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.

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