Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Little More on Children and Buddhist Teachings

I just received a comment on my post on Buddhism and raising children from a friend in my sangha. It's worth reading in full, so here it is.

Nathan says:
“It does seem a bit strange to me that a lot of Buddhist parents seem skittish about talking directly with their kids about their own spiritual life. I don't understand that. It doesn't matter to me if you call it Buddhism or mindfulness or whatever—but passing on the teachings is important in my opinion, and it can't be done by just loving our children in my opinion.”

Related to this, I heard a sangha member speculate that the present aimlessness of her grown children resulted from her failure to provide a spiritual framework for them as they grew up. (I presume she came to Buddhism later.)

The same regret nags me. I felt I had nothing to offer my children spiritually. I myself was struggling to find meaning in life and did not wish to contaminate them with my deep doubts. I struggled to "figure it out" so that I could pass on to them what I had found. Funny thing: it turns out there's nothing to figure out. Too late.…

We haven't heard from our oldest son in ten years. I try to soothe myself with the fantasy—and I have at least some evidence to support this hypothesis—that, like the prince who leapt over the palace wall, he's on his own spiritual quest. Anyway, this is better than thinking that he's into something harmful to himself and others. So I think Nathan's right—just loving our children isn't enough.

About a week ago I was engaged in conversation with a group that included a brother and sister (maybe 13 and 16 years old) who are growing up with Buddhist teachings. Their emotional maturity amazed me, even humbled me. It seems to me they're on the right path. Learning how our minds work does not to me equate with indoctrination.

For an idea of how children's practice works at Clouds in Water Zen Center, check out past issues of the Dewdrop Digest.

For those of you interested in learning a little more about how a sangha approaches working with children, check out the link above to the newsletters. You'll get an idea of the topics my zen center covers with children, as well as the practices we work with together. And if you're a skeptic, check it out anyway. Never hurts to learn what others are doing.

*The image above is an example of the artwork component featured in Clouds in Water Zen Center's children's classes.


LuLu3156 said...

Thank you so much for this discussion and information. I am moving into a new phase of my life. Newly engaged, planning to have children, and beginning the discussions on how we plan to raise our children. It is quite intimidating and yet I think deep down we know we can do it. It is funny though how hard we try to have things "all figured out" before we bring them into the world, as if it is possible to figure it all out or that it would make for less suffering for them. I think it is okay to be honest with our children. It is okay to include them in our spiritual explorations. Children recognize honesty and appreciate it much more than trying to do damage control and package information in a way that is safe and consistent.

There is no doubt that it will be hard and there will be suffering but also no end for the potential for love, learning and teaching within a loving family.

Nathan said...

"Children recognize honesty and appreciate it much more than trying to do damage control and package information in a way that is safe and consistent." This is an excellent comment LuLu. So true, and important to remember.

Richard Harrold said...

Nice post Nathan. I also don't understand others' reluctance to share their Buddhist practice with their children. I never understood the parenting concept of a "hands off" approach. I don't have children, and never will. But for 15 years I worked in social service with other people's children. Messed up children who had no concept of morality or right or wrong, who desperately wanted to believe something, and that made them vulnerable to hucksters and charlatans.

We are related to our kamma. That means our children are reflections of our kamma. They are opportunities to correct our kamma. Why would anyone pass that up?

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Nice post, and I agree completely. For my own perspective on this issue and a few good kids Dhamma books ha you might be interested in

Robyn said...

Raising children is never separate from my practice. How could it be?

zendotstudio said...

I too have noticed the maturity and self confidence of children raised in Buddhist homes. It is my personal belief that we are spiritual beings having a human experience so it seems important that we need to offer kids some kind of way of thinking about the spiritual aspect of life. We attend to their minds and bodies, why not their spirits?

And of course its always age appropriate. We aren't going to give Dharma talks on the 5 hindrances to 5 year olds but kindness and respect for life are easy for little people to understand, especially when we work to bring these qualities into our own life. We can show them that we're human and make mistakes and show how we work with that.

I didn't have a practice when my daughter was young. But I did when she was an older teenager and I always talked with her about what I was learning. Sometimes she rolled her eyes but now in her late 20's she has a collection of Dharma books of her own. I always invite her to take any of mine away with her when she's home for a visit.

Yes to sharing our spiritual life with our kids! We don't need to cram it down their throats or preach, we just need to offer a simple framework for living. The Dalai Lama always says most simply "my religion is kindness."

And what feels right for one parent doesn't always feel right for the next. I think we need to look inside for our direction.