Sunday, November 25, 2007

Six Realms: The Beast Realm

The Animal Realm is one that kids understand instinctively. Kim led the discussion, asking the kids some leading questions that elicited this understanding. "How many kids have been told 'you're acting like animals'?" The conversation continued. "How do animals behave?" We were looking for answers like eat, fight, sleep, run. Animals don't think beyond their immediate needs.

Kim asked, "Do animals plan for 3 years in the future?" ..."Do animals go to school?"


"What do humans have that animals don't have?" The answer she was looking for is that we have a mind that allows us to be reflective, to think beyond the needs of the immediate moment, and to be concerned about our ethical behavior. We have the ability to choose to do good deeds, do refrain from doing bad things like stealing and killing.

Some of the girls were particularly sensitive to the fact that some animals do appear to make choices and do good things, so we talked about that. They were thinking of pets that save their humans, or of working animals. These animals are trained to do the deeds they know how to do, or their help arises more out of instinct than out of thoughtful reflection. As humans, we have the ability to think carefully and choose the wiser actions. Kim and I emphasized that we were talking more about the beast aspect of animals, not so much those animals with those loving and helping instinct.

Finally, we asked the question, "What can humans do that gets us out of the animal realm?" Kim had already mentioned one, study, or school. Meditation. Self-reflection. We can choose not to get caught up in those self-involved activities of the animal realm.

For an activity, Kim had them play charades in which the children acted out an animal. Only 1st or 2nd graders could use noises. Once they figured out the animal, she had them figure out the descriptive word from a list of words about the animal. Sharks --> violent. Cows --> dull. Snakes --> sneaky. Squirrels --> hoarders. Pigs --> greedy. Donkeys --> stubborn.

If I were to do this again, I would not stereotype the animals so much, as those sharp girls had more sophisticated views of animals, and resisted labeling all animals as this or that type.

For the craft, Kim had a list of the precepts, and the kids decorated covers for their precept books, complete with glitter glue and stickers.

The traditional antidote for beings stuck in the animal realm is thoughtful study.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Six Realms: The Hub

For this lesson I began with a straightforward exploration of the center of the image of the six realms, the hub. I explained that the image of Lord Yama is said to be holding up a mirror, and image of our own self.

The turning of the wheel of the six realms is driven by the 3 kleshas at the center. We talked about the hatred of the snake, the greediness of the rooster, and the ignorance of the pig. Greed is "gimme," anger is "get away," and ignorance is "huh?". We keep this on this wheel because of our karma, because of these three poisons.

As much as I could, I would show the kids various depictions of the six realms, and exploration of the art helped us understand the lesson.

While I told them a story that had elements of greed, anger, and delusion in it, I gave them images to color of Yama holding up the six realms.

The Clever Rabbit and Numskull is found in Asian Children's Favorite Stories: A Treasury of Folktales from China, Japan, Korea, India, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. A greedy lion eats the animals, and the animals agree to offer themselves one by one so the lion won't eat them all. Well, one clever rabbit tricks the lion, taking advantage of his blind, angry greediness, and saves the animals from having to sacrifice themselves.

For a quick craft activity, I prepared refrigerator magnets, one an image from the story, another of the 3 animals of the kleshas.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Segaki Ceremony

Every year as part of our liturgical calendar we have the Segaki retreat and ceremonies. Retreat participants look at past karma appearing in the present, and pay homage to those that have died. In our Soto Zen tradition, this calling up of karma stews in people for up to a week, culminating in two cathartic ceremonies. On the morning of the last day of the retreat we invite the gakis, or hungry ghosts, into the temple. We cover the images of the Buddha, and prepare the altar with enticing goodies, especially donuts.

