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Fifteen Points for Buddhist Parents

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by Sangharakshita

... you have to set, so to speak, an example.

And you also teach your child Buddhism, you also communicate something of the spirit of the Dharma through the atmosphere that prevails in the home. I think this is quite important. This is quite important that the child coming home maybe from school, coming back home from some outside activity or interest feels that yes this is a good place to be, it's peaceful, it's happy, or maybe it's lively, but it's happy, it's positive. And there's an atmosphere of affection and security prevailing. It is very important that the child should feel this and perhaps eventually realise it's got something to do with the fact that mum or dad is a Buddhist and they meditate every day. Well, nearly every day. So don't be afraid to teach your child Buddhism, or perhaps I should have phrased that differently. Don't be afraid to communicate something of the Dharma, something of the spirit of the Dharma to your children, because if you don't teach it, if you don't communicate the Dharma, society in the broadest sense is going to be communicating all sorts of other messages which may not have a very positive effect on your children at all. So don't be afraid to teach, to communicate the Dharma to your children.

The third point follows on from that. Realise that you are up against it. Realise that you are up against it. Or perhaps you don't need reminding of this. But I mean up against it in a rather specific sort of sense. I don't mean up against it in the sense you are short of money or that children can be difficult or that you have sleepless nights. You are up against the world in the broadest sense, the world in the sense of Samsara. You are not just a parent, you are a Buddhist and being a Buddhist, and being a parent you're trying to apply your Buddhist principles in your life. You are trying to relate to your children, to bring up your children in accordance with Buddhist principles, but those principles are not acknowledged in the outside world. They are far from acknowledged. You are saying one thing, as it were, communicating one thing to your child. The world is usually communicating something very different, even quite opposite, quite contrary. So you have to bear this in mind. In a sense, you are fighting this all the time, because you are fighting it all the time in your own life too, but more specifically you are fighting it in connection with the bringing up of your child. This is probably quite a question, the extent to which the child, especially the very young child should be shielded from outside influences, perhaps we'll be going into that this afternoon. You can't shield your child completely, but at least you have to realise that in trying to bring up your child in accordance with Buddhist principles, you really are up against it, because the outside world, consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally is having all the time, or tryiong to have, a quite different influence, a influence on your child as well as on you. So that is the third point.

Realise that you are up against it. In this particular respect, you are fighting a sort of battle. In fact you are fighting a war. So I'll say no more about that.

But there is perhaps held at hand, and that brings us to the fourth point. I have mentioned this more than once to those of you with whom I am in more personal contact, and the point is, join a parent-teacher organisation. Sooner or later, of course, your child will start going to school and incidentally these 15 points are intended more for people with young children than for people with older children or with children grown up and by this time have children of their own. So I am assuming that you have a school-going child or children, and therefore my fourth point is join a parent-teacher organisation. Don't just leave the education of your child during school hours to the teachers. The teachers may well be doing an excellent job. Sometimes they don't do, but they may be doing. But in any case, it is not an easy job. Being a teacher is no less difficult than being a parent, and I don't really like to think what it would be like to be a parent and be a teacher too, especially if you had several children, perpetual busman's holiday when you are at home. You would find it very difficult to draw the line between work and play.

Perhaps there wouldn't be any play at all, but yes, if you have school going children, join a parent-teacher organisation or association. Have contact with the teachers, talk to them, talk to them about the children, your children, children in general at the school, and talk to them about their own problems and difficulties, because I am sure teachers do have problems and difficulties. It is not easy to be a teacher in any case. I remember in the very early days of the FWBO, it must have been in the second or third year, I was giving a talk, or perhaps conducting a question and answer session on Right Livelihood and I was asked to give a few examples of Right Livelihood. So among others I mentioned that of the teacher and, as it happened, there were six or seven teachers in the audience, and they all got up and said, ìWe don't consider teaching in school Right Livelihoodî, partly because it was so difficult and so demanding, but there were other aspects to that as well. But still, even now I know that teachers do have a quite difficult time. We hear, or at least I do on the radio, and I see in the newspapers that teachers are being attacked physically more and more by students, especially by older students, older school-going children, and this of course does make life for them very very difficult for them indeed. So therefore I suggest with my fourth point that parents, Buddhist parents join a parent-teacher organisation or association at the school to which their child is going, or children are going, and try to help the teacher and have some input, contribute some ideas, some suggestions, so that the school may become a better place for all the children who are attending there. It might even be that you have the opportunity of becoming a school governor. If there is that opportunity, and if you feel yourself qualified to take that position, and you ought to be, by virtue of the fact that you are a Buddhist parent, then I suggest you take that opportunity, and try to influence the school through your governorship in a positive and creative way. So join a parent-teacher organisation or just a parents' organisation. I am not sure whether there are just parent-teacher organisations or just parent organisations or join both if you like if schools have both, but don't just leave the education of your child to the teachers.

You could almost say that education is too important to be left to teachers, just as they say that politics is too important to be left to politicians. That's another story, but we become actively involved if you possibly can: one of you, either the father or the mother of the child in the school to which your child is going. You owe it in a way to your child, as well as to society at large.

And then fifthly communicate with your children. Some people would say that this is addressed more to fathers than to mothers, but I am not going to make any such distinction. I am just saying, point number five, communicate with your children which means talk to them and talk to them in a serious sort of way. Don't talk down to them. If they ask a question, take that question seriously. If you take it seriously you may sometimes be surprised to find how difficult it is to answer, because children do have friends, and even quite small children, quite young children are quite intelligent, quite perceptive and they can come up with really quite extraordinary questions sometimes. So take their questions seriously and talk to them. I must say, if I may be permitted a little note of autobiography here. Permitted? I remember one of the happiest memories of my own childhood is of my father spending time talking to me. I can't remember my mother talking to me much to be frank. But I do remember my father talking to me quite a lot. This was of course back in the late twenties and early thirties and my father used to come home from work when he was in work, because those were days of unemployment, and the first thing he did when he came home in the evening, and he didn't normally come in before six or seven was to come to my room. I'd be in bed already. And he would sit on my bed and he'd talk to me. And he'd talk to me for half an hour or an hour.

Sometimes my mother would get impatient because she had his dinner ready, and it was getting cold, and she'd keep calling, but he was more interested in talking with me. And we used to talk about all sorts of things, especially his wartime experiences because the Great War was only a few years before. He'd been involved in that. He'd been seriously injured, had a 65% disability as a result of that, so he talked a lot about the war and all sorts of things and afterwards as I grew older, I found it always very easy to talk to my father. In some ways more easy than to talk to my mother. I think I may say my father was rather a thinking man. So this, as I mentioned is one of the pleasantest memories of my childhood that my father spent so much time talking to me. And when he was out of work, which happened frequently, he spent much more time with me and talked with me much more. And well that may be part of the reason why I have a certain gift of communication myself these days. So yes, fathers and mothers alike talk to your children. But that means finding time. Don't be too busy to talk to your own children. Even set aside a time if you are so busy. In the same way perhaps, if circumstances make it necessary that you set aside time for meeting your kalayana mitras or your mitras, if you are a kalayana mitra, set aside a time, set aside times ...

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