The Rumor: Getting Carried Away by Fear and Gossip

This lesson can be shared with very young children OR upper elementary/middle school students.  

I used the book The Rumor: A Jataka Tale from India by Jan Thornhill.  It's still in publication.  We checked it out of our local library.

There's lots of repetition and brightly colored illustrations which will instantly engage the very young child.  But don't let Jan Thornhill's beautiful and simple retelling of the story deceive you.  Here we have another Jataka Tale with an important lesson that can easily be overlooked as a story exclusively for little children.  

The heroin (or should we say hare-oin) of the story is a worrywort.  She allows her anxiety to take her away from reality without ever looking back.  Her fears quickly spread to other creatures until a stampede of thousands is running without anyone stopping to question her words.

In the end, it's a young and wise lion who settles things down by simply investigating what he hears.  

We took turns reading the story aloud before discussing the following questions:

What are some modern day examples of how we sometimes act like the hare?  
  • We talked about rumors at school... making assumptions about people out of fear or ignorance... 
  • The abuse of Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar from Buddhists who have become so afraid of another religion overpowering theirs, that they voluntarily lay the teachings of the Buddha down to engage in acts of hate and violence... 
  • We talked about Black Friday shoppers, so concerned about getting a bargain that they neglect manners and special time with their families....
  • One kid was reminded of the people in New York freaking out when they tuned in late to the War of the World broadcast...
Why is it so dangerous to let our minds be consumed by fear?
  • The kids mentioned that it can cause us to make assumptions that aren't true.  
  • It can make us forget what's important.  
  • It can make it hard for us to see reality.  
  • It can endanger ourselves and others.
How can we turn off the anxious thoughts in our mind?
  • We talked about meditation, especially focusing on our breath.  This brings us into the present moment rather than what might happen in the future.  Meditation helps us discipline our minds.
  • I also reminded the kids about the Eight Fold Path that Buddha shared with us.  By staying on this path, we are less likely to let our imaginations and emotions carry us away.
In many Jataka Tales, the Buddha is one of the characters.  Who is the Buddha in this story?
How does he speak to them?  
How does this story mirror the Buddha's teachings for us?
  • Of course, the Lion is the Buddha in this story.
  • He calms the creatures, investigates, and brings them to reality.
  • He corrects them kindly.  He is not harsh with the creatures.  His concern is their well-being and he speaks to them with compassion and understanding.
  • The Buddha's teachings help us to see things as they really are.
It made me happy to hear one of my students mention that she is very fearful at night and planned to start trying to meditate before she goes to sleep from now on.

With younger children the message can be simplified to one thought:  Don't let your fears carry you away.  This story also lends itself well to a little play.  My youngest students love acting out stories.  Simple paper headbands with different animal ears are all that's needed.  Like all stories from the Buddha, as the children grow older this story will take on deeper meanings. 

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

The Black Bull: Treating and Speaking to Others With Kindness

"Treat others with kindness and your deeds will be rewarded."

This lesson can be shared with children of any age.

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 pulled this week's story from these sweet pages.

The black bull is dearly loved by its master.  As a calf it was given the name Beauty.  In an attempt to repay his master for his kindness, Beauty persuades him to enter a bull race with a handsome reward for first place.

Beauty is startled and heartbroken at the start of the race when his master whips him and shouts curses upon him.  Shocked by his master's behavior, Beauty loses the race and costs his master a great deal of money.

It is only when both Beauty and his master remember the importance of kind actions and words that they are reconciled and richly rewarded.

Here are some questions I asked the youngest children as we read along:

1.) How did the master feel about Beauty before the contest?

2.) What did the master do to Beauty to try to make him go fast in the race?

3.) Why didn't Beauty win the race?

4.) What did Beauty ask the master to do at the next race?

5.) What happened when the master kindly asked Beauty to race fast?

The older children used the following questions for discussion after the story:

1.) Have you ever had someone tell you to do something in a rude way?
How did it make you feel?

