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17 million words and counting!
Aileen, Shetland Islands
Eric, FBA Team
Viryaja, Toowoomba, Australia
Padmavajri, East Sussex
Sheila Groonell, Aryaloka, USA
Jinamitra, Welwyn, UK
Buddhasiha, Ipswich, UK
Kuladharini, Glasgow, UK
Questions and Answers on the talk, "Fifteen Points for Buddhist Parents"
Held on 23rd April 1994 at the London Buddhist Arts Centre
Sangharakshita: So this afternoon of course it's a somewhat more select audience. I'm afraid there's
quite a wad of questions. Well as I said there's quite a wad of questions, I hope I'm going to be able to
get through them all but I may not be able to deal with, well I'm sure I won't be able to deal with all of
them at all exhaustively. I have gone through them all just very quickly and there's a few that I think I
won't be able to answer at all, not because they are intellectually difficult but because they represent
expressions of situations or even dilemmas on the part of certain people which are in themselves quite
difficult and to which there's really no short and easy solution or no very straightforward response or
reply. But nonetheless I'll do my best.
Some of the questions, in fact I think most of the questions, are really quite straightforward though even
so they're not always particularly easy to answer. Anyway there's a fairly easy one to start with, at least I
think it's fairly easy we'll have to see.
What do you think the parents best approach would be to Christmas e.g. perhaps
emphasise the connection with the pagan winter solstice yuletide festival?
I'm not so sure about that pagan winter solstice yuletide festival. It might confuse your child. If they
were falling halfway between these two stalls - the outside world is saying it's Christmas and you're
saying it's the pagan winter solstice festival. [Laughter] You can imagine them saying at school, 'well
my mummy said ....[Laughter] and the teacher saying 'don't be silly dear, it's Christmas'. [Laughter]
So I'm not so sure about that. I mean I get the spirit of this question, or rather this solution but I think if
you look at it from the child's point of view what does Christmas really mean? Christmas means
Christmas presents. [Laughter] So if a child feels that all its friends, all its little friends are getting
presents but he or she isn't he or she is sure to feel - well you've guessed it - left out.
So I would suggest that at least you keep up the present giving part of it [Laughter] but I don't think
nowadays in Britain Christmas is especially observed as a religious festival except by definitely
Christian people and they observe it by going to church. In fact we do hear all sorts of complaints from
religious people, and others, about the commercialisation of Christmas, so I think that there won't be any
harm if you give your child presents at Christmas time even if you do say 'well dear, they're not
Christmas presents they're pagan winter solstice yuletide festival presents'. [Laughter] I think the child
won't mind very much [Laughter] and instead of having these nativity scenes, well you can do a little
yuletide bonfire or something of that sort and just maybe steer the child away from anything which is
specifically Christian. I don't think one needs to make too big a thing of it, going sort of all strongly
anti-Christmas, I don't think that's really called for I think you could even stretch to Christmas pudding I
don't think it would be particularly un-Buddhistic.[Laughter] Because you may remember that the
puritans at the time of Oliver Cromwell abolished Christmas pudding because they said it was definitely
pagan and nothing to do with Christmas and they were dead right. And Christmas trees, after all we
only had Christmas trees for the last 120, 130 years. They were introduced into Britain by Prince
Albert, the prince consort, just over a century ago and are also of pagan origin.
So no harm having Christmas presents, and no harm I think with plumpudding, and no harm with even
Christmas trees. You don't have to have stars of Bethlehem at the top you can have a dharmachakra if
you like. So I think we just have to be a bit sensible about this and not be fanatically anti Christmas in
such a way that your child starts thinking 'well Christmas must be something really good and interesting
and important because parents are so much against it!' It becomes a bit like TV then.
Would you see some advantages in having a special puja written for children, for
children to take part in?
I'm not sure whether this is part of Christmas or whether it is a separate question. I'll take it as a
Would you see some advantages in having a special puja written for children? I think probably not. I
think children, if I have any sort of understanding of child psychology at all, I think children prefer to
take part in things that grown-ups do rather than having special children's things of their own, apart from
parties and things like that. So I suggest no. If there's a question of a puja take your child through the
sevenfold puja, but explain it. Explain all the difficult words and explain the idea so that if they do go
along to a centre on some festival occasion and there is a sevenfold puja, they can not only join in it but
they also have some understanding of what it's all about. I know there are a few slightly difficult words
in the sevenfold puja. Some words which even adults may find a bit difficult these days, but if you were
to take your child through the puja, explaining it, when it's old enough to understand, word by word,
well that's a good opportunity to increase the child's vocabulary I would have said. Rather than having
some separate little puja in basic English which is just for children.
At what age are children ready to start learning meditation?
Oh dear! This is not an easy one and several people in fact have asked this question of something
I really don't know. I don't think I can advise or suggest a specific age that you proceed then to adhere
to. It depends also on the child's interest and powers of concentration and what you mean by
meditation. I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to let the child know that what mummy and daddy do when
they sit and meditate sometimes together, sometimes separately, is something very nice. You know you
feel happy and peaceful, which I hope you do! [Laughter] If you don't well you need not let on till the
child's a bit older! [Laughter] Or if you want to be really honest say 'well we're supposed to feel happy
and peaceful' and just encourage the child to sit with you. Say 'well if you'd like to sit also with me you
can, just for 5 minutes'. Don't impose any time limit just tell the child 'well when you've had enough just
go quietly away, please don't disturb mummy or daddy and we'll just carry on a bit longer'.
Specifically, as it were, teaching a method of meditation, the mindfulness of breathing say, or metta
bhavana I think one should leave roughly to about 7 or 8. That's been my own past experience. Not that
I've done a lot of teaching children meditation, in fact I haven't really done any, but I've heard from
people who have done this. Don't let them sit for very long, and I think with some children there may be
a slight possibility of getting into a sort of trance-like state, which is not really a meditative state. But
perhaps the main thing is to encourage children not so much to meditate in the strict sense but to be able
to enjoy sitting still and just being, as it were, themselves. Just experiencing themselves, even for a
short while, even if it's only for 4 or 5 minutes it's well worth it and lays a good foundation for later on.
To what extent is it possible to counteract the dogmatic theism that is likely to be
encountered in Church of England schools. And what is the best way of dealing with it
from within or outside parent-teacher organisations?
Well I suppose in a way the most drastic method is to withdraw your child from religious instruction.
To the best of my knowledge parents do have the right to do that but I think it is only a measure of last
resort because it does perhaps make the child stand out. I remember when I was at school when things
were rather different, there was one boy who was withdrawn from religious instruction, actually it was
just scripture, because he was Jewish and he was the only boy in the whole school who was withdrawn.
And it did isolate him. It didn't exactly make him a pariah but it certainly made the other children think
of him as someone who was a bit, well quite different. So I think we have to look at it also from that
point of view. Of course there could be many parents who object to the inculcation of dogmatic theism,
you could get together with them. And if there are a number of you withdrawing your children from the
religious education, the child wouldn't be so isolated. So yes, you need to look at that aspect of it too.
But I think the main thing is to talk to your child afterwards. And say 'well what did they tell you at
school today?' 'What did they say about God?' But again, don't make too big a thing of it because the
child probably doesn't. That's my understanding of child psychology anyway. They don't want long
elaborate dispositions on the impossibility of there being such a ...