Sunday, October 14, 2012

Six Realms: The Hungry Ghosts

During the last minute of meditation, (the kids meditated about four minutes) I broke the silence and asked the kids to think of something that helps them feel comfortable and safe, or something that they can do for others that helps others feel safe and comfortable.  Then, for check-in, I asked them to share what they thought of.  Sometimes the kids are shy with check-in, and this strategy worked well.  They were able to combine the thoughtfulness of meditative mind with looking within for a way they handle feelings.  Then, even the shy ones had something to say in check-in because they were prepared.  A couple chose to demonstrate by covering their heads with their jackets. As soon as one said he liked climbing trees, that became a theme.  One boy answered both questions by saying he liked to skateboard and teaching skateboarding.

While the elements are very traditionally the same, there are still quite varied images of the Six Realms available.  Every lesson gives us a chance to look closely at a portion of the image, and the kids notice a lot.  As we looked closer at the Preta Realm, the kids noticed not only does each realm have a Buddha in it, they noticed another figure that was not like the others.  One girl thought it was Tara, I thought perhaps it was the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

I personally don't know enough about Tara to say, but after a quick search I see that there are different Taras, and one could correspond to Kanzeon.  What we could see in this image was a Bodhisattva figure holding a jar, pouring several streams of water, and the beings in this realm, gakis, were drinking those streams of water.  As they'd already noticed, when the gakis attempt to drink water on their own, it turns to fire in their mouths. It seemed to me this must be Kanzeon (what we call Avalokiteshvara in our lineage) as Kanzeon will often be depicted carrying a jar of clear water, and it seems compassion is what is needed to help these beings find nourishment.  Here is a version of the Six Realms that has that figure delivering water, though it is not the same image as the large poster we were using in class.

Just an aside, I was talking to another teacher today who expressed the wish to have a giant poster of the Six Realms, and boy howdy, do I agree.  Even with the big poster-board, the kids crowd around wanting to see images up even that is not big enough.  Hmmm, I wonder if we could have a custom sign made that could fill a wall.  Or maybe, once my sangha is in its new home, an actual mural could become part of its plans, but that's a few years down the road.

I needed more time for their craft, so we quickly had our snack, cleaned up, then I showed them what we would be doing. I asked them to draw pictures of the gakis, or hungry ghosts, and images from the Hungry Ghost realm. Sometimes they color what they wish, but this time they all really did draw hungry ghosts.

  1. Use colors, draw your picture on sandpaper with thick lines, lots of color, don't hold back. 
  2. Take a piece of white art paper, place it over the sandpaper picture, and sandwich this inside two sheets of newspaper.
  3. Have an adult iron the paper until enough color has transferred over to the white paper.  Dry, medium heat.  This takes a minute or two.

While they colored their pictures, I read them a quick story from Buddha at Bedtime: Tales of Love and Wisdom for You to Read with Your Child to Enchant, Enlighten and Inspire called The Dirty Old Goblet.  One salesman is mean and greedy, the other is kind and generous.  First the greedy salesman comes along and sees the dirty goblet and pretends it's worthless, planning to return and say he changed his mind.  Then the honest salesman comes along and trades all his goods and his money for the goblet, telling the girl and her grandmother it was worth far more than he had.  The greedy salesman displayed classic gaki behavior, even to the point he couldn't get what he wanted after all.

One girl seemed disappointed that hers didn't turn out very clear (I think there will always be at least one child who will color delicately) but I assured her it made her gaki look very much like a ghost.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Six Realms: Introduction

After meditation and check-in, I brought out the big foam board image of the Six Realms.  I wasn't ready with a check-in topic, but the kids came up with a good one: your favorite color.

We spent time looking at it, just seeing what they could see. I told them this is the Six Realms, known as the Wheel of Life.  They had good questions.  Who is that holding the Six Realms?  That is Lord Yama.  Immediately one child noticed he was also in the bottom realm, the Hell Realm.  One boy was seeing it as the Devil Realm.  As we observed, I shared short descriptions of the realm in question, just a word or phrase, if needed.  In the Asura or Fighting Gods Realm, the people feel needy, and want what they haven't got.  In the Animal Realm, all they are thinking about is survival.  In the Hell Realm, they are angry and in pain.  Some kids remembered about the Hungry Ghosts, and could share that these Gakis needed help as they find it hard to eat and drink.  In the Human Realm, we are able to make choices.  In the Heaven Realm, everything is easy, but it is easy to get too sleepy.

I explained that not only is this the Wheel of Life, but it is a reflection of who we are, that what Lord Yama is holding up is a mirror.  That we each have emotional ways of being that can put us in each of these realms, in fact we can go through each of these realms even in one day.  One child wanted to know about the hub, with the three animals of the defiling passions.  I told her that was like the hub of a wheel, those represented what kept us going round and round on the Wheel of Life, and that we would get to that in another lesson.

I was without a co-teacher this day, so it was helpful that my craft for the day was coloring of the Six Realms.  Because it is complex, kids tend to take great care with it, and are quiet while they concentrate.  While they colored with markers, I read them a story from The Wisdom of the Crows and Other Buddhist Tales titled The Man Who Didn't Want to Die. The kids were concerned about coloring and seeing the pictures from the story at the same time, but I assured them I would show them a picture when there was one, and there weren't many.

The story truly has examples of every realm.  A man has a good, easy life, but after he reaches a certain age, he begins to be concerned about death.  He doesn't want to die, and he seeks out the source of a tale of a man who went in search of an elixir of life, a man who reportedly became a god.  He finds the hermitage where they pray to this god Jofoku, and the man prays for his answers.

After a week, the god visits him, and sends him to the Land of Neverending Life.  The man settles there, and finds the people aren't happy with their long lives.  They keep trying to kill themselves, but can't.  After many many years, the man decides he could die after all, and calls out to Jofoku for help.  On the way home, he changes his mind and wants to turn back, and while flying in a storm over the ocean, his transport disintegrates and he is almost eaten by a shark.  He calls for help from Jofoku again.  He wakes up in the temple, and is told Jofoku sent him the dream so he would know he doesn't want to live forever, and he doesn't want to die yet either.  The messenger tells the man he should live a good life, do good for others, and be content.  The man does, and lives to a good old age.