2.) Have you ever asked someone to do something in an angry way?
Did they comply with your request?

3.) How does speaking kindly during conflict help both ourselves and the people with whom we disagree?

4.) How can using Beauty's tactic help us resolve quarrels with our siblings?  friends? teachers? parents?
(We then created some hypothetical conflicts and discussed the best way to speak to those involved.)

After our discussion, we decided to make simple duct tape bracelets to help us remember throughout the week to speak and act kindly.   We folded duct tape over twice longway.  Then using dark fabric markers, the kids chose their own words to write on the tape.  Some decorated their words with stripes and flowers.  Others kept it very simple.  I hot glued the ends with a thin strip of velcro to make them easy to put on and take off.
Unfortunately, I only had my camera phone with me so the pictures are not great.

It's nice to close this lesson with a brief Loving Kindness Meditation.  Invite the children to sit comfortably, close their eyes, and focus on their breathing.  Then guide them in these thoughts:

May I be well, happy, and peaceful.
May my parents be well ,happy and peaceful.
May my teachers be well, happy, and peaceful.
May my family be well, happy, and peaceful.
May my friends be well, happy, and peaceful.
May those who are unkind to me be well, happy, and peaceful.
May all living beings be well, happy, and peaceful.

May all living beings be freed from suffering by the power of Triple Gem.

The Courageous Captain: Trusting in Our Actions, Not Superstitions

This lesson can be shared with all ages.

Sometimes Jataka Tales are reserved for our youngest children.  Why?  The Buddha used them to convey important morals and truths to his followers.  Most of them were adults.  My older students always gobble up these lessons, even when I use books clearly intended for younger readers.

Before they can roll their eyes and say, "OMG, this is a baby story," I call myself out for using it.  "Obviously this book is intended for younger readers," I'll say, "but I learned so much from it when I was working on it for the little kids, that I knew y'all would appreciate too."  And they do.

We used a book titled, Courageous Captain, A Jataka Tale.  You can find it here.

Before we read the story, I invited the kids to share any superstitions they knew.
Their list included things like:
     A black cat crossing your path
     Athletes spitting on bats or wearing the same socks
     Breaking a mirror means 7 years bad luck
     Carrying a lucky rabbit's foot
    Women on a Pirate ship was bad luck...

Then I asked, "When we trust in superstitions, do we keep control of our fate?"

I wanted the kids to come away from this lesson knowing that we must rely on our actions, not our luck if we want to be successful.

After the story I asked the following questions:

1.) Why did the captain want Supuraga on board?
2.) Did they listen to his wisdom, or just rely on the good luck his presence would bring?
3.) What made Supuraga such a good navigator?
   (his presence, or his skills, wisdom, insight, etc...)
4.) When the crew trusted in Supuraga as a good luck charm where did their ship travel?
  (closer to danger)
5.) When they trusted his words and acted upon them, what happened?
 (they took control of their ship and gained treasures)
6.) How is this similar to the Buddha?
7.) Does keeping a Buddha statue or picture nearby keep us safe and protect us?
8.) Why do we keep statues of the Buddha around?
9.)When will we find refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha?
 (When we follow his teachings)

After the discussion I had a small pasting activity for the younger children to do.  It tickled me that the older kids wanted to make this too.  Thankfully I had enough supplies for everyone.

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

Buddha, Ananda, & the Fishmongers: Choosing Friends Wisely

This lesson can be used with children from preschool through high school.  Heck, this lesson is helpful for adults.

Before sharing this story, the children were invited to try a little experiment.  Each child was asked to put their left hand in a ziploc bag full of chopped onions.  Prepare for lots of exclamations of, PU, YUCK! and THAT STINKS! when you tell them to smell their hand.

Next, the children each had a chance to dip their right hand in a ziploc bag of cinnamon.  When asked how this hand smelled, they made a lot of OOHs and Ahs and That Smells like cookies!

Then I told them a story...  You can find it in Buddhism Key Stages 1 (listed on the Resources Page), BUT...

