Monday, April 24, 2006

Perceiver of World's Sounds: the Kanzeon Scripture

Our final lesson from the Lotus Sutra is one that any person at Dharma Rain might encounter. The Universal Gateway Scripture, also known as the Kanzeon Scripture, is important to our Zen sect. We chant this at least a couple of times a month, every other Saturday. Since this was something so central to our practice at the Zen Center, I wanted to give the girls a taste of it. The grade school boys group chants the Fudo Ceremony, and our class often hears them through the walls while we meditate silently. Here was a chance for the girls to experience another form of Buddhist practice.

Long a favorite ceremony of mine, this portion does take about ten minutes to chant, and the pattern of the beats can be unexpected and difficult to chant. I had chosen a challenging lesson for the girls on this first Sunday in April.

Since this would also be the last lesson where we created something, I wanted that to be special as well. I know the kids always love shrinky dinks, and that was something I've wanted to do all year. These take time, another challenge to add to the mix.

Since the chanting would take the place of meditation, we started out the lesson with a quick check-in. After Kim and I demonstrated a stanza, we all practiced the same stanza. I made sure the girls knew about the repeating line "By mindfully invoking Kanzeon's power" so if they got lost, they could join in again at that line. I explained this wasn't easy to chant, and no doubt we would make mistakes, but it would all be okay. We then proceeded to do pretty well, and made it through the ten minute chant without mishap.

At the beginning of the lesson, I explained that with this practice we chant not so much to comprehend every thing at once, but to let bits of the chant arise and catch our attention. Since this would be their first reading of the scripture, what I would do is read it to them after we did the chanting, while they started on the surprise activity.

Kim helped the girls stamp their shrink plastic while I read the scripture again. We encouraged them to draw images that came to mind from the reading. They quietly listened as they chose colored pencils and enhanced the simple picture of Kanzeon. I finished reading about the time the first girl was ready for shrinking. Using an embossing heat tool, I saved our large pieces from curling up on themselves with an Ove Glove. The larger the piece, the harder it is to keep the shrinky dink from getting all buckled and curled. This way I could touch the hot plastic and push it flat.

Stamp and shrink process:

Kanzeon stamp stamp and colored pencil before shrink shrinking stamp w glove shrinking the stamp completed kanzeon shrinky dink

Since we had so much to pack into one lesson, we didn't have a chance to talk about it. We'll have some chances to review in upcoming lessons. Some of the girls remember lessons on the Bodhisattva Kanzeon from last year.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Children's Jukai Ceremony

Every year the children in Dharma School have a chance to renew their commitment to this Buddhist practice they are learning about. The ceremony is simple, but with the help of their teachers and their parents, they understand the gravity of the ceremony. At it's most basic level, becoming a Buddhist means taking refuge in the Three Jewels. This is what the children do in their Jukai Ceremony. On another basic level, Buddhism provides a structure to develop compassion and wisdom, and the children do this through their Two Promises.

We get the Three Treasures and The Two Promises from the Community of Mindful Living, Thich Nhat Hahn's lineage. Like the Community of Mindful Living, we feel it very important that children be allowed to make their own choices in this, and they know they will not be asked to make a lifetime commitment. We give them information, tell them what we have learned, involve them in lessons, but we don't tell them they must believe this or that.

The Three Treasures
  • I take refuge in the Buddha, the one who shows me the way in this life.
  • I take refuge in the Dharma, the way of understanding and love
  • I take refuge in the Sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness

The Two Promises

  • I vow to develop my compassion in order to protect the lives of people, animals, and plants.
  • I vow to develop understanding in order to live peaceably with people, animals, and plants.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Dragon King's Daughter

In March we had the lesson on the Dragon King's Daughter from the Lotus Sutra. So often in Buddhism, women are seen as inferior, but not in this teaching. Not only is she female, she is a child, and the Dragon King's Daughter is presented to the followers of Buddha as one who is capable of attaining enlightenment.

My co-teacher in this endeavor, Kim, read the story to the girls, then she had another story for them, more contemporary. She read the book, Brave Harriet: The First Woman to Fly the English Channel. In the early days of flight, people were still getting lost when they attempted the English Channel. Brave Harriet Quimby knew she could do it as long as she trusted her compass. Even her best male friend was afraid she would fail. Harriet succeeded well before Amelia Earhart gained fame for flying across the ocean, but Harriet's story was trumped by the sinking of the Titanic. This was a wonderful story of a woman having certainty in herself, even while people around her expected failure because she was a woman. It was a story about confidence, and confidence in our own wisdom and ability was the message Kim wanted to emphasize.

For an activity, Kim had the girls paint a picture of who they wanted to be when they grew up. Paint was a novelty we haven't experienced in a Dharma School class before, but we had some handy acrylic paint pens that prevented a mess.

Nehan Ceremony

During the month of February, we at Dharma Rain Zen Center celebrate Nehan, the anniversary of the Buddha's death. Also known as Parinirvana Day, all the children in Dharma School come together for our ceremony.

One week the children celebrate, and the full sangha celebrates Nehan on an adjoining week. Always on these days a special statue appears on the altar, created by our own co-abbot, Gyokuko Carlson. On Nirvana Day, the Buddha is traditionally depicted lying down. The story comes to us that the Buddha knew he was ill and dying, and he sent for his followers to gather. While lying on his deathbed, he gave his final teaching. Also found in the artwork are the followers, along with many grieving animals and mythical creatures, expressing their deep sorrow over losing their beloved teacher.

Before the ceremony the classes separate. In the girls group, we have just enough time for meditation and a quick check-in. I chose to use the time for a guided meditation, as I did in the past for the Children's Rohatsu Ceremony. I've noticed the girls can get very still as they listen to simple, soft instruction. Giving them some moments of stillness, I then ask them to think about loss that they've experienced, whether someone they knew died, or they lost a pet, or perhaps they lost a friend who moved away. While the children often have already experienced death in some way, it helps to introduce the notion of loss in other ways as well. During check-in, we discussed the topic some more, then it was time for the ceremony.

For the first part of the ceremony all the children gather in front of the altar. Gyokuko sits to the side, waiting expectantly for the kids to become quiet. She directs their attention to the statue, and solicits names of animals depicted on it from the kids. Through this she finds a way into the story of Buddha's death. Every year the storytelling will be a little different, but she will always highlight the grief everyone felt including the animals, and that the Buddha's lesson was for them not to grieve, but to "be a light unto themselves." His followers were so sad because they depended on his wisdom, but the Buddha wanted them to know they had their own wisdom, their own light to draw upon.

After the story of Buddha's death, the children draw pictures of losses they have experienced in the past year or so. After our separate discussion, the girls were quite ready to draw their pictures. While the drawing is going on, a few older kids build a fire. The ceremony begins: children and adults chant the Maka Hannya Haramita Shingyo, and one by one the pictures and symbols of loss are put in the fire, an act of letting go and letting those experiences move on to their next life.