This story had the kids quite engaged.  I told them we would probably revisit it later in the year, as we could find all the Six Realms in the story.  Shows how much I know...they already could find the Six Realms.  One boy said,  "I bet I know what the Land of Neverending Life is!"  He said Heaven, because they never get sick and die, and always have what they need.  I started asking more questions.  What about when there was the shark?  The Animal Realm, of course.  What about when the man wanted never to die? The Hungry Ghost Realm.  What about when the man left the Land of Neverending Life, but wanted to turn back?  The Fighting Gods Realm...he wanted what he had lost.  What about the people in the Land who wanted to die and kept trying to poison themselves?  The Hell Realm.  What about the end, when the man was content and helped others?  The Human Realm.  The kids had all the answers.  One mom told me her son was already telling her about each of the Realms and was so impressed with what he already knew.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

On Altars: The 11th Ave Buddha

For my first lesson of the year, I like to spend time on setting up an altar, and on meditation instruction and why we might do that.  I thought I might cover only that, as I wouldn't have much time to introduce the theme of the year...if only I could find the right story.

I talked about altars.  Traditionally with altars we usually have some flowers, and we usually have some incense, as well as the statue.  I said we have some unusual things for our altar because I want them to know they can bring anything to their altar.  An altar reflects who we are.  Some people have special rocks.  Together, we've created an altar that reflects who we are as a group.  At home, they can have their own altar that reflects themselves.

For check-in I asked them if there was something they had that was special to them, that they would put on their own altar if they had one. Next I gave instruction on meditation.

The right story did fall right into my lap.  Dharma Rain's newsletter came out, and it included a Dharma Talk by my teacher which refers to a news story about a Buddha statue on a street median in Oakland.  This story had the makings to show just what an altar means deep down to people.  For a craft this day, I simply had Crayola Color Explosion paper and markers.  This paper requires the matching markers which rather than add color, reveal color through a chemical process.  I asked the kids to draw something about the story or what they learned that day.  I also had stencils, many of which could be visitors to the 11th Avenue Buddha.  Just as the presence of a Buddha statue revealed the wish for making offerings and creating an altar, so they too could reveal images with their paper.

I even prepared enough ahead to create a felt board story for it.  If you haven't created such a thing, it's easy enough.  If you don't have images from a story, you can search for clip art that fits your story, print and cut.  Quick and dirty: put double-sided tape on the back of your pieces.  Little more time: cut felt and glue it to the back of your pieces, and/or cut and color felt pieces to show your image.

Here is the story as I wrote it up.  I didn't read this verbatim, but ad-libbed according to things we'd said earlier, and comments the kids had.  I put words in red for my cues for the felt board.  When it came to adding offerings, I made a bunch so the kids could put their own offerings up on the felt board.

The 11th Avenue Buddha 

Who here has heard of Oakland, California? I have a true story to tell you about something that happened on 11th Avenue in Oakland, California.

 You see, there was this couple, Dan and Lu, who lived on this street and saw how dirty and trashed the space was across from them. Now, not everyone behaves like they should. People would use it almost like a garbage dump. Sometimes they even left battered old mattresses. People would pee there. People would spray graffiti. Sure the city would come along and clear out the trash, but soon more trash and graffiti would take its place. Dan and Lu decided to try something.

They want to a hardware store and found a concrete statue of a Buddha. Dan thought about this. What would work best so the Buddha would not get up and walk away? Once he figured that out, how to anchor the Buddha in place, he and Lu put the Buddha in the median space. Now, Dan and Lu are not Buddhists. They picked the Buddha because they thought he represents compassion and brotherhood and peace.

At first not much seemed to happen. People still dumped their garbage. But there was a little bit of change: the trash was left at the other end of the median. “Buddha just sat there and never said a word.”

After a year, there was half as much graffiti. There were less people hanging out using drugs and urinating there. “And all the Buddha did was sit there.”

During the second year, someone painted the Buddha a beautiful soft white. 

You’ll never guess what happened then. What do you think?

People started leaving offerings. First there were oranges and pears. Then flowers and candy. And then larger flower arrangements and bowls of fruit. Finally, people left candles and incense.

For a long time Dan didn’t see the actual people leaving the offerings. They just appeared like magic. Almost all of the garbage dumping disappeared. More neighbors started keeping the area clean, and with more visitors, people stopped using the space like a toilet. “Buddha just sat there not saying a word.”

In the third year, a man approached Dan with a question. Could he build a little house for the Buddha? Dan said the man didn’t need his permission because this was a civic Buddha and didn’t belong to him alone but to the community. After that people came to visit the Buddha in large numbers throughout the day. They tend the offerings and sweep daily. Neighbors feel safer because there are always good people nearby. “And to think that this Buddha just sat there all [that] time and never said one word.”
Not shown: I flipped the Buddha and photoshopped it to be white.
[optional continuing ending]

One day Dan got a call from a neighbor. A city employee [truck] was in the neighborhood looking for information about the Buddha. Dan talked to the employee. Someone made and anonymous complaint about the Buddha. Just like any garbage, the city would have to remove the Buddha. The employee wanted to give whoever installed it a chance to remove it so it wouldn’t have to be thrown away. The city employee assured Dan that if garbage got dumped again, the city would pick it up. “The Buddha just sat there across the street … and said not a word.”

Dan immediately contacted all the people he could to help save the Buddha. They sent letters and made phone calls. The city department and a councilwoman postponed the dismantling of the Buddha in order to study the situation. The Buddha sat there and didn’t say a word.

Happily, about a month later, the Councilwoman called Dan and told him the city has no plans to remove the 11th Avenue Buddha. Dan wrote, “Being a cynic this news has set into question my view of the world as I see it. … As Buddha just sat there and said nothing, [the community] filled his silence with support and the City of Oakland heard [them].”


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lotus Sutra: Illuminating Light

IMG_4942_1 9-26-10This was the first Dharma School of the year, so I had a very short lesson introducing the theme.

I focused first on paying attention and the effort of sitting still in medition through the picture book Let's Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile.  Two boys who are playing have done everything there is to do, so they decide to do nothing. What results is a very busy time doing nothing.

We sang the song "This Light of Mine" as a prelude to the idea of the Illuminating Light coming from the Buddha.

I told the kids that we would be talking about stories from the Lotus Sutra, that these stories were told to many thousands of beings, including Bodhisattvas.  Some of the kids remembered learning about the Bodhisattvas, and they were told by the Buddha in a long long talk, and it's going to take us the whole year to talk about it.

