.  If your space allows, it would be nice to create a small area - a little table, mat, or spot on a low shelf with the book, chime, and images of peace.  This could be an area for children to visit individually or in small groups whenever they want to make silence.

And for goodness' sake, let's not worry about whether they are perfectly still and focused.  They're children.  Some will embrace this exercise from the first time it's presented.  Others will fidget, wander, play with lint balls from their pockets.  That's ok.  Few people cozy up to someone they've just met.  Let's let them get to know silence a little.  As they become more familiar, many will become friendly with it.  We're planting seeds, not necessarily reaping the harvest.

When I presented this lesson to my munchkins, one little guy in particular seemed to be missing the whole activity.  While his classmates sat with their eyes closed, smiling, waiting for the chime, he was bent over doodling.  "Oh, well," I thought, "Nothing's sinking in for him today..."  At the end of class he gave me the picture he was drawing.  He captured the chime and the candle and his classmates and his teacher sitting in a circle making silence.  A gentle reminder that my job is to share the teaching without judgment or assumptions about how it's received.

May all be free from suffering by the power of the Triple Gem!