Sunday, October 14, 2012

Six Realms: The Hungry Ghosts

During the last minute of meditation, (the kids meditated about four minutes) I broke the silence and asked the kids to think of something that helps them feel comfortable and safe, or something that they can do for others that helps others feel safe and comfortable.  Then, for check-in, I asked them to share what they thought of.  Sometimes the kids are shy with check-in, and this strategy worked well.  They were able to combine the thoughtfulness of meditative mind with looking within for a way they handle feelings.  Then, even the shy ones had something to say in check-in because they were prepared.  A couple chose to demonstrate by covering their heads with their jackets. As soon as one said he liked climbing trees, that became a theme.  One boy answered both questions by saying he liked to skateboard and teaching skateboarding.

While the elements are very traditionally the same, there are still quite varied images of the Six Realms available.  Every lesson gives us a chance to look closely at a portion of the image, and the kids notice a lot.  As we looked closer at the Preta Realm, the kids noticed not only does each realm have a Buddha in it, they noticed another figure that was not like the others.  One girl thought it was Tara, I thought perhaps it was the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

I personally don't know enough about Tara to say, but after a quick search I see that there are different Taras, and one could correspond to Kanzeon.  What we could see in this image was a Bodhisattva figure holding a jar, pouring several streams of water, and the beings in this realm, gakis, were drinking those streams of water.  As they'd already noticed, when the gakis attempt to drink water on their own, it turns to fire in their mouths. It seemed to me this must be Kanzeon (what we call Avalokiteshvara in our lineage) as Kanzeon will often be depicted carrying a jar of clear water, and it seems compassion is what is needed to help these beings find nourishment.  Here is a version of the Six Realms that has that figure delivering water, though it is not the same image as the large poster we were using in class.

Just an aside, I was talking to another teacher today who expressed the wish to have a giant poster of the Six Realms, and boy howdy, do I agree.  Even with the big poster-board, the kids crowd around wanting to see images up even that is not big enough.  Hmmm, I wonder if we could have a custom sign made that could fill a wall.  Or maybe, once my sangha is in its new home, an actual mural could become part of its plans, but that's a few years down the road.

I needed more time for their craft, so we quickly had our snack, cleaned up, then I showed them what we would be doing. I asked them to draw pictures of the gakis, or hungry ghosts, and images from the Hungry Ghost realm. Sometimes they color what they wish, but this time they all really did draw hungry ghosts.

  1. Use colors, draw your picture on sandpaper with thick lines, lots of color, don't hold back. 
  2. Take a piece of white art paper, place it over the sandpaper picture, and sandwich this inside two sheets of newspaper.
  3. Have an adult iron the paper until enough color has transferred over to the white paper.  Dry, medium heat.  This takes a minute or two.

While they colored their pictures, I read them a quick story from Buddha at Bedtime: Tales of Love and Wisdom for You to Read with Your Child to Enchant, Enlighten and Inspire called The Dirty Old Goblet.  One salesman is mean and greedy, the other is kind and generous.  First the greedy salesman comes along and sees the dirty goblet and pretends it's worthless, planning to return and say he changed his mind.  Then the honest salesman comes along and trades all his goods and his money for the goblet, telling the girl and her grandmother it was worth far more than he had.  The greedy salesman displayed classic gaki behavior, even to the point he couldn't get what he wanted after all.

One girl seemed disappointed that hers didn't turn out very clear (I think there will always be at least one child who will color delicately) but I assured her it made her gaki look very much like a ghost.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Six Realms: Introduction

After meditation and check-in, I brought out the big foam board image of the Six Realms.  I wasn't ready with a check-in topic, but the kids came up with a good one: your favorite color.