[Photos courtesy of Faddah Yuetsu Wolfe]
Chants include dharanis that have some shamanic influences. The gakis are with us through the day, and in the evening the ghosts are laid to rest and let go in the fire of Segaki Toro.
After the adults have invited the hungry ghosts in the morning, the children enter the hall and have their own Segaki ceremony. This year our priest told them the story of Moggallana and his mother in hell. (See above link.) Then we began singing a portion of the ceremony. It is while we sing that actual gakis enter the ceremony hall. Our gakis are high school students in costume. They do a fine job.

The gakis are pretty clueless about ways to act in the hall, and they can't seem to get the food in their mouths.
It is the job of the kids in this ceremony to help the gakis learn how to act in a Buddhist temple, and help them be able to eat.

It is our job as teachers to prepare the kids for the ceremony. We inform or remind them about what is going to happen, and we figure out ways together that we can help the gakis. At the grade school level, some of the kids are aware that the gakis are the high school students in costume. At this age, part of their role in the ceremony is to help the younger ones participate in the ceremony. This year, just what the gakis could learn was clarified so we could give more direction to the kids.

We made sure they knew to help the gakis with these four things: 1) taking their shoes off; 2) eating - slowly and delicately rather than shoving the food in or keeping the wrapper on; 3) sharing - with each other; 4) bowing

Since bowing was one of the tasks, I made bowing our meditative activity, and gave a small lesson on the form of a full bow.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Six Realms: The Hungry Ghosts

We had quite a few more girls for this class. Some were brand new to dharma school, and others were quite familiar with the subject of hungry ghosts. Kim led the class, and using the image of the six realms, led a discussion on gakis, also known as hungry ghosts.

[Image from this website.]

Gakis wind up where they are due to greediness. In the six realms, there are two kinds of greediness. In the case of gakis, they have the feeling they don't have enough and can't take in nourishment. They have forgotten how. They want, and will do whatever they need to get, even lie, but they still can't be satisfied. If they can learn to be nourished by what they have, and to share, they have a chance of getting out of the Preta Realm. (Later in the school year we will cover the kind of greediness found in the Asura Realm.)

Several girls remembered that gakis have big stomachs but tiny necks and tiny mouths. Water turns into fire, and food turns into some disgusting thing, often related to the greedy reason they ended up in this realm. Together we strategised ways we could help the gakis learn to eat and to share.

For an activity, Kim had an outline picture of a gaki, and various grains, beans, and pasta to glue on the picture, especially in the gakis' stomachs, along with a bowtie pasta for the neck. The pasta mosaic was popular with the girls.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Six Realms

While I was planning for this Dharma School lesson I didn't know if I would have many or a few, or how many girls would be experienced with Dharma School, and how many would be new. I needed to be flexible with my lesson. I supposed I might spend a lot of time explaining how to meditate, how to share something in checkin, how to set up an altar. It turned out we had just two girls who knew each other and Dharma School quite well.

For this first lesson, I just wanted to introduce the idea of the Six Realms and the Wheel of Life, and allow as much or as little time available to examine the image and let the girls see what they would see. [That link to the Wheel of Life depicts the Animal Realm below the Human Realm. Some Buddhist sects view it this way. In our Zen sect we find the Hungry Ghost realm in that spot.] There is a book in the Zen Center library that is at about 4 feet tall with giant photos of Buddhist art. We spent time examining the image of Yama holding the Wheel of Life, and I and my co-teacher Kim would say just a little bit about the images that attracted the girls. They didn't think the Animal Realm looked like that bad of a place, and they noticed that the Heaven and Hell realms seemed like opposites, but wondered about the Animal and Human realms or the Hungry Ghost and the Asura (Jealous Gods) realms being opposites. That sparked a conversation about the realms not necessarily being opposites, but ways of being that we can find ourselves in, and the idea is not to get stuck in any of them, even the Heaven realm.