When the Buddha gives this talk, I say, "This light shines from his head, this beautiful brilliant light.  Flowers rain from the sky, special rare flowers.  And the earth quakes and trembles, because what the Buddha is telling them is so important.  The Buddha is telling them how to live this life, and let go of pain. How to be a Buddha. How to be a Bodhisattva.  So last year we learned about Bodhisattvas, and this year we learn how to be a Bodhisattva."

I showed them pictures of the Buddha with the light, which also included a lotus flower seat.

Before we retrieve the snack, we sing this song:
Row, row, row your boat
To the other shore.
Buddha Power is our guide.
We need no other oar.

Then, for our craft, they drew pictures of the Buddha with the light, and I had various foam and glittery stickers they could add as well.

IMG_4941_1 9-26-10

Monday, August 30, 2010

Catching up

I never intended to get behind more than two years on my postings. What I'd like to do this year is keep up, and at the same time catch up with my past Dharma School lessons. Since I've last posted, the folks at my Zen Center decided to change the name of the Children's programming to Dharmagarden, but it's still Dharma school for kids.

I intended to complete a full cycle of our themes with the group of grade school girls, but this past year I was asked to teach the 5 year olds. I was needed there. More on that later. When I catch up on those lessons, if I am reminded of ideas I would have used with the girls, I will mention them. I was gratified that several times during the year, girls visited me to show off their art/craft projects and to give me hugs.

To keep the timeline understandable, I'll set the time stamp of the posts to the date that I gave the lesson.

I've also been writing the column on the Dharmagarden for our newsletter for two years. Since it doesn't appear that this is archived at the DRZC website, I will also post those past columns here. Strike is archived in the Stillpoint archives, but it's a convoluted process getting to all of them. I'll still post them here.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Bodhisattvas: Skit: Angulimala as told by 5 year olds

Angulimala as told by 5 year olds

[For rehearsal, separate children by those who want to show their rakes, shovels, hoes, brooms, etc; baby dolls; special bowls; toy swords and shields. Put them in their sections, then tell them what parts they'll play. It is ok if there are more than 1 Buddhas and Angulimalas...bandits and monks. Farming villagers, and birth mothers make up the rest.]

Villagers/farmers: Heinrich, Antonia, Ruby, Lucy
Baby moms (as well as villagers): Ada, Chloe, Maya
Bandits (Angulimala): Tim and ST (bring sword)
Monks (Buddha): Galilea and Sam: (bring bowl, wooden if possible)

Narrator: Once upon a time, a long time ago, during the time of the Buddha, in fact, there was a small kingdom with people who were happy and well off. They farmed, and traded, and traveled with ease.

Unfortunately, a plague came to their kingdom in the form of a bandit. They called this bandit Angulimala.

[Angulimala flourishes sword.]

What does Angulimala mean you ask? Let's ask the people. [addressing the farmers] What does Angulimala mean?

Farmer kids: Finger necklace! Aaaahhh! [run off stage]

Angulimala: Mwaaahaaahaaa! I love the fear! [flourishes sword]

Narrator: Angulimala had sworn he would kill 1,000 people. He kept count by stringing one finger on his necklace. People fled the country to the protection of the city. One day, the Buddha came walking to this kingdom, and he heard of the feared bandit. He decided to investigate.

When Angulimala saw this lone monk walking toward him, he laughed with glee.

[Angulimala twirls sword and laughs.]

Angulimala ran toward the Buddha, but a funny thing happened. He was never able to get any closer to the monk. No matter how fast he ran, he couldn't catch up to the Buddha. He was very frustrated. Finally Angulimala stopped, and he said,

Angulimala: Stop monk! Why can't I get close to you?

And the Buddha said,

Buddha: I have stopped. You should stop too.

Angulimala: What does THAT mean?

Buddha: I have stopped living in hope and fear, and I have stopped hating and hurting others. If you want to be like me, you should stop too.

Narrator: And the Buddha looked at Angulimala with such love and kindness that Angulimala DID want to be like the Buddha. He wished with all his heart that he had never hurt anyone, and he threw down his sword and shield and asked the Buddha to be his teacher.

Angulimala traded his finger necklace for a necklace of prayer beads, [flip necklace] and learned to meditate with the Buddha. The Buddha convinced the king to pardon him, and the new monk spent many hours in the forest meditating and he became calm and peaceful.

Now Angulimala knew he could never make up for all the people he had killed. Often when he walked past a crowd, he was elbowed, or tripped with a shovel or broom handle, or bumped so that he fell in a ditch.

[villagers trip, bump, jab, the monk Angulimala.]

The Buddha helped him to understand this was an effect of his past life as a bandit, this was his karma. Angulimala couldn't blame them. He would pick himself up, and bow, and offer to mend the broken broom handle.

You'll remember in his old life, Angulimala took delight in fear and in killing people. Now he felt remorse, and he loved life. He felt if only he could help life come to be, he could make up for his past in a small way.

Because of his past life, Angulimala knew well the ways of wounds and blood, and because he wanted to help people live, he took on the specialty, you could say, of helping mothers give birth safely. Because he took great care to pay attention to their needs, mothers in his care gave birth to healthy babies. His knowledge that had once helped him be a very bad man now supported his very loving actions.

[Angulimala visits mothers with babies. One or two 'give birth.']

In time, less and less people tried to hit or trip the kind and loving monk. Eventually, the gratitude among families for his help in supporting life overwhelmed the old fear and distrust.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bodhisattvas: Review

One of the other Dharma School teachers inspired me with his idea of teaching the Bodhisattvas as Superheroes.  Of course!  After all the ceremonies, the number of actual lessons is small, even so I wanted to do several reviews for my group, as a year was a long time for them.  First I wanted to review just what this thing was we'd been learning about, and then I'd review with reminders of all the previous lessons.  Superheroes was the perfect template for this.

Rickie and HenriI made sure we sang the song This Little Light of Mine.  This is a great song to exemplify the actions of a Bodhisattva.  It's all about letting my light shine so I can better help others.  (The version we sing is secular.) After reviewing the superpowers of the Bodhisattvas, I used Jane Goodall's Rickie and Henri to have the kids help me find those superpowers being used in the story.  Loving action, kindness, compassion, generosity, wisdom, protectiveness, all could be found here.  Love between animals is always a hit with five year olds.

For a craft activity, we used sharpies to color people-shaped wood craft sticks. The kids made self-portraits, themselves as Bodhisattva Superheroes.  For clothes, we used various colors of pipe cleaners.

