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.