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Fifteen Points for Buddhist Parents

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by Sangharakshita

182: Fifteen Points for Buddhist Parents

Malika and friends.

I know that there has been a certain amount of speculation over the last few weeks as why and how I come to be giving the talk entitled 15 points for Buddhist parents. Perhaps some of you may have thought that parents, Buddhist or otherwise had quite enough points to consider already. But perhaps I should just mention by way of introduction, how I did come to draw up this list of 15 points.

I just happened to be sitting, as I so often do sit at my desk, in my flat not very far away from here. And I happened to be working on my current volume of memoirs, and it may be that I did just happen to think in that connection of my 15, in fact my two sets of 15 points for Order members which some of you may have seen. Be that as it may, for some reason which I don't quite find myself able to explain, there floated into my mind, the idea of 15 points for Buddhist parents, or rather a point floated into my mind. So I just broke off from working on my memoirs and thought I had better write this down. So I wrote down point 1 and rather another point. And then I thought oh well and a third point floated into my mind and by some strange coincidence, it really was a coincidence because I didn't count them up until afterwards, I found in the end I had 15 points neither more nor less, for Buddhist parents.

Well, this was some time last year. I put them aside. They got lost from my desk, as so many things tend to get lost from my desk nowadays, but just a few weeks ago, I had to unearth them and I thought, ìWell, you know, I have made these 15 points, maybe I should make some use of them. Perhaps I could even give a little talk about them, just to a few people around the LBC, because after all, there are a few parents around, Buddhist parents. They might be interested in hearing about these 15 points. So I consulted Dharmarati? , he being then of course the Chairman of the LBC, and he thought, well yes, some people might be interested. We could just have it one day in the reception area of, you know, the LBC. So we agreed upon that, and then of course, I thought well, 15 points for Buddhist parents, why not perhaps, let the parents raise questions themselves. Let's have a question and answer session. That is also what we are going to be having this afternoon as you already know. So this is how my 15 points for Buddhist parents came into existence and how it is that I now am talking to you on that subject.

So from what I have already said, you'll understand that this isn't really a lecture or even a talk in the ordinary sense. Malika referred to it as an informal talk. Well you could describe it in those terms. I must say I feel a little embarrassed even that so many people have turned up to what is a little informal talk. I can't really help wondering why. But anyway, but anyway, I'm going to say something about each of these 15 points that I have related and I have to warn you that I'm not going to deal with them very systematically. I haven't tried to rearrange them in any order. I'm going to talk about them just as I jotted them down on that day, now quite a few months ago. And not only are they not systematically arranged, I'm sure they're not complete.

I am sure that there are other points that could be thought of, by or for Buddhist parents.

Perhaps when we have the questions and answers in the afternoon, more points will in any case emerge. And I must also warn you that there's going to be a bit of overlap between some of the points. It is understandable that you can't keep points of this kind quite separate, quite distinct, separate compartments. I am also incidentally not going to go into the question, certainly not in this talk, of whether one should or should not have children. I have taken it as a sort of established fact that some people have them whether you have them wisely or unwisely, I'm not going into that this morning. I am taking as a fact that children have arrived on the scene.

You all are Buddhist parents and that therefore you are concerned with the fact of being a Buddhist parent. And as the meeting is so chosen, are quite interested in anything of that nature. So without further ado let's go straight into these points.

The first point. Remember you are a Buddhist first and a parent second. Let me repeat that.

Remember you are a Buddhist first and a parent second. Let me put it in another way. Think of yourself as a Buddhist who is a parent, not as a parent who happens to be a Buddhist. If you reflect upon this a little you will realise that there is a very great deal of difference between these two positions. When I say that remember you are a Buddhist first and a parent second, I don't mean that you always have, as a Buddhist to put your children second. I don't mean for instance, let's suppose there is a very tempting, very attractive retreat on and your child happens not to be very well, that you should just leave the child to someone else and go off on the retreat. I certainly don't mean that. What I mean is that in principle, in principle, Buddhism comes first. Logically as it were, Buddhism comes first and parenthood comes second. It comes first in the sense that it is from Buddhism that you derive the very principles, in the light of which you are trying to be a Buddhist parent, not just a parent. It is very easy to be a parent, in the literal sense. It is very easy to be a biological parent. Usually one doesn't need to give any thought about it at all. One shares parenthood with practically the entire animal species, so just to be a parent, biologically speaking is no great achievement at all. Most human beings in the world are parents and those who are non-parents, for one reason or another are in a very small minority indeed. But though it is so easy to be a parent, to be a good parent is a very difficult thing indeed. And to be a Buddhist parent is still more difficult. And you become a Buddhist parent by applying or trying to apply, seeking to apply your Buddhist principles, the principles to which you commit yourself as a Buddhist to your relations with your children. So I think, in a way, this particular principle, this particular point underlies all the others: that you're a Buddhist first, in principle and a parent second. So that's point number one.

The second is ëdon't be afraid to teach your children Buddhism'. I think there's quite a bit of vague and confused thinking in this sort of area. Usually it runs like this. You mustn't interfere with any body's thinking. You should encourage them to think for themselves. So in the case of children, don't indoctrinate them. Just let them grow up with quite open, free, almost blank minds, and when they are old enough they will decide whether they want to be Christian or Buddhist or agnostic or Muslim or Hari Krishna or whatever it is. But I consider this to be totally unrealistic, because while you are very carefully refraining from teaching your child Buddhism, refraining as you may see it from indoctrinating your child, all sorts of other agencies are very busy indeed indoctrinating your child instead. Your child is being indoctrinated at school, indoctrinated by peer groups, indoctrinated by TV, indoctrinated by film, indoctrinated by the general atmosphere or our society and culture all the time. So don't think that if you just refrain from teaching your child Buddhism, from indoctrinating your child with Buddhism, that the child will remain completely unaffected and in a completely free and independent way be able to make up his or her own mind about such things when they reach the age of discretion whenever that happens to be, if indeed it is ever reached. So we have to be realistic. And therefore I say, don't be afraid to teach your children Buddhism. You don't have of course to try to explain the ??, you don't have to try to get them reading Buddhism at a tender age. That's not what I am thinking of at all. You can start very, very early. You can show you child picture books, picture books of Jataka stories, picture books of the lives of the Buddha and say ìLook, look this is Buddhaî, and get the child to say Baba. And in this way, just as you induct the child into the, well at least let us say Buddhist culture. And everybody knows, I'm sure you know that, I'm sure I knew when I was a child, every child loves stories.

Well I hope TV isn't tending to exclude domestic story telling. Idon't really know anything about that. But I hope that your children at least still do enjoy listening to stories. They certainly do in India, as some of you know. And sometimes even adults like listening to stories.

So you can tell your children stories, Jataka stories, stories from the life of the Buddha, and so on, and in that way give them something of the feel of Buddhism. It is not a question of indoctrination, not a question of teaching specific doctrines, or even very specific attitudes for some time, but just enabling them to pick up on, to empathise with the general cultural feel of Buddhism, to introduce them to that. And of course, it is very, very important that you yourself set an example. When you do come to introduce a little bit of the teaching, maybe the teaching about not harming others, it is very important that you yourself should be setting an example, and that the child should feel it, otherwise as you probably have discovered children are very quick to pick up on discrepancies, and if there is any discrepancy between what you tell the child to do and what the child sees you yourself doing. Yes, I can see a few smiles going around here, the child will unerringly and instantly pick up on it. It is no use telling the child it is naughty to tell lies, and then when someone comes to the door you tell them, ìJust say I am not in.î That is no use at all. That is no use at all. So ...

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