Kassapa and the Fire Worshipers

This lesson was shared with children between the ages of 4 and 7.  However, I plan to use this again with upper elementary students.  Some of my older kids have been asking for more lessons that include art and projects.

Kassapa was the chief of a group of Brahmin hermits who worshiped fire.  In a sacred room they kept a fire burning.  The room also housed a great serpent that was rumored to be a monstrous fire dragon.

The Buddha visited the hermits.  He told Kassapa that he would like to sleep in the room of the sacred fire.  This concerned Kassapa.  He was certain that the serpent would harm the Buddha.  That night the Buddha sat erect in perfect mindfulness.  The fire serpent tried to attack the Buddha.  It spewed it's poison all over, but the Buddha was protected by his special powers.  The serpent was consumed in it's fiery rage.

In the morning, Kassapa entered the fire room, expecting to find the Buddha consumed by the serpent.  He was amazed to find the Buddha alive and the serpent destroyed.  The Buddha said to Kassapa, "His fire has been conquered by my fire."  Kassapa realized that the Buddha was an extraordinary man.  He decided to shave his head, put on robes and follow the Buddha's teaching.

When the other fire worshipers learned that Kassapa had become a disciple of the Buddha, they too decided to become monks.  The Buddha gave a sermon to the men who had worshiped fire.  He said, "The three most powerful fires are greed, ingorance, and hatred.  One must put out these fires to end suffering."

Keep it simple.
I wanted the children to  remember what the Buddha said about the three fires.  Our lesson activities centered around this theme.

Use what you have.
This story is an exciting one for the children.  Rather than reading it from a book, I recommend using props.  Using felt or paper images of the characters and the snake, or dolls and a toy snake would be a nice way to keep their attention.  I'd love to give a few of my son's Lego action figures a bit of a "make-over" for this lesson next year.

After the story I laid out a felt cloth and placed three felt images of fire on it.  These were made by cutting brown felt into 6 strips.  Then I cut red or orange felt into the shapes of three flames.  You could use construction paper instead.
The children were asked to recall the three greatest fires.  As they called them out I placed an index card with the word underneath one of the flames.  My stepson is great at making "burning letters".  He made the index cards with the words GREED, IGNORANCE, and HATRED in fancy, flaming letters.

Then I asked, "What did the Buddha say we must do to these fires to end our suffering?  Do we have to make the fires bigger?"  The children all knew that my suggestion was silly.  "You have to put it out!"   Our group was small enough, that we had time for each child to take a turn labeling the three flames and then putting out the fires, by removing the flames from the wood.

We talked about each word in simple terms.
Greed is wanting more and more.  It's wanting things so badly that you are angry when you can't get them.  It's wanting things so badly that you're willing to hurt yourself or others for it.  

Ignorance means to not know about something.  When the Buddha speaks of ignorance he is talking about not understanding the Dharma, his teachings.

Hatred is being so angry that you want to hurt others or yourself.

To help the children remember these three dangerous fires we also did a little pasting project.
They were each given a paper with the words Put out the fires of: at the top.
At the bottom of the paper were the words A
nger, Greed, Ignorance. 
 Each child was also given 3 pre-cut paper flames and 6 pre-cut paper logs. 
  They pasted the logs and fire above each word.  The final product looked like this:
When I do this project with my older students I will make a few changes to the presentation.  First, we will read the story aloud together.  Second, instead of a felt board, the three fires will be introduced with three actual candles.  The children will have a chance to label and light the candle.  Other children will then use a snuffer to put out the flames.  Also, when it is time to create the art, I'll give them the paper and scissors and let them create their own interpretation of the fires however they like.

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

Yasa's Parents & The Triple Gem

This lesson was shared with children between the ages of 5 and 8.

In the previous lesson, the children learned about Yasa, a wealthy young man who decided to follow the Buddha.  In this lesson the children learned about his father.

The following account is from Buddhism Key Stage II, page 35.  (You can download it here.) :

Yasa’s father had been searching for Yasa after he had
left home and entered the Sangha. Eventually, he came
upon the Buddha who explained Dharma to him. He
listened with growing enthusiasm and became the first lay
follower to take the Threefold Refuge in the Buddha, the
Dharma and the Sangha.

At the invitation of Yasa’s father, the Buddha and Yasa
went for a meal at his house. The Buddha talked about
Dharma after the meal and Yasa’s mother was also listening.
She was so impressed that she took the Threefold Refuge
and became the Buddha’s first woman lay follower.      

Keep it simple.
There were two main points I wanted the children to take away from this lesson:
1. Yasa's parents became the first lay followers of the Buddha.
2. As layfollowers, we take refuge in the Triple Gem.

I asked the children, "What is a gem?"  It was important for them to understand how precious a gem is.  We used examples of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, crystals...  I held up my ring.  "My husband gave this to me when he promised to marry me.  The stone is special because it is rare and beautiful and it has a special meaning for me.  It is a GEM."

In Buddhism, we have three special gems:  The Buddha, The Dharma (the Buddha's Teachings), and The Sangha (the monks and nuns who follow the Buddha in a special way).  We call these three the Triple Gem.