For the final review lesson (April 25) I returned with the books I'd used, reviewed the Bodhisattvas, and determined what the kids would like to do for the skit.  It was a very quickly paced lesson.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bodhisattvas: Fugen

The Wisdom of the Crows and Other Buddhist TalesI don't think I've mentioned I chose to use the Japanese form of the name for the Bodhisattvas, even though the adults in my sangha now use the Sanskrit names in our services.  I was thinking it would be much easier for the kids in my group to say and remember these shorter names. 

Fugen is the Bodhisattva of Loving Action.  I have a vague memory that I was mulling over this lesson right up until the last evening.  I'd been looking over my various books with collections of Buddhist stories and folk tales, and decided upon one, when I came across this one.  Of course I knew of the story of Angulimala, but who would think of this as an example of loving action?  Of course what I remembered was the necklace of fingers, created from all the victims of Angulimala.  What I didn't remember, but what jumped out at me during this reading, as found in The Wisdom of the Crows and Other Buddhist Tales, was how Angulimala accepted the karma that came to him from others when he became a follower of the Buddha.  I didn't recall learning before how he specifically helped women while giving birth.  Aha, I thought.  Whereas previously he had been most unloving, and took away life, now he did what he could that was most loving, and helped life. Who better than a former cutthroat thief could understand how wounds worked, and how to keep someone alive? It turned out to be a great story to demonstrate the loving action of Fugen. (Sometimes the best lessons turn out to be these last minute brainstorms.)

I'm betting all the kids remember is the necklace of fingers.  One Dharma School mom thanked me for using this story.  It was the perfect sort of story for her kinetic, attention-scattered, run-around boy. 

For a craft activity, I had the kids draw with light-colored crayons, and water-paint over the crayon, as I did with this lesson.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bodhisattvas: Kanzeon

Zen Ties I recall the kids getting very involved with this lesson.  First I had the kids help me define compassion.  At this age they already have ideas about what it is.  Here are images of Kanzeon I shared with them. As I read through the book Zen Ties, I had the kids help me find the moments where someone was showing compassion to someone else.  Among the songs we sang was the Metta Round"Even as a mother protects with her life Her child, her only child So with a boundless heart Should one cherish all living beings." I should point out that I don't actually attempt to sing this as a round, but only as a simple song.

A few years back, I got a bunch of refrigerator magnets at SCRAP. I printed up some stickers to color, and used up the last of these magnets for this project. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bodhisattvas: Manjusri

The Coconut Monk
I used the book The Coconut Monk to demonstrate the wisdom of Manjusri.  This is an exquisite story that works for a wide range of ages. Here are images of Manjusri I shared with the kids.

For a craft activity, I used foam door hangers like these, and created stickers of Manjusri the kids could add, among other doodads.  In this first year of a new age range, I haven't been thinking of taking photos, so I don't have an image to share of this craft.  If I do find a sample from the class in my chaotic storage area, I'll share here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bodhisattvas: Hotei

Hotei is known to many people as the Buddha, though in our tradition we recognize Hotei as an historic monk who became known as the Laughing Buddha, and not the same historic figure known as the Buddha.

The Beckoning Cat: Based on a Japanese Folktale
Like Jizo, Hotei is associated with children, though rather than protectiveness, he is known for generosity.  Playing up that theme, I made this fun for the kids, telling them Hotei is kind of the Buddhist version of Santa Clause.

I used the book The Beckoning Cat: Based on a Japanese Folktale. In this story, a boy helps a cat, and the cat helps a boy earn money for his family while his father is sick by luring customers back to the boy's house.

Here are some images of Hotei I shared with the kids.

For a craft activity, we made bracelets with wooden beads and some colorful Hotei charms I found on Ebay (seller churchcats in case they have them again). There often are Laughing Buddha pendants or charms on Ebay, though often listed as Buddhas.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Bodhisattvas: Jizo

Little Stone BuddhaMy posts for this year of lessons will be short, as I misplaced my digital recorder that I use to help remember my lessons and those unexpected things that happen that come in handy for future lessons.

I found this book, Little Stone Buddha, a perfect lesson for Jizo Bodhisattva, as protector of the vulnerable.  I like it so much, I gave a copy to our Dharma School Library. The little stone Buddha comes to life, and protects others from harm.  He protects these two little foxes from arrows, though to the hunters it just looks like the arrows stop.  It is easy to adapt the lesson to various lessons in Buddhism.

The book ends with the little foxes sitting still as statues next to the Buddha. People left offerings for the foxes as well as the Buddha.  For a craft activity, I used that image, creating a gray scale image for the kids to color.  I prepared for the class by cutting out that image of the altar, with strips to the side that could link together, allowing it to stand up.  I intended this to be an altar of sorts, but the kids rapidly turned it into a small crown.  I also taught the kids how to draw a small Jizo, something they could include with their image.  It's simple, an upside-down U, topped with a circle for the head, dots for eyes, curved dash for mouth, optional button nose, and optional diagonal curved line down the U to indicate a robe.  The kids really liked this, some of them drawing many Jizos to go along with their Stone Buddha and Foxes.

For each Bodhisattva lesson, I searched around for images of that Bodhisattva to show as I told the kids about that Bodhisattva.  I would keep it simple, choosing one aspect of the Bodhisattva, maybe two, to emphasize and attach a lesson to. Here are some image samples I shared with the kids. 

If I were teaching the grade school girls, I would go more into all the aspects.  Tween girls often love lists and categorizations.  They would especially like knowing how each Bodhisattva is unique from the other.  For these younger ones, the moral lessons are simple: kindness, compassion, wisdom, protectiveness...all moral qualities they can understand and relate to.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bodhisattvas: Segaki and Kanzeon

I missed this class due to my 20 year college class reunion.  I lined up someone to substitute for me, a teacher and Dharma School parent, and my as yet unofficial assistant, Chris, who is also a Dharma School parent.  I asked they teach a lesson about they would both be familiar with.

Karen used a simple line art drawing of a creature with distended belly, skinny neck, and wide mouth.  Gollum sort of comes to mind.  She had the kids fill him up with various beans, grains, and pastas.  With glue, they created Gaki pasta mosaics.

Chris also told a story about Kanzeon, the one in which her head splits into 11 pieces.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


This is my first year to teach five year olds.  After teaching grade school girls for so many years, this is an adjustment.  Besides making my lessons simpler, I know I need to bring in more activity and flexibility.