They also noticed the circle that depicts the twelve links of dependent origination. Trust kids to find the man and woman having sex, depicting karmic existence or rebirth. I readily admitted the twelve links of dependent origination are complex and adults can have a difficult time understanding them. I wish I'd recorded the lesson, because Kim told me what I said sounded pretty good, but as soon as it left my mouth, I couldn't remember what I'd said, exactly. I told them as far as I understood it, the Six Realms show us different states of being that we experience, and dependent origination explains how that being comes into existence, how we get wrapped up in our greed, anger, or delusion so that we become a being in one of those realms. Or something like that.
The girls were rather interested in Yama, the Lord of the Underworld holding up this mirror, showing us our worldly existence, so while they colored, I decided to wing it and tell them a story that comes out of India.

I found this story in Shower of Gold: Girls and Women in the Stories of India retold by Uma Krishnaswami. Uma's version of Savriti and the God of Death was a bit different than Deepak Chopra's version found here.

As I told the story, I welcomed comments and questions, and the girls colored as they listened and commented. I retell it here, perhaps not exactly as I did that day.

Savriti and the God of Death

Once there was a king and queen who were old and never had children, even though they wanted a child. One day they were finally blessed with a girl, and she grew up to be the best at everything. Savriti was beautiful, smart, and athletic. At that time and place, people usually preferred to have sons, but the king and queen were so happy with their talented daughter, they did not miss having a boy. When she grew up, it was hard to find a husband though. Men weren't interested in a princess who was wiser, more educated, and more clever than they were. Savriti went out to explore and to find a worthy husband.

Savriti returned home rather quickly. She found her love in a forest, son of a blind king and queen whose lands were stolen from them. She didn't care that he was poor. He was kind and wise. Even though she was warned by a fortune-teller that this man would die in exactly one year, she didn't care. She chose the happiness she could have with him now, in the forest. The fortune-teller gave her a mantra to practice, one that could give her the power to see what others could not. She was to recite this mantra for the three days and nights before her husband's death.

The year passed, and as the fateful day grew closer, Savriti became more thoughtful. She prayed and fasted and chanted the mantra for three days. Her husband fell from a tree and died. When Yama, Lord of the Underworld, came to take him away, Savriti could see him, unlike other living people. It was through her meditative practice of chanting the mantra that she could see the cycle of life and death, and the one who holds the mirror of the wheel of life. She was so clever, she ran after them and negotiated with Yama. Yama was so impressed with her love and compassion, he granted her anything she asked, but her husband's life. She gained wealth for her in-laws, and health and youth for them and her parents. Still she would not relent, and finally she got Yama to agree to her husband's life as well. They lived long and their kingdoms united with peace and prosperity.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Paramitas Review

In May I never got around to posting about the final few Dharma Schools. We had Wesak, and the Egg hunt, then just time for a review day before the day of skits. On review day, we talked a little about Upaya, or skillful means. Different things work for different people, and we chose that opportunity to make our meditation a chant, the Special Kanzeon chant. Kanzeon with the thousand arms uses skillful means to respond with compassion.

The girls decided they wanted to do a knockoff of a game show for our skit, which worked out well for me for the review. When we do this, the girls get to "compete" in the game show as we review, and then they present the game show to the adult sangha. They like the chance to test the adults.

We played Paramita Squares.

My co-teacher and I dated ourselves as we needed to spend time explaining who these celebrities are. J. Lo and Courtney were two that were possible Buddhists, or friendly-to-Buddhists. The rest are confirmed as following a Buddhist path. When we reviewed, I asked the questions, my co-teacher answered as the celebrity, and the girls said whether the answer was true or false. When we presented as a skit, the girls answered as the celebrities, and the adult contestants determined if the answer was true or false.

Each time we played, I got mixed up and asked the question before the contestant chose which celebrity was going to give the answer. We took the pressure off of the girls by reminding them that sometimes the celebrities would deliberately give the wrong answer in Hollywood Squares. They knew their stuff.

During the review, and the presentation, we got up to around #10. Kids and adults were happy to get little prizes.