This story is simple enough to tell without a book.  I drew some simple pictures on a white board to keep the kids' attention.  If you're more comfortable reading the story from a text, there's a short account of it HERE.

Ananda was one of the Buddha's disciples.  One day they walked passed a fish market where the fish monger hung his catch for sale on ropes.  Buddha said, "Ananda, go touch that rope with your fingers."  Ananda obeyed.  Then the Buddha asked, "How do your fingers smell now?"  Ananda told him, "They smell awful."

Shortly after this, they passed a spice shop.  Buddha said, "Ananda, put your hand in that basket of spices."  Again, Ananda obeyed.  The Buddha asked, " How do your fingers smell?"  Ananda answered, "They smell very nice."

Buddha explained to him, "It is the same way with friendships.  If you choose to spend time with corrupt people, you too will smell corrupt, just as your fingers smelled awful when you touched the ropes of dead fish.  When you choose to associate with virtuous people, the sweetness of their virtue will radiate from you as well, just as those sweet spices made your fingers smell pleasant."  Ananda understood the Buddha's teaching.

Then I led a group discussion with questions like these?

What does it mean to be virtuous?  (We usually define a virtuous person as someone who lives a good and moral life.)

As Buddhists we're encouraged to choose wise friends who lead virtuous lives.
What does that mean?

Can people who are not Buddhist be virtuous?
(there should be a resounding, "YES!  OF COURSE!" in response.)

Are your friends like this?

Do you ever encounter friends who are not like this?

Will virtuous friends be perfect?
No?  Then how do we work out problems with a virtuous friend?

How do we treat people who we wouldn't consider virtuous friends?
(This is a good place to differentiate between the terms friends and acquaintance.  We all know people that we are friendly towards.  We should be kind and friendly toward everyone.  This does not mean that we intimately share our time and our lives with everyone.)

How do we attract virtuous friends?

Then we brainstormed different ways to handle vices that threaten good friendships - disagreements, jealousy, breaking confidences)  We contrasted how these conflicts would be handled between virtuous friends and other people.

This discussion was so long and lively that there was no time for an activity.  Friendships are so important to Middle School and High School students.  We could easily have stretched this into two lessons.

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

The Domino Effect of Virtue

This lesson was shared with upper elementary and middle school-aged children.

We're continuing to learn about Merit, using the essay, "Ten Ways of Making Merit".  You can find the entire text by clicking here.

One of things that I appreciate about the Buddha's teachings is the plain, common sense it makes.  There's no need to suspend science or reason and believe in something that you cannot see or understand.  Merit is not some sort of magical, miraculous event that's achieved through belief in the unknown.  Merit is simply any action that improves the quality of our mind.  You do something good, it makes you better.  No magic formulas.

As I read the section on Virtue, this beautiful, reasonable quality of Buddhism was driven home to me again. The text for this section is more complicated than young readers can probably follow.  As I began adapting the text for my students, an image began forming in my mind of dominoes knocking each other down one after another.  I decided to skip the text and use a visual illustration for this lesson and then invite the students to illustrate it for themselves.

Using some dominoes we had at home, I taped the different events that flow from good moral conduct or virtue.  It looked like this:

Virtue is the act of living a good and moral life.  As Buddhists, we try to keep The Five Precepts.
We vow to abstain from destroying life or causing harm to any living thing.
We vow to abstain from stealing.
We vow to abstain from sexual misconduct.
We vow to abstain from false or harmful speech.
We vow to abstain from intoxication and heedlessness.
By living a virtuous life we can be confident.
Knowing that we've caused no harm, we aren't looking over our shoulders, fearing the consequences of our actions.  
Without the weight of guilt and fear of punishment, we can take joy in our actions.  We receive the benefits of having a good reputation, knowing in our hearts that we've done well.  We see the peace that our choices have created both in our own lives and in the lives of others.
In retrospect, I would have labelled this tile "Contentment".
The joy our lives of virtue produce make us happy and peaceful in our relationships and within ourselves.    
Being happy and content, free from disputes and worry, both our bodies and our minds are calm.
With a calm mind and body, we have better concentration in our activities and our meditation.
With better concentration we are able to see things more clearly, as they truly are.
This clarity can free us from Samsara.
The dominoes were laid out and discussed one at a time.
It was obvious where we were going with the dominoes, but the kids still got a kick of knocking their own set down and discussing how each of these steps easily leads one to the next.

