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: