Sunday, December 25, 2005

Lotus Sutra: The Parable of the Medicinal Herbs

Dharma Rain

My partner in teaching, Kim, led this class at the end of November. She began the class by introducing a new meditation technique. She had the girls lie down on the floor, arranging themselves so they were not touching each other. She softly guided them to quietude, and drew their attention to parts of their bodies. When the bell sounded the girls were much less restless than usual.

To introduce the lesson, Kim gave each girl a word from the reading, The Parable of the Medicinal Herbs. She asked the girls to help define the words. Once each word was understood, she asked each girl to raise her word in the air when she heard it in the story. She read the verse portion of the chapter. Some of the words I remember she used were beneficent, saturation, secluded, flourishes, dharma.

There are various lessons that can be learned from this parable about Dharma Rain. All children in our Dharma School are familiar with this dharma rain falling everywhere equally, "with a single flavor of liberation." A popular song with the kids, I requested we sing it that day so it would be fresh in their minds. Another emphasis in the lesson can be found in the different sizes of the bushes, herbs, and trees. Each receives the rain according to its ability and need. There's always enough rain for their needs. Each in its own time will grow lush and beautiful. Kim chose to focus on the lesson found in the plants' differences with a little game for the girls.

Kim brought out a jar full of dried beans. Taking handfuls and raining them down over the girls heads, she told them to try catching as many beans as they could, and to gather as many from the floor as they could. The winner would have the most beans. Once the flurry was over and each girl had a little pile of beans in front of her, Kim talked about how their piles were different sizes. She asked them, "So-and-so's is bigger than the other's, is that fair?" She asked them to speculate as to why a pile would be bigger. Maybe one was older, taller? With the dharma, it wouldn't matter how much we get, no one is superior. We may have different abilities, but eventually we all get the same beans.

For our activity, to celebrate the Dharma Rain we made rain sticks using the dried beans from the game. I found a very simple, quick design for a rain stick. Materials: empty cardboard tubes, dried beans, aluminum foil, and stickers. Empty wrapping paper tubes would be best, but I was easily able to use toilet paper tubes by taping three together end to end.

Taking aluminum foil that is at least 1 1/2 times the length of the tube, we crinkled and squeezed it into a snake. We took that snake and made it zigzag to fit in the tube. Our Zen Center has a thrifty and eco-conscious habit of saving used aluminum foil, so we used this for the insides of our rain sticks. We took another piece of foil a half foot longer than the tube, and wrapped it around the tube. Folding over one end to seal the tube, we poured a handful or two of beans into the tube, and then sealed the second end. For stickers we had plenty of animal and plant stickers saved from those non-profit mail solicitations. Rainsticks finished, it sounded as if we had a thunderstorm in the room.

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