Afterward, the kids used their tiles to make their own illustration of "Virtue's Domino Effect" as we began to call it.

I like the way this lesson prepares us for next week's topic:  Meditation.  We already have some steps laid out for us now for practical ways to prepare our bodies and minds for meditation.

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

Generosity (Dana)

"It is the most basic of practices in making merit.  Giving of material gifts include food to the hungry, medicine to the sick, and so on."  This quote comes from the essay, "The Ten Ways of Making Merit".  You can find the full essay by clicking here.

Preschool and Early Elementary
For my youngest students we began this lesson by discussing what gifts we as lay people bring to the monks.  We bring them food, robes, and medicine.  We also make sure that they have shelter.  The children were able to recall the many times that they have personally offered food to monks during community celebrations and family visits to the Buddhist Center.

They pasted symbols of the four needs we help supply to the monks.  Then they labelled each symbol.

I asked them to consider other people to whom we could give material gifts.  How can we show generosity at school?  At home?  In our neighborhood.  They volunteered sweet examples like
-sharing their pencils and crayons with someone at school who forgot theirs
-sharing their toys with a sibling
-sharing a treat from their lunch 
-giving food to the homeless

We talked about how our gifts help people.  A classmate could finish their assignment.  A sibling had a chance to enjoy a toy.  Someone would no longer be hungry.  These are physical affects.  I wanted them to see the mental and emotional affects their generosity would have on people too.  So I asked, "How do you think people feel when you are generous towards them?
Smiles all around as children called out words:

Then we discussed the blessings that we as givers receive when we are generous to other people.
-Affection from other people - they love and appreciate us
-We feel good about ourselves 
-Happiness, knowing that we've helped
-Good company - because nice and kind people want to be friends with other people who are kind
-Heavenly rebirth - remembering these good things gives us peace both now and when we die.  

To help the children leave this lesson with resolve to practice generosity, I gave them a simple art project.
Each child was encouraged to close their eyes and think of someone they could be generous to this week.  "Picture in your mind who you could help.  Picture yourself doing something for someone.  Think of how it makes them feel.  Think of how it makes you feel."  Then the children drew pictures of themselves showing generosity.

Middle School and High School
Taking turns, the older students read the text on generosity aloud.

Here are the questions we used for discussion:
-What is dana?
-Why would craving be called "the house builder of suffering"?
-How could dana help reduce our craving?
-What material gifts do we as lay people give to the Sangha (monks & nuns)?
 The pasting project could be done here if your older students still enjoy projects like this.  Mine do.
-How else can one gain merit (purified, stronger mind) through giving material gifts?  Who else could we help?  How?
-What blessings does the giver of food receive?  Have you noticed these benefits in your own life or in the lives of others?
-What are simple ways that you can practice dana in your own life?  
-How as a group can we practice dana?

Children offering food to monks at a ceremony.
The older children were given a worksheet to complete privately from the book, "How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything" by Cheri Huber.  The worksheet guided them through a reflection of their own personal compassion with questions like:
-When are you most compassionate?
-When are you least compassionate?
-Are you more compassionate with yourself or others?
-What is the most loving, compassionate thing you could do for yourself right now?
-What do believe about yourself and life that keeps you from doing this?
-Similar questions concerning compassion directed toward others.

The most important point I wanted to drive home to the students was that generosity is a form of merit.  It makes our minds stronger and more pure.  The merit we gain by practicing generosity can never be taken away from us.  We can recall it time and time again, even at our final breaths and continually receive all the benefits of our actions.

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