I asked, "What does it mean to take refuge?"  They weren't sure.  "A refuge is a place you go to be safe.  If a tornado is coming, we are told to take refuge.  We have to find a safe place that will protect us.  When animals want to be safe from predators, they look for a good hiding spot.  This is their refuge."  In Buddhism we have special, safe, protective places to take refuge as well.  They are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.  So when we say that we are taking refuge in the Triple Gem this is what we mean.  When we have problems or worries or fears in our life, this is where we go for refuge.

Use what you have.
The children were encouraged to find symbols of the triple gem in our shrine room.  They enjoyed finding them.  Then I showed them this picture of the three jewels:

In front of them I colored each gem to represent the Buddha (blue), the Dharma (yellow), and the Sangha (red).  One of the kids noticed right away that the three jewels were placed in the shape of a bodhi leaf.  
Each of the children were given their own to color.

If time and resources permit, there are a lot of fun activities you could come up with for this symbol.  I considered having the children color foil with markers to make the gems shiny.  You could use glitter or sticker gems too.  Think about ways to make this a beautiful presentation.  Next year, I plan to do a lot more with this lesson, craftwise.

Any readers who'd like to share their pictures are welcomed!  I'd love to see and share your work here.

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


Yasa & The First 60 Monks

This lesson was shared with children ages 5-8.
You can find a simple retelling of the story here.

Yasa was the son of a rich merchant.  Like Siddhartha, Yasa had plenty of material possessions.  Also like Siddhartha, Yasa was not satisfied by his life of luxury.  He felt he was missing something more important.  When he heard the Buddha explain the Four Noble Truths, Yasa felt as if he were awakened from a dream.  He decided to stay with the Buddha and follow his teachings.  54 of Yasa's friends decided to follow the Buddha as well.

Now the Buddha's followers numbered 60.  The Buddha sent his followers out to share his teachings.  His followers returned with even more people who wished to follow the Buddha.

This is a good lesson for emphasizing that material goods and an easy life won't ultimately bring you peace and eternal happiness.  Ask the children to tell you about things they have and enjoy.  You'll get fun answers about toy cars, video games, ice-cream, etc.  It is important that the children understand that it is not wrong to like and enjoy these things.  Then ask how these things might disappoint them someday.  Maybe the toy will break.  The game system won't play newer games.  Too many sweets can give you a tummy ache.  Reflecting back to the lesson on Samsura, we can remind the children that all things eventually die or go to ruin.  So while it is nice to enjoy them, we have to try to not be so attached to these things that we become angry and sad when they are gone.

Keep it simple.
My fellow Sunday School teacher read this story from a book in The Buddhist Series: Life of Buddha.  You can find more information about these books in the Resource Section or by clicking here.

Use what you have.
The children colored pictures of Yasa pictures of the Buddha commissioning his followers to spread his teachings.  You can find simple coloring pages for these stories on pages 43 and 44 of buddha.nets book here.

This lesson was kept short and simple.  We followed it with the story of Yasa's Father.

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

Children's Meditation

Here's a simple guided meditation that can be read to children as they sit quietly.

Our monks encourage the children to sit with their legs crossed, hands on their laps, with open right hand over open left hand.  A gong, bell, or chime can be used to begin the quiet.

The children take a deep breathe in and then out. They're encouraged to concentrate on their tummies moving out and in as they breathe in and out.    

Then the leader can peacefully recite the following for the children to hear as they breathe:
May I be free from suffering.
May I be free from anger.
May I be cured from illness.
May I be free from fear.   
May I be free from hatred. 
May I reach peace and tranquility.

For older children this can be extended universally:
May my parents be free from suffering.
May they be free from anger.
May they be cured from illness.
May they be free from fear.   
May they be free from hatred. 
May they reach peace and tranquility.

May (my teachers, relatives, friends, enemies, all living beings) be free from suffering...

Keep the silent meditation time short.  Maybe one or two minutes at most.  That's a long time for little wiggle worms.  A gong, chime, or bell can be rung again to end the meditation.  We usually begin our Dharma Sunday School this way.

Keep it simple.
Lighting a plain candle, burning some incense or offering flowers before an image of the Buddha is nice.  But don't go overboard.  The less pomp and circumstance surrounding meditation with young people, the easier it will be for them to turn to meditation for peace throughout their day, where ever they are.  This can become a wonderful tool for parents to help their children during challenging times.

Use what you have.
I've found some very nice, simple chants and meditations for children on the net.  Here are a few of them:

Buddhanet has The Loving Kindness Chant broken up in simple lines in both English and Pali here.

Gregory Kramer has a beautiful version of this chant for children here.

May I Be Well, Happy and Peaceful chant can be found here. (WorldPrayers.org)

If you're looking for a simple book to introduce meditation to children, I would recommend Each Breath A Smile, by Sister Susan, based on Thich Nhat Hahn's teachings.  It's beautifully illustrated.  The text is simple enough for 3 year olds but rich enough for older children.

Savor this experience.  There is something very special about meditating with kids.  Perhaps, if we as adults approached meditation with the same simplicity as our children, we would move more quickly to emancipation.      

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