For each lesson, I plan to sing songs, do some yoga for kids, as well as have a lesson, most often using a story book.  For yoga, I drew upon this great DVD.  Promising positions to me:
  • B is for Butterfly
  • F is for Friendly Flowers
  • H is for Hot Air Balloon
  • K is for Kissing Pose
  • M is for Moo Meow
  • O is for Om
  • P is for Pedal Laughing
  • Y is for Yoga
Through the year, I end up using F is for Friendly Flowers pretty much every time.  It works well as a way to bring us together as a group, and settle down for the rest of the lesson.  H and M work out well as ways to allow the kids to release some energy as they get restless.

Songs I expect to use from our Dharma School Songbook:
I plan to use Respect Polka every time as a way to acknowledge each child in turn, and Buddha Power every time as a signal we are about to have snack.  I'm not a great singer, especially as a lead, but kids don't worry about that, so I plan to use these songs that either are regularly sung in the larger group, or are easy for me to sing and the kids to learn.

If Peace Is...The order may vary depending on the restlessness of the kids, but my usual plan is to start with F is for Flower yoga, a simple checkin, a song, a story, Buddha Power song, snack, cleanup, then a craft activity.

For this first lesson, I introduce the idea of Bodhisattvas, and I use the book If Peace Is....  I find quickly that these kids will do well with more complicated books.  They sit quietly and I have plenty of time for extra yoga positions and songs.  With the older girls, I usually kept the first lesson simple and introductory, as they were busy catching up with each other after their summer off.  In this case, I find the kids don't know their place yet, so they listen quietly and aren't very restless.  For a craft activity, I keep it simple, using this image of various people circling the world.  A Google image search, limited to line art, is a Dharma School teacher's friend.  It was a Sunday School image for Christians; I used an image editor to modify it and make it more secular, adding a mandala to the center.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Life of Buddha: Skit

Life of the Buddha

Scene 1

Narrator: Let us visit the kingdom of Kapilavastu in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, more than 2500 years ago. While she sleeps, a white elephant with six golden tusks visits the dreams of Queen Mahamaya.

[Queen lying down asleep. White elephant approaches with lotus flower.]

Narrator: In her dream, the elephant touches her right side with a lotus flower it holds in its trunk.

[Queen wakes up startled. Elephant vanishes.]

Queen: “What can this mean? Husband!”

[King Suddodana approaches.]

Queen: “I must see a holy man! A holy man can tell me what my dream means.”

[King Suddodana leaves and comes back with the holy man.]

Queen: “O wise man, a brilliant white elephant with six sparkling tusks visited me in my dream. He held a lotus flower, and in the flower there was a jewel. He touched me with the flower, and I was so startled I woke up.”

Holy man: “This is good news, my lady. You are going to have a baby, and your prince will be a great leader. He could be a great king, or he could be a great holy man, it all depends.”

Suddodana: “It depends on WHAT.”

Holy man: “If your son becomes troubled when he sees old age, sickness, and death, he will long for answers and will take up the life of a holy man. The world will rejoice.”

Narrator: This worried King Suddodana, because he wanted his son to rule his kingdom one day. The king began to make preparations. He had palaces built with beautiful gardens. He planned for his son to be happy all the time.

[these three leave. Queen returns, pillow in belly.]

Scene 2

Narrator: It is traditional at this time in India for a woman to return to her mother’s home when she is having a baby. Queen Mahamaya is on her way there. She and her handmaidens are passing a forest with flowering trees when she stops, grabs hold of an overhanging branch, and her baby is born. Sweet tea and flower blossoms rain from the sky.

[baby buddha stands up, takes seven steps (lotuses spring from steps) points one finger down, and one finger to the sky]

Baby Buddha: “Above the heavens and below the earth, I alone am the world honored one.”

[queen and king pair up with baby, then new queen and king with baby. Leave at ‘clear away’]

Narrator: Queen Mahamaya names her prince Siddhartha, and returns to the palace. Sadly, she becomes ill, and dies a week later. King Suddodana marries her sister, and she raises the prince as if he were her own. Growing up, the prince needs nothing. The king has all the servants clear away all evidence of decay and death while the prince sleeps. Even so, Prince Siddhartha notices how animals are treated, and this makes him sad.

Scene 3

[Siddhartha enters with Channa, pulling the charioteer along.]

Siddhartha: “Father, please may I leave the gardens and go outside the walls?

Suddodana: “No, son.”

Siddhartha: “But father, Channa will make sure I’m safe. I’ll be ok, I promise! Please may I see the city?”

Suddodana: “I’m sorry, no.”

Siddhartha: “Please, father. I’m a grown man. I have a wife. She is going to have my child. I should take my place as your heir.”

Suddodana: (sighs) “Oh well. I suppose you must. You may go tomorrow, but you must stay with Channa at all times. Promise me.”

Siddhartha: “I promise.”

Narrator: The king relents because he has a plan. He quickly sends his men to the city with orders for the people to keep the old and sick people indoors. He orders all the streets cleaned, gives the people new clothes, and new plants for their gardens. No funerals are allowed. Everybody must smile and look happy for the prince. But despite all the King’s efforts, Siddhartha sees an old woman….a sick man….a dead man all wrapped in sheets….and a holy man so calm and peaceful.

[Siddhartha and Channa see old woman crooked with walking stick, sick man lying down, dead man with sheets, holy man in robes. They leave. New scene:]

Siddhartha: “Channa, I must leave my home. I must find the answer to all this suffering.”

Channa: “Your father will never allow it.”

Siddhartha: “I know. I can’t bear to say goodbye to my beautiful wife and our new baby. I will leave at night, and you will help me.”

Narrator: “Channa takes the prince out of the city. The prince gives Channa his royal clothes and jewels and walks away. His horse and Channa are both crying. Siddhartha chops off his hair, and puts on the discarded tattered yellow robe of a hunter.

Scene 4

[Gautama sits down as the narrator speaks.]

Narrator: Siddhartha Gautama looks for a holy man to be his teacher. None can teach him how to end suffering. He meets five monks who show him the practices of eating very little and causing himself pain. They say THIS is the way to Truth. Gautama practices this way until he almost dies, he is so thin.

[a girl comes along and leaves a bowl at Gautama’s feet. Gautama picks up the bowl, eats, puts the bowl down. Sits. Then gets up and stretches and smiles.]