These were the questions and answers:

1. There's nothing sweeter than this thing that helps us "cross over to the other shore." Paramita
2. When we make promises not to hurt others, this is the Paramita we are fulfilling. Sila
3. Someone spreads a rumor about you, but you don't get mad. Instead you say nothing and patiently wait for the truth to come out. Kshanti
4. The definition of this Paramita is "loving-kindness." Metta
5. The reward in this Paramita is to give without expectation of reward. Dana
6. Buddhist monks bowing full bows across California had a lot of this Paramita. Virya
7. Generosity without thought of self. Dana
8. A certain image of a female buddha with four arms, holding a book, a sword, and hands in meditation could be a representation of this Paramita. Prajna
9. This energy helps us endure the difficulties of spiritual practice and of life. Virya
10. May I be happy. May you be happy. May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering. This is the practice of this Paramita. Metta
11. This is the wisdom of meditation, contemplation, of direct perception. Prajna
12. This kind of patience endures through hardship, is persistent and tolerant. Kshanti
13. The definition of this Paramita is skillful means or compassionate means. Upaya
14. Absorption or meditation. Dhyana
15. This Paramita is ethics, morality. Sila
16. Concentration or contemplation. Dhyana
17. Kanzeon with a thousand arms and infinite means to compassionately help in just the right way has plenty of this Paramita. Upaya

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Dhyana Paramita

Dhyana is the paramita of meditation, also translated as absorption, concentration, or contemplation. I figured with this for a lesson, it was a good time to spend a little more time on meditation instruction and more time for meditation. The girls were a little resistant to that, but I told them I was asking them to stretch a little. To make it easier to focus I gave them some small polished stones. I instructed them to move the pebble from one knee, or side, to the other with their breath. Inhale, pick up. Exhale put down. Once the five pebbles were moved, they could start over and move them back. Back and forth, I reminded them it was a bit like using the mala which they'd received at Jukai.

This sparked a small conversation. That was too fast. So I told them they could try one breath for pick up, one breath to put down, and one breath to pause. Or two breaths. The key for them was to try to find a rhythm that worked for them and helped them to keep focused on their breath.

So, eight minutes instead of the usual five. They'd had enough.

I told them Dhyana is important to Dharma Rain's particular kind of Buddhism. Dhyana is the word that became Ch'an when Buddhism went to China, and then became Zen when it went to Japan.

I chose a story from Kindness by Sarah Conover. It fit with the activity I had for the girls, and it illustrated that concentrated mind of Dhyana, even though it wasn't about sitting meditation. Called The Broom Master, it was a story about Chunda, a young man who loved his brother and followed the brother when he joined the monks that followed the Buddha. I changed the story slightly and changed Chunda's brother to his sister that joined the nuns. It felt too awkward to change Chunda's gender, but I liked the idea of making the person he looked up to a young woman. Chunda didn't have the brain to learn to read or write, which is something the monks did, so he thought he couldn't become a monk. His brother encouraged him to ask anyway, and the Buddha accepted him. I've no doubt this isn't an historical story, because the monks of Buddhas time memorized rather than wrote, and didn't stay put in a monastery. It came from Tibet via Surya Das.

The Buddha gave Chanda two simple phrases to repeat while he swept the monastery: remove all dust, remove all dirt. Even that was difficult, and with Ananda's help, he learned it in about a month. With a sweep of the broom, remove all dust, and with the return sweep, remove all dirt. This meditative practice ripened into a wisdom that earned him respect and love for his wise sayings. Another version of the story is found here.
Not an exact match, but related, for an activity I brought the materials to make mini Zen Gardens. Unfortunately, this was spring break week, and several girls were absent that I know would have loved this project. In the Zen Center library where we meet there is one of these homemade mini stone gardens, along with a tiny Buddha. I happened to have some Sculpey (like Fimo), and I found some Buddhist molds on ebay, as well as some dollhouse miniature rakes. The polished stones and sand I got in the crafts section. I scrounged about and found 2X3 white cardboard jewelry boxes for the base.