We spent time looking at it, just seeing what they could see. I told them this is the Six Realms, known as the Wheel of Life.  They had good questions.  Who is that holding the Six Realms?  That is Lord Yama.  Immediately one child noticed he was also in the bottom realm, the Hell Realm.  One boy was seeing it as the Devil Realm.  As we observed, I shared short descriptions of the realm in question, just a word or phrase, if needed.  In the Asura or Fighting Gods Realm, the people feel needy, and want what they haven't got.  In the Animal Realm, all they are thinking about is survival.  In the Hell Realm, they are angry and in pain.  Some kids remembered about the Hungry Ghosts, and could share that these Gakis needed help as they find it hard to eat and drink.  In the Human Realm, we are able to make choices.  In the Heaven Realm, everything is easy, but it is easy to get too sleepy.

I explained that not only is this the Wheel of Life, but it is a reflection of who we are, that what Lord Yama is holding up is a mirror.  That we each have emotional ways of being that can put us in each of these realms, in fact we can go through each of these realms even in one day.  One child wanted to know about the hub, with the three animals of the defiling passions.  I told her that was like the hub of a wheel, those represented what kept us going round and round on the Wheel of Life, and that we would get to that in another lesson.

I was without a co-teacher this day, so it was helpful that my craft for the day was coloring of the Six Realms.  Because it is complex, kids tend to take great care with it, and are quiet while they concentrate.  While they colored with markers, I read them a story from The Wisdom of the Crows and Other Buddhist Tales titled The Man Who Didn't Want to Die. The kids were concerned about coloring and seeing the pictures from the story at the same time, but I assured them I would show them a picture when there was one, and there weren't many.

The story truly has examples of every realm.  A man has a good, easy life, but after he reaches a certain age, he begins to be concerned about death.  He doesn't want to die, and he seeks out the source of a tale of a man who went in search of an elixir of life, a man who reportedly became a god.  He finds the hermitage where they pray to this god Jofoku, and the man prays for his answers.

After a week, the god visits him, and sends him to the Land of Neverending Life.  The man settles there, and finds the people aren't happy with their long lives.  They keep trying to kill themselves, but can't.  After many many years, the man decides he could die after all, and calls out to Jofoku for help.  On the way home, he changes his mind and wants to turn back, and while flying in a storm over the ocean, his transport disintegrates and he is almost eaten by a shark.  He calls for help from Jofoku again.  He wakes up in the temple, and is told Jofoku sent him the dream so he would know he doesn't want to live forever, and he doesn't want to die yet either.  The messenger tells the man he should live a good life, do good for others, and be content.  The man does, and lives to a good old age.

This story had the kids quite engaged.  I told them we would probably revisit it later in the year, as we could find all the Six Realms in the story.  Shows how much I know...they already could find the Six Realms.  One boy said,  "I bet I know what the Land of Neverending Life is!"  He said Heaven, because they never get sick and die, and always have what they need.  I started asking more questions.  What about when there was the shark?  The Animal Realm, of course.  What about when the man wanted never to die? The Hungry Ghost Realm.  What about when the man left the Land of Neverending Life, but wanted to turn back?  The Fighting Gods Realm...he wanted what he had lost.  What about the people in the Land who wanted to die and kept trying to poison themselves?  The Hell Realm.  What about the end, when the man was content and helped others?  The Human Realm.  The kids had all the answers.  One mom told me her son was already telling her about each of the Realms and was so impressed with what he already knew.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

On Altars: The 11th Ave Buddha

For my first lesson of the year, I like to spend time on setting up an altar, and on meditation instruction and why we might do that.  I thought I might cover only that, as I wouldn't have much time to introduce the theme of the year...if only I could find the right story.

I talked about altars.  Traditionally with altars we usually have some flowers, and we usually have some incense, as well as the statue.  I said we have some unusual things for our altar because I want them to know they can bring anything to their altar.  An altar reflects who we are.  Some people have special rocks.  Together, we've created an altar that reflects who we are as a group.  At home, they can have their own altar that reflects themselves.

For check-in I asked them if there was something they had that was special to them, that they would put on their own altar if they had one. Next I gave instruction on meditation.