Gautama: “Ahhh! I feel so much better! My mind is clear. The pleasures of the palace did not help me to understand the Truth, nor was it right to starve myself. Through a Middle Way I can find the Truth. I am sure of it.”

[(bodhi tree moved in place) Gautama splashes himself in the ‘river’ and goes to sit under the bodhi tree.]

Gautama: “I will not leave this seat until I have found the Truth.”

[while narrator speaks, Mara enters, glaring. Demons enter, rush at Gautama, try to scare him. Try to make him giggle. Demons leave. (thunder, snake umbrella rises over) Beautiful dancers return, dance in front of him.

Narrator: Seeing that Gautama could actually overcome his ignorance and desire, Mara, the Great Distractor, joins Gautama under his tree. He calls up his demons, who rush at Gautama, try to scare him. The demons try all kinds of things to move Gautama from his seat. Siddhartha Gautama does not move. The demons throw rocks at him. The rocks turn into flowers. The demons give up. Mara calls up thunder and lightning…………..Siddhartha does not move, and the King of the Cobras shelters Siddhartha under his hood. Mara calls up beautiful dancers. Gautama does not move.

Mara: Who do you think you are?! You don’t have what it takes!

[Gautama calmly reaches down with one hand and touches the earth.]

Earth: I am your witness. You have what it takes.

[Mara gives up, and leaves. Gautama sits. A small light appears …Crack of the wooden blocks.]

Buddha: That’s it! That’s it! All…. illuminated!

Scene 5

[The Buddha gets up, stands and looks at audience, gesture with hands as narrator says ‘teaches many years’. Lies down on side when narrator says ‘right up to his death’. Ananda approaches, wipes his forehead.]

Narrator: Thus, Siddhartha Gautama becomes the Buddha, the Awakened One, at the age of 35. He teaches many years, giving us many profound lessons, such as the 4 Noble Truths, that is that, One, we all experience suffering, Two, the cause of suffering is attachment, three, we can end suffering by ending attachment, and four, we can end attachment by following the Eightfold Path. He teaches right up to his death at the age of 80. Ananda takes care of him at his deathbed.

[many followers gather around, wringing hands, crying, pulling hair.]

Ananda: Please don’t die. If you die, who will be our teacher? We need you. Who will show us the way to enlightenment?

Buddha: Do not be sad when I die, my friends. Everything that has a beginning has an ending. The world goes on. Didn’t I teach you that you must find your own way to the Truth?

Ananda: Yes.

Buddha: I have taught all I could. I held nothing back. You have everything you need. The Dharma is your light and your refuge in this world. Remember, you must be your own light.

Props: pillow, elephant tusks, 7 lotus flowers, bower/branch, walking stick, sheets, bodhi tree (umbrella), large cobra snake head

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Life of Buddha: Review

For a review, we went over the lessons covered, and the girls put together booklets with foam covers they could decorate.

I got the pictures from this website: Life of the Buddha in Pictures.

Here is the document for the booklet of Buddha's Life.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Life of Buddha: The 4 Noble Truths

 I gave the girls an opportunity to learn another kind of walking meditation, outdoors.
I told them you want to pay attention to your body and how it touches the ground, how your breath moves with your body. How fast you go is up to you, but, you don't want to lose track of that concentration. If it helps you can try one of these ideas.
  • Visualize this: with every step you take you're sending roots down into the ground, roots that sprout. Behind you, lotus blossoms sprout. Think of lotus blossoms sprouting from your footsteps.
  • Think of your favorite animal. Think of how that animal is trying to be very quiet and not seen by other animals. It pays attention to  its body and knows exactly what its body is doing. You can pretend to be that animal.
  • Simply concentrate and pay attention to your breath and to how your body feels as you move and your feet touch the ground.
You're better off starting out slowly. If you feel like you can speed up and keep concentrating, you can do that. You don't have to follow each other; you can branch off and you can turn around. Bells ring to start and to end.
They liked that the meditation was fun, that they could turn around, go any way. I explained that this was a good meditation for getting used to keeping that concentration while moving, even while doing tasks. A neat thing about it is that you can do it in if you feel that need for that calm feeling of meditation, you can do this kind of meditative focus.

Earlier I'd requested we sing our song, "The Four Noble Truths," and now I reminded them of it, and told them that this is something that all Buddhists share, that we study the Four Noble Truths as the Buddha taught us. For that reason I chose this to represent the teaching part of the Buddha's life. I had them help me remember the Four Noble Truths from their knowledge of the song.
  1.  Everybody suffers just like you.
  2. We suffer because we grasp and crave.
  3. We can end the suffering by ending the craving.
  4. We can end the craving with The Eightfold Path. 
I reminded them of the Three Poisons: Greed; Hatred; and Delusion. These are what form the craving or attachment.

I went over the Eightfold Path with them, they helped. Right Understanding or View is seeing things as they really are. Right Intention is having a commitment with a positive emotion toward that commitment. Right Speech: don't lie; don't be mean with your words; don't gossip. Right Action (pretty straightforward). Right Livelihood. One volunteered "don't kill." So I asked, if someone is a butcher, is that Right Livelihood? In some Buddhist traditions, it would not be. However, in other traditions, if they do their job with care for the animals, so the animals don't suffer needlessly, it could be Right Livelihood. Right Effort: taking care; being thoughtful; doing your best. Right Mindfulness: paying attention. Right Concentration: as we discovered with the walking meditation, it's possible to bring that concentration to other parts of our life.

While they colored their copies of the Four Noble Truths with an image of an 8-spoked Dharma Wheel, I shared some very short stories that demonstrated this. These were made into stickers. I used the pop-up book Fishing for the Moon and other Zen Stories by Lulu Hansen. These are the things I drew out of the stories:

Fishing for the moon 
1. Mistaken about the moon in the well. “something terrible” they want it to be right.
2. Excitement clouds their thinking. They’re attached to it being right.
3. Understand clearly to end this attachment.
4. Right Understanding. Right Effort -> they did have this

Parable of the Strawberry 
1. Man in fear for his life.
2. Panic, clinging to life; attached to a future
3. Be present in this moment to let go of the wish for a particular future.
4. Right Mindfulness, Right Understanding

Girl on Muddy Road 
1. Monk annoyed, angry over breaking of the rules.
2. Attached to the rules, pushes away any distractions, afraid he’ll stray from his intention.
3. Concern about the spiritual effort of others blinds him to his own. Following rules doesn’t mean effort is correct. Thinks pushing distractions away makes you strong
4. Right Understanding, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Action

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Nehan Instruction and Meditation

We have a little time before the ceremony to give instruction.