The one shown here is a lotus:

The one on the left, a Buddha. The one on the right, Kanzeon, or Kwan Yin, holding a lotus bud. We left the back of the pieces unmolded, but shaped so the figure could stand up. I sent the girls home with instructions for their parents on baking the polymer clay.

Sila Paramita

In March we had our Jukai Ceremony for Children. I always want to talk a little bit about the commitment they would be making, and what it means to take refuge. Sila is the paramita meaning ethics, virtues, morality, self-discipline. The Buddhist precepts are an expression of Sila, and so are the Promises that children make in our ceremony, so I chose to time this lesson for the week before Jukai.

Heartened by their response to previous stories, I decided to bring a story to illustrate a person who embodies Sila. The Coconut Monk by Thich Nhat Hanh is a true story of a monk who lived with a cat and a mouse during the Vietnam War. He would attempt to ask the President to stop the war, but he was repeatedly arrested. This is a picture book with sweet watercolors, and it was a story that encouraged much discussion in the telling. They were correct in guessing that the monk, Dao Dua, ate a lot of coconuts. They liked the cat and mouse.

For our activity, they created a scroll hanging with the Three Refuges and Two Promises printed. I'd prepared the drawing paper by brushing it with tea, and hanging it flat to dry. Trimmed, it passed easily through my printer, four to a page. I tore them apart and tore the edges to give the paper a further aged look. For class, the girls drew pictures around the edges and touched them with water for a watercolor effect. I had self-stick bling rhinestones to mark each refuge and promise. (Sparkly bling is important with grade school girls.) Finally, I'd drilled some holes in popsicle sticks to glue to the paper and hang with twine.

My cat Jig wanted me to pay attention to her, not make flashes, so she moved in while I was taking pictures:

Paramitas Review

Ah, I'm a bit behind with the lessons I've done. In February, we had our Nehan Ceremony. For the other lesson that month I gave the girls a review of the Paramitas we'd studied so far. We spent some time talking about them. Some of the girls missed those lessons; I needed to spend more time than I expected on review. If they'd been there, they remembered the stories well. So, it's good to note stories are still a good resource to use. Full of short short vignettes from Buddhism, I decided to go ahead and buy Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom.
Then, as part of the lesson I had them help me paste words associated with Paramitas to the collage I'd begun. Then they started their own collages. They enjoyed the various papers, stamps, and stickers I had for them. I wish I'd had more time for them. I'll be doing more review before the year is over.
Here's my sample. I actually finished it up after the class. They'd helped me place some of the words before they got started with their own review sheets.

Here is the list of paramitas and associated words and stories:

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Virya Paramita

Some traditions and teachers of the Dharma come across as stodgy and stiff. Perhaps it is in the translations, or it is a flavor of Buddhism that has been passed down that emphasizes tradition and rules. Personally I wilt in in the face of that schoolmarm severity. When the Dharma comes across as exclusive and unattainable, I am inclined to give up before I start. In our tradition though, I find much encouragement. This practice is not out of reach for the regular person, or for a child. I would not be inclined to share this definition of Virya with my class:

Virya is another noble virtue which all men of high endeavour must zealously cultivate. Unless a man is fearless, brave and active he can never accomplish a difficult task. A man is prey to fears, who always tries to save his skin, who is afraid of consequences, is a very poor specimen of humanity. He dies without any accomplishment to his credit. A man who is assailed by fear is a man who has no faith in Dhamma. Found here.

That may be true, but only certain types of people are inspired to zealously cultivate the Dharma from that. May that work for them. I doubt that would work for most grade school girls.

On the other hand, I completely relate to "the perfection of joyous effort, or enthusiastic perseverance." Found here. (Follow that link for some good stuff on how virya manifests.) This web author said, "From a feeling of deep compassion for the suffering of all sentient beings, we are urged to unfailing, persistent, and joyous effort. We use our body, speech, and mind to work ceaselessly and untiringly for the benefit of others, with no expectations for personal recognition or reward."

