The Cunning Wolf: Keeping Promises to Yourself and Others

Recently we've been forming our class lessons and discussions around Demi's book Buddha Stories.

In today's story a cunning wolf decides to make pious promises when it seems convenient.  We learn that it's much easier to make a promise than to keep one.

I asked my youngest students to tell me what they knew about wolves.  It's helpful for the children to understand that wolves eat only meat and are very smart about catching their prey.  We looked at some pictures of wolves.

Before the story I asked, "Have you ever made a promise to yourself or to someone else that was very hard to keep?  This is a story about a wolf who had trouble keeping a promise."

To be sure the little ones followed the plot I asked the following questions:
  • Why wasn't the wolf able to get food?
  • What did he decide to do when he couldn't reach any prey?
  • What happened when he saw the goat?
  • Was he able to catch the goat?
  • The wolf decided that since the goat got away, he had kept his promise after all.  Did he really?
  • What did the Buddha tell him?
With each lesson based on a Jataka Tale, I try to remind my students that the Buddha's concern was to end suffering.  I used some examples from a child's life to encourage them to consider how this particular story can help us prevent suffering for both ourselves and others.

Example 1: You promise your mom or dad that you will clean your room.  Then you push all your toys under bed and shove all your dirty clothes in the closet.  Have you kept your promise?

Example 2:  You say to yourself, "I'm going to be generous and share my toys when my friend visits."  You only offer them the things you least enjoy playing with.  Have you kept your promise to yourself? 

Then I asked:
  • How does breaking a promise hurt ourselves? (We feel bad, frustrated, disappointed, ashamed.  We lose other's trust...)
  • How does breaking a promise hurt others?  (They feel disappointed, angry, no longer trust us...)
  • How do we feel about ourselves when we keep our promises? (good, proud, happy, trusted...)
  • How do others feel when we keep our promises? (Happy, relieved, proud)
  • Is it good to make lots and lots of promises? 
  • What can we do instead of making promises to keep ourselves more honest and dependable?  (We can say I'll try. We can save promises for the most important commitments.)
The younger children colored in a picture I made with a coloring page and a simple quote.  You can download a copy of it here.  We laminated the pictures and threaded them with yarn to make little bookmarks to take home.  If you don't have a laminator, just paste the picture on colored paper or cardstock. 

I used this lesson with my older children too.  Rather than read from the book, I combined the text of the story, along with an article from Psychology Today about keeping promises.  We read it aloud.  You can print out the story and article together here.

Afterwards I asked the following questions to create a discussion:
  • What distracted the wolf from his promise?
  • What could he have done differently when he saw the goat?
  • Do you think that deciding that he kept his promise will help him in the future?
  • Was it realistic of him to make such a promise?  
  • Did he make his promise for the right reason?  
  • What can we learn from this story about making promises in our own lives?
My older students never like to be left out of a craft or project opportunity.  I encouraged them to make their own bookmarks using this template.  The Psychology Today article recommended three questions to consider before making a promise:
  1. What's my motivation?
  2. Is this realistic?
  3. Is this crucial? 
Their bookmarks included these questions along with the quote, "It's easier to make a promise than to keep it."  

I love the empowerment this lesson gives us.  There are tools here for building trust, confidence, and honesty with ourselves and others.  What a gift for our children and everyone they encounter.

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