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.
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.