By getting various takes on this paramita of persistent effort, I made the connection to bowing. Bowing unites body and mind in an expression of respect, love, and effort. When one does a lot of bowing practice, the body moves with a fluid grace and one experiences an attitude of openness, compassion, and willingness. A perfect expression of virya would have that same open attitude and willing body and mind, so I made this lesson about bowing. Bowing is a preparation for mind-opening concentration, bowing takes effort, and bowing expresses the willingness to set aside ego, the very effort needed for this Buddhist practice.

Lama Surya Das said here, "Now I see bowing as an elegant traffic signal of the body, voice, and mind. Every bow says: Slow down. Drop the ego. Meditation zone ahead. Proceed with cushion. Bowing is a mindfulness practice. It is a way of removing our mental and emotional armor, along with other ego baggage we may be burdened with." When it comes to bowing gracefully, sometimes the virya needed is more about persistence than about joy...but when you find that joy in effort, it is easy to persist.

So, for this our second lesson in January, I concentrated on bowing for our meditation practice. After we meditated about 5 minutes, Jyoshin and I instructed the girls on the technique of full bows. Jyoshin demonstrated.

Photo by Richard Seah. Found here.

For the sake of time and space, the girls made three full bows. I would have liked to have them do nine.

Boys aren't the only ones interested in Extreme Effort; I knew the girls would be impressed by some of the bowing practices that some traditions do. For instance in Korean Zen, Jyoshin and I were both aware people do 108 full bows, first thing in the morning. I discovered and shared with the girls that some people complete 1080 bows daily. I also shared that a foundational beginning practice for many Tibetan Buddhist practitioners is to complete 111,000 bows.

Then there are people who go on pilgrimages. Three steps, one bow. Such diligent and difficult effort amazes me, and amazed the girls. I read to them some excerpts from "With One Heart, Bowing to the City of the 10,000 Buddhas." I told them I'm sure I've heard of more people undertaking such pilgrimages since then (1977) but I knew they would like these stories. I explained that when these two young bowed their way to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in California, much of the temple was not yet finished. Now it is possible to visit the temple in Ukiah and see all the Buddhas. (I wish I had used google maps to give them this number: 488 miles they bowed, from LA to Ukiah.)

Excerpts that I read:

"Press Release - American Buddhist Pilgrims"

Two American Buddhist Monks from San Francisco’s Gold Mountain Monastery are making a bowing pilgrimage from Gold Wheel Temple in Los Angeles to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas near Ukiah. Bhikshu Heng Sure has made the vow to bow to the ground in a full prostration every three steps along the road. Heng Ch’au has vowed to accompany him on the journey, to protect him and to assist in the work.

Their purpose is to influence humankind to cease all hatred and hostility, to stop the creation of destructive weapons and to work to prevent disasters, wars, and suffering of all kinds. The monks are dedicating their work to all beings everywhere.

“Our goal is to endure a bit of hard work on behalf of others,” said Heng Sure. “Our job is to turn our own greed into balanced, moral behavior, to change our own anger and hatred into compassion for others, and into inner concentration, and to transform selfish, stupid actions into enlightened awareness and wisdom,” said Heng Ch’au.

“We hope to generate a response in the hearts of men and women and among the spiritual beings in the universe. If our bowing is sincere, then afflictions, calamities, and suffering will gradually disappear, and hatred, hostilities, and wars will be reduced,” said Heng Sure.