The right story did fall right into my lap.  Dharma Rain's newsletter came out, and it included a Dharma Talk by my teacher which refers to a news story about a Buddha statue on a street median in Oakland.  This story had the makings to show just what an altar means deep down to people.  For a craft this day, I simply had Crayola Color Explosion paper and markers.  This paper requires the matching markers which rather than add color, reveal color through a chemical process.  I asked the kids to draw something about the story or what they learned that day.  I also had stencils, many of which could be visitors to the 11th Avenue Buddha.  Just as the presence of a Buddha statue revealed the wish for making offerings and creating an altar, so they too could reveal images with their paper.

I even prepared enough ahead to create a felt board story for it.  If you haven't created such a thing, it's easy enough.  If you don't have images from a story, you can search for clip art that fits your story, print and cut.  Quick and dirty: put double-sided tape on the back of your pieces.  Little more time: cut felt and glue it to the back of your pieces, and/or cut and color felt pieces to show your image.

Here is the story as I wrote it up.  I didn't read this verbatim, but ad-libbed according to things we'd said earlier, and comments the kids had.  I put words in red for my cues for the felt board.  When it came to adding offerings, I made a bunch so the kids could put their own offerings up on the felt board.

The 11th Avenue Buddha 

Who here has heard of Oakland, California? I have a true story to tell you about something that happened on 11th Avenue in Oakland, California.

 You see, there was this couple, Dan and Lu, who lived on this street and saw how dirty and trashed the space was across from them. Now, not everyone behaves like they should. People would use it almost like a garbage dump. Sometimes they even left battered old mattresses. People would pee there. People would spray graffiti. Sure the city would come along and clear out the trash, but soon more trash and graffiti would take its place. Dan and Lu decided to try something.

They want to a hardware store and found a concrete statue of a Buddha. Dan thought about this. What would work best so the Buddha would not get up and walk away? Once he figured that out, how to anchor the Buddha in place, he and Lu put the Buddha in the median space. Now, Dan and Lu are not Buddhists. They picked the Buddha because they thought he represents compassion and brotherhood and peace.

At first not much seemed to happen. People still dumped their garbage. But there was a little bit of change: the trash was left at the other end of the median. “Buddha just sat there and never said a word.”

After a year, there was half as much graffiti. There were less people hanging out using drugs and urinating there. “And all the Buddha did was sit there.”

During the second year, someone painted the Buddha a beautiful soft white. 

You’ll never guess what happened then. What do you think?

People started leaving offerings. First there were oranges and pears. Then flowers and candy. And then larger flower arrangements and bowls of fruit. Finally, people left candles and incense.

For a long time Dan didn’t see the actual people leaving the offerings. They just appeared like magic. Almost all of the garbage dumping disappeared. More neighbors started keeping the area clean, and with more visitors, people stopped using the space like a toilet. “Buddha just sat there not saying a word.”

In the third year, a man approached Dan with a question. Could he build a little house for the Buddha? Dan said the man didn’t need his permission because this was a civic Buddha and didn’t belong to him alone but to the community. After that people came to visit the Buddha in large numbers throughout the day. They tend the offerings and sweep daily. Neighbors feel safer because there are always good people nearby. “And to think that this Buddha just sat there all [that] time and never said one word.”
Not shown: I flipped the Buddha and photoshopped it to be white.
[optional continuing ending]

One day Dan got a call from a neighbor. A city employee [truck] was in the neighborhood looking for information about the Buddha. Dan talked to the employee. Someone made and anonymous complaint about the Buddha. Just like any garbage, the city would have to remove the Buddha. The employee wanted to give whoever installed it a chance to remove it so it wouldn’t have to be thrown away. The city employee assured Dan that if garbage got dumped again, the city would pick it up. “The Buddha just sat there across the street … and said not a word.”

Dan immediately contacted all the people he could to help save the Buddha. They sent letters and made phone calls. The city department and a councilwoman postponed the dismantling of the Buddha in order to study the situation. The Buddha sat there and didn’t say a word.

Happily, about a month later, the Councilwoman called Dan and told him the city has no plans to remove the 11th Avenue Buddha. Dan wrote, “Being a cynic this news has set into question my view of the world as I see it. … As Buddha just sat there and said nothing, [the community] filled his silence with support and the City of Oakland heard [them].”