For guidance I've chosen a booklet compiled by three authors titled Ten Ways to Make Merit. You can find the booklet by clicking here. The authors, Dr. Amerasekera, Dr. Wijesuriya, and Mahinda Wijesinghe wrote this booklet for adults, however it can easily be adapted for Middle School kids as well as very young children.
Over the next several weeks we will be discussing what merit is and different ways to obtain and share it.
I've asked for permission to share my adapted versions of this booklet from the authors. If permitted, I'll share it here. However, you could easily begin sharing this lesson without the adaptation by simply reading the booklet to yourself and then opening up a discussion with your youngest children.
Here's how I presented the lesson to my youngest children:
To understand the meaning of sensual pleasure we discussed the 5 senses. Things that are sensual are experienced through these senses - our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and touch or the way things feel to our bodies. Sensual pleasures are simply things we enjoy experiencing through our 5 senses.
The children were invited to share examples of sensual pleasures. They talked about ice-cream and cookies, the softness of a stuffed animal, the fun of watching a cartoon or playing a video game, the smell of roses, the sound of rain...
Then using one of the the children's examples of sensual pleasure, we discussed how pleasures eventually end. You have to turn off the tv to do your homework. Once the cookies are eaten, they're gone. It stops raining and so on. I asked them to consider how they feel after the pleasure ends. This helped us conclude that eventually sorrow, missing, and suffering replace our sensual pleasures.
Then I introduced the word MERIT. Merit is any action that improves the quality of our mind. It makes our minds better. It helps remove greediness, hatred, and misunderstandings. It helps us live more peacefully with ourselves and with others. Merit helps us do the things we want to do well and with greater success.
The most important thing I wanted the children to take away was this: Merit cannot ever be taken away and it can be shared with everyone. To help them appreciate this, we discussed the ways that doing something good gives us pleasure now and later. After we do something that improves our mind, we can think about it forever afterward and share the good qualities that come from our actions with everyone.
To give them a visual image of this you can do the following:
- Bring out a treat to share. You could use M&M's or cookies, something simple.
- Show the children your pile of goodies and offer to share them.
- Invite the children to count how many treats you have before you share.
- As you pass out the treats, encourage them to keep track of how many treats you have left.
- By the end, there should be no treats left.
- Then give each child a tea light candle. These can be safely used by even the youngest children if you place each candle in a clear, plastic cup and instruct them to look at it in front of them but not to touch the candle.
- Present to them a tall, taper candle and light it.
- Now offer to share your light.
- As you pass the flame to each child's candle, ask them to observe how much fire is left on your taper.
I think this is enough of a lesson for young children. I explained that there are many ways to obtain merit that will help themselves and everyone with whom they choose to share their merit. We'll discuss many of these different ways in the coming weeks.
My older students took turns reading the Introduction aloud.Then I used these questions to create a discussion:
What is pleasure?
What does it mean when we read that sensual pleasures only bring happiness in the short term?
How do sensual pleasures eventually bring suffering?
What are some examples of ways that sensual pleasures can end or be taken away?
Why will neither indulgence nor abstinence of sensual pleasure bring true happiness?
What does merit do for the mind?
Now, you can't give candy and candles to the little ones without sharing a similar activity with their older siblings. The activity used with the younger children can certainly be used with the older children as well. Like many simple lessons, it will take on deeper meanings for the older students.
Next time we'll discuss the first of these ways of merit: Generosity
May all be free from suffering by the power of the Triple Gem!