The monks began their pilgrimage May 7, 1977, at Gold Wheel Temple, the Los Angeles branch of the Sino-American Buddhist Association. They expect the journey will require a full year to complete. Their destination is the Sino-American Buddhist Association’s new center for world Buddhism, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Heng Chou's Vow

I call on all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten Directionsto help and support me, Heng Ch’au, to uphold my vow toprotect and aid Heng Sure so he can fulfill his vow to bowonce every three steps from Los Angeles to Ukiah, California,to repent and reform of all the suffering, disasters, and wars setin motion by our greed, hatred, and stupidity; to purify our hearts,body, mouth, and inspire others to do the same so that peace andharmony come to all living beings.

Venerable Master Hua: Instruction May 8, 1977

You should take along a good pair of pants so you don’t end up naked from having them rip to shreds. You should always wear your long robe and then if your pants rip it won’t matter anyway. Don’t be like the one who bowed before, the “old cultivator” whose pants were so old that they weren’t very strong and after bowing for a while on the road he didn’t have any pants to wear. Fortunately there was a response at that point and suddenly in the middle of the road a pair of pants appeared. That is something that happened in the past. And this time you should take along toilet paper; don’t be like the one who used poison oak leaves instead. He got laid up so bad he couldn’t bow; couldn’t even move; couldn’t do anything but cry “Maha!” like a little lamb. This is important too.

that was good for a few laughs. and, to further impress the girls with the two efforts of the two monks:

7 pm. May 9, 1977

Where do we begin? In a tough, rundown main drag of a Mexican American neighborhood where there are drunks, and macho-looking tough kids. Oh, this is really tough. It takes all the courage I can muster. Two scared kids pretending it’s no big deal. Before we even start the groups are forming to check this weird number out. The second bow I am tapped on the shoulder from behind. A drunken, huge main says, “Hey, what you makin’ with dis?” I feebly try to explain. He’s about seven inches from my face. He slowly pulls out his wallet. Ah, our first donation? No. An oversentimentalized picture of Jesus with long wavy hair. He keeps shaking it in front of my nose, nodding and waiting. “A really holy person,” says I, “excuse me now, I’ve got to keep up with my friend.”

A car whizzes by, souped up and packed, full of men. “You got till sundown to be out of our neighborhood.”

Oh, Shih Fu, only three minutes out and already. We plug on, even though more groups are forming ahead as the word spread. “You’ll never get anywhere that way.” “Hey, Joe, they’re blessing your gas station.” Some walk by like we were old Popsicle sticks—no notice. As we get closer to each group they split, go inside, make an opening, watching cautiously. I notice it’s stopped raining just as we started bowing. But we are covered with mud and grim and water from the sidewalks “Hey, kick ‘em in the ass when they bend over! Ha! Ha!” One tough runs up and brushes between us. We keep bowing.

For more, go here. I found the journal so sincere and captivating, I was inspired to find some of the books for my library.

For an activity, I wanted to capture the idea of bow after bow after bow, so we created paper chains of a person in full bow. My girls are tough critics, they thought my template of a person bowing looked more like a spider or a ladybug. Eh, what can I say. I bow to that.

I instructed the girls to fold their strip of paper in half, the good side on the outside, the side they didn't want on the inside. Then, fold the outside edges to the fold, so they had a W for a fold, and each of their folds would then be even.

I tore apart my example so they could use it as a template to trace their bowing person.

They then added detail with markers. (I saw quite a few ladybugs go out the door.)

Metta Paramita: Loving-Kindness

The metta paramita, or loving-kindness, is one of the additional paramitas found in the Theravadin tradition, not our Mahayana tradition. (We share the 6 basic paramitas, and each branch of Buddhism has an additional 4 different paramitas, not all of which I will try to cover this year.) Loving-kindness, though, has seeped its way into much of American Buddhism and even into mainstream consciousness, so I felt it important to introduce this to the girls.

For this first lesson in January, after our check-in, I intended to have a little discussion about loving-kindness, and how we start with wishing ourselves and loved ones well, and widen that circle. I wanted to introduce the concept first, before leading them in a guided loving-kindness meditation. In a moment of inspiration and expediency, I decided to keep our checkin talking circle going and bring the idea out of the girls themselves. As usual, they were eager to chat and renew bonds after the December break; this channeled that energy.

