Monday, February 06, 2006

The Lotus Sutra: The Phantom City

When I come upon mystical or magical parts in stories, while I do like to revel in them, I've discovered I also like to ground them in the real world for the girls. To me, this story is about attitude. (Scroll almost to the bottom of the title link.) When we go on a long, hot, dusty journey, many of us naturally get discouraged. We need something to boost our spirits, and we need to feel like we'll get there in the end.

Since this story is also about the spiritual journey toward experiencing enlightenment, toward becoming a Buddha, I started off with a review. I asked the girls what stories they remembered from the year. I asked if the parents, if the physician, etc were buddhas, and pointed out some traits these buddhas had. That they could see what needed to happen in the various situations, while the children couldn't, and that they could figure out a means to help the children. I also brought up the song "Sit Up Straight," asking the girls what that was about. It took a couple of tries for someone to say "meditation." I reminded them of the phrase, "we all need samadhi to lean on," clarifying it wasn't "somebody" in our song, but "samadhi". I explained samadhi is also a skill a Buddha would have, and that samadhi is a still-pointed centeredness people come upon in meditation. Like the song says, it helps us, and a buddha can access this samadhi.

I asked, "Is everyone a buddha right away?" and I got a prompt answer, "No." This led into my story...

I read from the verse section, starting with "I will cause you to enter the Buddha way..." This long journey is so much like that of European American pioneers, I invoked the Oregon Trail. I'd read a few lines, and then speculate on the experience of the pioneers. They had the long dusty trails, they must have got hot, sick, and discouraged. On the one hand I read of gardens and groves, mansions and pavilions, ponds and lakes, and on the other hand, I asked the girls if they'd ever been to Multnomah Falls...or any waterfall. Think about what that would be like, to be so hot, hungry and tired, and to come upon a waterfall, with the sun making the water drops sparkle like jewels. The settlers could stop at a waterfall, rest, and find food. Then they would have the energy to keep going to the end of their journey.

While the buddha in this tale used magical powers to conjure a city where the people could rest, the pioneers had to rely on the treasures nature had to offer, and their own attitude. Just as a day could look bleak, damp, and dreary, the sun could come out and transform water to sparkling gems. So, to capture that elusive shift from dull and discouraged, to rested and energetic, I had the girls make suncatchers, and I used mine to repeat the lesson. No sun...doesn't look like much, but add a little sun, and the colors shine like colored glass, a shift in perspective.

Very simple, I had them cut shapes out of the inner circle of paper plates. Once finished with cutting, they pasted a circle of tracing paper on the inside of the plate, covering the cutouts. (One could also use white tissue paper.) Then they used markers to give their shapes color. A few girls really liked not having to stay inside the lines. Then, with the tracing paper side facing the window, the girls could see the colors shine through their cutout shapes.

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