Sunday, January 11, 2009

Life of Buddha: Under the Bodhi Tree

There are always different numbers of girls who come to Dharma School. I have to plan to be able to handle a lot, or a few, girls in the class. When a few, we can spend more time in discussion. When many, I can only hope that something of the lesson sinks in. I may never know what the thing is that will light them up. On this day had a full room, as well as a guest who is working on putting together his center's Dharma School program.

For this lesson I had a special craft I know they love: shrinky dinks. Unfortunately I spent enough time finding the art and preparing it that I ran out of the time I like to spend on reflecting on the lesson itself. I read through my materials, but as far as class went, I was winging it. Fortunately, I've been doing this awhile.

There were several new girls in class, as we allow new attendees at the beginning of the school year, and in January when we return from a December break. I realized I needed to spend a little time with review of how the hour is spent.

Because the Buddha is said to have walked around the Bodhi Tree in meditation after he experienced enlightenment, I taught them walking meditation. We do a very slow walking meditation. I showed them how to hold their hands, gave them some guidance on focusing their attention inwards, and on their breath, and began. I walked them through their first couple of steps. Take a breath in and lift your foot, let your breath out and put your foot down. You might take another breath before you move again, and that's ok. Find your own rhythm as you lift your foot.....and put it down. I believe I injected something about doing this silently because I needed to. Some of the girls are quite comfortable in class, and that means they're busy catching up and connecting with each other.

Because we had so many girls in such a small room, we slowed to a standstill, so I decided we would not spend more than those couple of minutes on meditation. I had asked a new girl to light the incense, and a new girl to snuff it. (With so many girls I didn't have the time to figure out who had already done what task. To be fair, I've been keeping a list.)

I spent a little time explaining check-in, that we go around and say our names, and say something about ourselves. Sometimes it might have to do with the lesson, and sometimes it could be something we want to share with the others. This day, it needed to be one thing about ourselves, and we needed it short. I had a lot of "I don't know what to say." Perhaps when I have such a number of mixed new and returning, and many, students, I need to remember to be more directive with that check-in topic. They are always assured they don't have to say something if they don't want to.

Funny thing is, one girl thought to ask what the craft was that day. I said it was something special, and she would simply have to wait.

I read from Demi's Buddha about Buddha's enlightenment, first asking if anybody remembered the last lesson. The Buddha had learned he couldn't figure this out if he starved himself, and he couldn't if he had too much wealth. That this discovery was called the Middle Way, and that the metaphor often used is a lute, or a stringed instrument. And that because their life in modern times in the United States was very different from the Buddha's, that their Middle Way would look different than the Buddha's, and it was up to them to figure out their own Middle Way. Sounds like a lot, but some remembered these things.

So, from Demi:
One morning Siddhartha accepted a bowl of rich milk and rice from a village girl. With his energy renewed, he was determined to find the Truth of life over death, the end of suffering for himself and for all people. He bathed in the Nairanjana River and then walked to a large bodhi tree, a spot where many Buddhas had been enlightened. Along the way, a cowherd offered Siddhartha eight handfuls of grass to sit upon. He spread the grass beneath him under the tree. 
  Siddhartha vowed, "Even if my blood dries up an my skin and bones waste away, I will not leave this seat until I have found the Truth; life over death; the end of suffering for myself and for all mankind!"

I commented, some people say evil, you might say distractions or things that keep you from experiencing enlightenment....
  Mara, the Evil One, heard this vow and called upon his army of demons to defeat Siddhartha's enlightenment. Mara planted doubts and fears in Siddhartha's mind. He conjured whirlwinds, darkness, rain, and lightning. The earth cracked before Siddhartha; trees crashed around him. But the purity of his mind dispelled Mara's power. Mara hurled a shower of meteors; they changed into heavenly flowers around the tree. The evil One could not move Siddhartha. 
  "The seat of virtue is mine!" Mara thundered. "Who can say it is yours, Siddhartha?"
  Then the earth shook and thundered its reply, "I, Earth, can say that the seat of virtue belongs to Siddhartha, for I have witnessed his goodness in this life and in all his former lives!"

The Buddha touched the earth when he said this. About this point I was wishing I'd had more time to do this reflection, and I riffed on the main point of this lesson, the Earth as Witness. I said this is a good thing to remember, say, if you're feeling a lot of distractions, if you feel your thoughts or your emotions are all over the place, is to get in touch with the ground, and actually touch the ground. In this modern world, we might say we 'need to get grounded.' It can be helpful if you do actually get closer to the ground, to the earth, to feel more centered and focussed. So you may often see Buddha statues in this position, with one hand touching the ground, and they call this the Earth Witness Buddha.

I showed them images and pulled out a few phrases from the other book I was using, The Prince Who Ran Away. I knew they would like the image of the king of the cobras sheltering the Buddha when Mara sent the rains.

Using more images I'd found on the web, again I riffed. Have you ever had such a feeling that inside you it rained flowers and the earth trembles and the birds are singing? One girl was nodding vigorously. This is what they are trying to convey with these images....

So, the craft. I gave them the choice of coloring in a preprinted Earth Witness Buddha...and they had a choice of several...or drawing a picture that had to do with the lesson. One girl asked, "Can I draw..." and I said I would prefer if she chose something from the lesson. I also began by saying they could only have one, just one shrinky dink. It was a good thing I had a guest. I gave him the task of punching a hole in their completed shrinky dink, so they could hang it by a thread if they wished. My co-teacher helped them with their drawing and any other needs, including snack. I did the heating with the mega-blow-dryer.

You can get full-sized sheets of shrinky dink plastic at a store like Michael's that can be sent through a copier. Some can go through a bubble-jet printer. You create the document for the art you wish to use, print it on paper, and using a copier, hand-feed the plastic for the copy. You need to test which side gets the print, then feed so that the frosted or rough side goes through oriented to that side. I had colored pencils for those printed pieces, and I had colored Sharpies for the opaque white or beige artwork if the girls so chose. There was an even mix. When it comes to art, I find it is good to have that choice, so they can feel good about what they create, whatever their skill level.

Here is the document I used for their printed shrinky dink plastic pictures of the Buddha touching the earth.  

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