I asked the girls to share with us someone they cared about, someone they wished to be well, and happy. The questions arose, "Could it be any being? A pet? A rock? It has to be breathing?" We established that I was looking for a living, breathing being. One girl cared about the tree she liked to climb, and recently lost a limb. A pattern quickly established that the girls wished their pets well: their dogs, cats, fish... (And I learned that bonding between girls this age means they will likely name similar things, and will give caring mews in response when tales of pets woe are shared.) No one wanted to say Mom or Dad "because it's obvious." We went around a second time, reiterating that we were talking about things we love that we want to be well, and be happy, no harm done to them.

Then, for meditation, I had the girls lie down, making sure they were comfortable and not touching each other. I took my cue from instruction I found here by a local teacher, Greg Kramer. He has done this guided meditation with his children at bedtime, always giving them the choice to do it or not.

Once they got settled I said, softly and getting softer:

When I ring the bell I want you to be quiet and still. When people do this metta meditation by themselves, they say it in their head. So when I say these words, I want you to think them along with me in your head. Q: do we close our eyes? It might be a good idea, but you don't have to. Now, when I ring the bell, I want you to stop moving, so you won't be a distraction to others.

Now, feel your head against your pillow....your hands next to your body...feel your breath going in and out... Now I said loving-kindness is this meditation. Think about how we can put those two together, think about how we talked about those we wished to be well.

easing right into Greg Kramer's meditation:

Send lovingkindness to yourself.
Really love yourself.
Want yourself to be happy.

I love myself.
May I be free from anger.
May I be free from sadness.
May I be free from pain.
(I really want to be free from pain.)
May I be free from difficulties.
May I be free from all suffering.
May I be healthy.
May my body be healthy and strong.
May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I know the joy of generosity and love.
May I be happy.
May I really be happy.
May I be at peace.

I spread this lovingkindness out.
I send love to Dad and Mom.
May Mom and Dad be free from difficulties.
May they be free from pain and sadness.
May they be free from attachment,
Free from anger and ill will.
May they be free from all suffering.
May Mom and Dad be healthy and happy.
Completely healthy and happy.
May they be at peace.

I send lovingkindness to both my brothers.
May they be free from sadness and anger.
May they be free from sickness.
May they be free from all suffering.
May they be happy and free.
Free from suffering, free from difficulties.
May they be well and happy.
May they be at peace.

I send lovingkindness to my teachers and the kids at school
(Even the ones I don't know).
May they all be free from sorrow and suffering.
May they be free from anger and difficulties.
May they be happy.
Free from all difficulties and sadness.
May they be well and happy.
May they be at peace.

I send love now to all the people
I don't know everywhere on the earth.
May all beings on the planet be free from suffering.
May they be free from pain, grief, and despair.
May they be happy,
Truly happy.
May they be at peace.
May all beings in the universe be free from suffering.
May all beings in all universes,
be free from suffering.
May they be well and happy.
May they be at peace.

May all beings of all kinds, in all directions,
be happy and at peace.
Above and below,
Near and far,
High and low.
All types of beings.
Humans and non-humans.
Seen and unseen.
All the animals, birds, and fish.
All beings and creatures,
With no exceptions.
May they all be happy.
May they be free.

Humbly, I open my heart and accept the lovingkindness
of every being and creature in return.
I let that love into my heart.
And I share the benefits of this
meditation with every one.

May all beings be well and happy.
May all beings be well and happy.
May all beings be well and happy.

May there be peace.
May there be peace.
May there be peace.

For the activity we did watercolor with crayon-resist drawings. I asked them "to draw something from in your heart." Something that arose for during the metta meditation or during our discussion. About something that arose that really made their heart tingle. It could be a symbol.

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I remember this girl was drawing things she knew were important to each member of her family:

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