As I've noted elsewhere, I've found it helps with ceremonies to give some guided instruction during meditation. Then they have time for a quick check-in, which I use as a way for them to think about their roles in the ceremony. In this case, I gave instruction first, and I borrowed a technique from another tradition, Worship Sharing of the Friends. I explained it was kind of like combining their check-in with meditation.

I shared the story of the woman and the mustard seed to introduce death and loss.

  The Buddha met a woman who had lost her baby son. She was devastated. She had heard the Buddha could perform miracles. So she went to the Buddha, and she was holding her son, and she said, "Buddha, can you bring my son back?"
  The Buddha could see she was very distressed, and there wasn't much he could say, so he said, "I want you to go to every household in this area. If you can find a household that has never experienced loss, bring me a mustard seed from that household."
  So that woman did that. She went to every household and found out the losses that people had experienced. Doing that, she realized that she was not alone, that everybody experiences loss.  She was able to start letting go of her baby that she had lost.
  Finally she came back to the Buddha. He said, "Do you have a mustard seed for me?" And she told him, "No, I don't. But I'm ready now to let go of my son."

That is what our ceremony is about today, I said. There are people that come into our lives, and they go away, they die. Here is an explanation of the Nehan Ceremony. Then, the worship sharing medition...I explained that we don't sit so formally like we do with our regular meditation. We face each other, but don't want to be too distracting to others. If we feel like we have something we wish to share, we do that.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Life of Buddha: Death

There were quite a few people in the class, some new, so I took some extra time with meditation instruction:
  I want everybody to do their absolute best to be very quiet. No talking, and no body language talking. By that I mean no silent talking to your friend. We're going to do some meditation that's all about focusing on your own breath and your own body. Like the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, we're gonna allow those distractions to float on by. ...even with the drums going on next door, we're just gonna let that float on by.
 I began the lesson speaking of the ceremony Nehan, which we would celebrate at the next Dharma School.  We remember those who have died in our lives, whether people or pets.

I shared various pictures of the gathering that happened when the Buddha died. The Buddha was about 35 when he experienced enlightenment, but he died when he was around 80 years old. He knew he was going to die, and accepted a tainted bowl of food despite knowing that. His cousin Ananda nursed him, and wished to save him. He was always the one who remembered what the Buddha said. Ananda begged, "If you leave us, who will be our teacher? Who will show us the way to Nirvana and Enlightenment that conquers all suffering?"

Everybody gathered round, they didn't want the Buddha to die. They were wailing and suffering. The Buddha smiled. He gave the most important talk of his life. He said, "Don't be sad, my friends. Remember, all things that have a beginning must have an end. And haven't I taught you that the only way to Nirvana lies in you. You must find if for yourself." He said, "Be a light unto yourself. You'll find your own wisdom in yourself, and you can pass that on to others, just as I have to you."

For checkin I had asked the girls to share one thing of the truth in their life...something of their own wisdom. I reminded them of the song, "This Little Light of Mine." I asked, "What is your light? What is something in your life that is your light that you can offer, your wisdom? It could be a word, like joy, or peace, or happiness. You could surprise me. What is your light? What is your truth?" I got such answers as caring, animal lover, kindness, generosity, music, creativity.  I told them this was why, to remind them of their own wisdom that they already have, and that they can pass on to others.

The Buddha taught us a way to uncover that truth and that wisdom. When Buddha reminded Ananda of that, Ananda nodded. Buddha said, "Keep the light that glows within you burning, for it alone will lead you to truth." Keep the light that shines within you, like the song.

This is how we get the Dharma of Buddhism, like one light passing to another, from teacher to student.

For a craft, I had little heart-shaped tins (favor tins) with a lid with window to see inside. They could paint with paint pens or use sharpies. They could choose 3 polished decor stones to put inside, for use in meditation.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Life of Buddha: Under the Bodhi Tree

There are always different numbers of girls who come to Dharma School. I have to plan to be able to handle a lot, or a few, girls in the class. When a few, we can spend more time in discussion. When many, I can only hope that something of the lesson sinks in. I may never know what the thing is that will light them up. On this day had a full room, as well as a guest who is working on putting together his center's Dharma School program.

For this lesson I had a special craft I know they love: shrinky dinks. Unfortunately I spent enough time finding the art and preparing it that I ran out of the time I like to spend on reflecting on the lesson itself. I read through my materials, but as far as class went, I was winging it. Fortunately, I've been doing this awhile.

There were several new girls in class, as we allow new attendees at the beginning of the school year, and in January when we return from a December break. I realized I needed to spend a little time with review of how the hour is spent.

Because the Buddha is said to have walked around the Bodhi Tree in meditation after he experienced enlightenment, I taught them walking meditation. We do a very slow walking meditation. I showed them how to hold their hands, gave them some guidance on focusing their attention inwards, and on their breath, and began. I walked them through their first couple of steps. Take a breath in and lift your foot, let your breath out and put your foot down. You might take another breath before you move again, and that's ok. Find your own rhythm as you lift your foot.....and put it down. I believe I injected something about doing this silently because I needed to. Some of the girls are quite comfortable in class, and that means they're busy catching up and connecting with each other.

Because we had so many girls in such a small room, we slowed to a standstill, so I decided we would not spend more than those couple of minutes on meditation. I had asked a new girl to light the incense, and a new girl to snuff it. (With so many girls I didn't have the time to figure out who had already done what task. To be fair, I've been keeping a list.)

I spent a little time explaining check-in, that we go around and say our names, and say something about ourselves. Sometimes it might have to do with the lesson, and sometimes it could be something we want to share with the others. This day, it needed to be one thing about ourselves, and we needed it short. I had a lot of "I don't know what to say." Perhaps when I have such a number of mixed new and returning, and many, students, I need to remember to be more directive with that check-in topic. They are always assured they don't have to say something if they don't want to.

Funny thing is, one girl thought to ask what the craft was that day. I said it was something special, and she would simply have to wait.

I read from Demi's Buddha about Buddha's enlightenment, first asking if anybody remembered the last lesson. The Buddha had learned he couldn't figure this out if he starved himself, and he couldn't if he had too much wealth. That this discovery was called the Middle Way, and that the metaphor often used is a lute, or a stringed instrument. And that because their life in modern times in the United States was very different from the Buddha's, that their Middle Way would look different than the Buddha's, and it was up to them to figure out their own Middle Way. Sounds like a lot, but some remembered these things.

So, from Demi:
One morning Siddhartha accepted a bowl of rich milk and rice from a village girl. With his energy renewed, he was determined to find the Truth of life over death, the end of suffering for himself and for all people. He bathed in the Nairanjana River and then walked to a large bodhi tree, a spot where many Buddhas had been enlightened. Along the way, a cowherd offered Siddhartha eight handfuls of grass to sit upon. He spread the grass beneath him under the tree. 
  Siddhartha vowed, "Even if my blood dries up an my skin and bones waste away, I will not leave this seat until I have found the Truth; life over death; the end of suffering for myself and for all mankind!"

I commented, some people say evil, you might say distractions or things that keep you from experiencing enlightenment....
  Mara, the Evil One, heard this vow and called upon his army of demons to defeat Siddhartha's enlightenment. Mara planted doubts and fears in Siddhartha's mind. He conjured whirlwinds, darkness, rain, and lightning. The earth cracked before Siddhartha; trees crashed around him. But the purity of his mind dispelled Mara's power. Mara hurled a shower of meteors; they changed into heavenly flowers around the tree. The evil One could not move Siddhartha. 
  "The seat of virtue is mine!" Mara thundered. "Who can say it is yours, Siddhartha?"
  Then the earth shook and thundered its reply, "I, Earth, can say that the seat of virtue belongs to Siddhartha, for I have witnessed his goodness in this life and in all his former lives!"

The Buddha touched the earth when he said this. About this point I was wishing I'd had more time to do this reflection, and I riffed on the main point of this lesson, the Earth as Witness. I said this is a good thing to remember, say, if you're feeling a lot of distractions, if you feel your thoughts or your emotions are all over the place, is to get in touch with the ground, and actually touch the ground. In this modern world, we might say we 'need to get grounded.' It can be helpful if you do actually get closer to the ground, to the earth, to feel more centered and focussed. So you may often see Buddha statues in this position, with one hand touching the ground, and they call this the Earth Witness Buddha.

I showed them images and pulled out a few phrases from the other book I was using, The Prince Who Ran Away. I knew they would like the image of the king of the cobras sheltering the Buddha when Mara sent the rains.

Using more images I'd found on the web, again I riffed. Have you ever had such a feeling that inside you it rained flowers and the earth trembles and the birds are singing? One girl was nodding vigorously. This is what they are trying to convey with these images....

So, the craft. I gave them the choice of coloring in a preprinted Earth Witness Buddha...and they had a choice of several...or drawing a picture that had to do with the lesson. One girl asked, "Can I draw..." and I said I would prefer if she chose something from the lesson. I also began by saying they could only have one, just one shrinky dink. It was a good thing I had a guest. I gave him the task of punching a hole in their completed shrinky dink, so they could hang it by a thread if they wished. My co-teacher helped them with their drawing and any other needs, including snack. I did the heating with the mega-blow-dryer.

You can get full-sized sheets of shrinky dink plastic at a store like Michael's that can be sent through a copier. Some can go through a bubble-jet printer. You create the document for the art you wish to use, print it on paper, and using a copier, hand-feed the plastic for the copy. You need to test which side gets the print, then feed so that the frosted or rough side goes through oriented to that side. I had colored pencils for those printed pieces, and I had colored Sharpies for the opaque white or beige artwork if the girls so chose. There was an even mix. When it comes to art, I find it is good to have that choice, so they can feel good about what they create, whatever their skill level.

Here is the document I used for their printed shrinky dink plastic pictures of the Buddha touching the earth.  

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Life of Buddha: The Middle Way

I used a combination of my own narration, and some excerpts in verse from The Light of Asia by Sir Edwin Arnold.

After Siddhartha left home, he cut off his hair, and traded his clothes for old yellow robes. He joined some monks, or yogis, who thought if they deprived themselves, and treated their bodies in extreme ways, they could achieve a certain wisdom. This old poem form of the story has wonderfully grotesque descriptions of the scene. However, it would work better for children a little older with more vocabulary. Also, it is good to begin a lesson with a vocabulary game of some sort, covering those more complex words.

Siddhartha nearly died, but a girl passing by offered him some food, which made the monk realize his old life of riches didn't give him what he needed, but neither did this life of deprivation. It is compared to a musical instrument, the lyre, this middle way that he found. The key is not to make the strings too tight, or too loose.

I asked the kids if they had examples of "too much" or "too little" like this. Not really, so I discussed the Buddha's two extremes some more.

For our activity, I created a coloring page using imagery from the coloring book, and an image of a lyre. In the instrument, I punched holes so the girls could insert some glittery string, taping it on the back. Here is the Middle Way coloring page.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Life of Buddha: Encountering Suffering

Various picture books of the Buddha's life have different qualities that make them good. I chose bits from each of the three books for this lesson. I reminded the girls of The Charioteer Song that we sing sometimes. This story, they are familiar with.

For an activity, I created a scroll using the images from the coloring book of Buddha's life. Click for the Buddha's four sights away from the palace. For prep, I printed, cut in half, pasted the two pieces, and pasted popsicle sticks on the ends.

To learn the full story of the 4 sights that prompted Siddhartha to leave home, see the song:
The Charioteer Song page 1
The Charioteer Song page 2

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Life of Buddha: Devadatta

The next lesson after this is the ceremony Segaki, and it seemed to me Devadatta makes a good example of a Hungry Ghost. While I would have liked to teach the Buddha's life in a chronological order, I liked the idea of relating his life to our ceremonies more, so the story of his birth comes much later in the year when we celebrate Wesak.

Image found here
I shared the story of Siddhartha, the young Buddh-to-be, with Devadatta and the Swan from the picture book Buddha by Demi.

While Siddhartha's father protected him from seeing old age, sickness, and death, he still got into things with his cousin Devadatta, as boys do.  In this story, Devadatta shot down a swan, and Siddhartha caught it to nurse back to health.

Each boy considered the swan to be his, so they took the disagreement to the court, where it was decided Siddhartha could keep the swan, as life is sacred.

While I told the story, I had the girls color a picture of the swan story from Story of the Buddha: A Coloring Book found at buddhanet.  (There is also a text book that includes the images and more text.)

Once done, we moved on to creating a swan origami. To accommodate the younger ages, I sought simple swan origami instructions. The kids had a choice, to keep the origami separate, or to paste it to their picture.