New Moon Day: Good Answer!

July 2, 2008

Ajahns Jundee, Nyanadhammo and Vimalo, and Tahn Moshe came for the meal on Saturday.

Above: Walking from the Hermitage to Bhavana Dhamma.

Above: At the top of Bhavana Dhamma drive admiring Warwick Castle on the horizon..

Above: (R to L) Luangpor, Ajahn Nyana and me in the Bhavana Dhamma room of luxury.

—-

,

Good Answer!

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I’d like to share some anecdotes concerning conversations I’ve had with school children both here and in some of the schools I’ve visited over time.

This has been sparked by a little cracker of an answer I received today to a question I asked during a trip to Earlsdon Primary School in Coventry.

Here it is:

“What made the Buddha so special?” I asked the class of twenty-five ten-year-olds.

“Mmmm….”

“He was enlightened.” Said one of them.

Good answer. Seriously; I’d have expected blank expressions from most groups.

“Good, but what does enlightenment mean?” I continued.

Eyes turned to the ceiling. “Mmmmm…”

“When you’re really happy?” Ventures one.

“Well, yes, enlightened people are definitely happy. But what does an enlightened person understand?”

I was ready to give them an answer. I was going to waffle on about how an enlightened person understands the ‘truth’ (without going into detail) and how their mind is free from anger and greed and all those horrible things – an answer that you’d expect children to grasp more easily than others. In reality, my answer was going to be a little vague, potentially rambling, and quite possibly forgettable.

But then it came.

One bright eyed little girl put her hand up.

“Yep?” I said.

Then with total clarity she stated:

“A Buddha understands the cause of suffering.”

Cor blimey. What an answer.

“That is the perfect answer.” I said. I should have swapped places with her.

Sometimes you just don’t know what the children are going to understand. That really bowled me over.

—-

Also from today:

“What do Buddhists have to give up?”

“Do you mean Buddhist monks or ordinary Buddhists?”

(I often point out that not all Buddhists are monks. “How many Buddhists are in the world?” I ask them sometimes. “Mmmm… One hundred?” – “More.” I say. “Three hundred?” “No. Let me tell you: about three hundred………………… MILLION!” — “CORRRR!!!” — “And most of them are ordinary people, just like you.” — (I’ve just found out it’s more like five hundred million.))

Before he answered, though, I homed in on the lay-Buddhist: “Well, ordinary Buddhists don’t have to give up very much, just five things……… They have to give up killing, stealing, adultery, lying, and alcohol and drugs.”

—-

This refers to another conversation with a different class that came here:

“Do you know what the flowers on the shrine symbolise?”

Silence.

“Those flowers look beautiful now, don’t they? They’re smooth and bright and young. But what happens to those flowers after a few weeks?”

“They die.”

“Yes. And before then?”

“They flop over.”

“Yes. And before that they start to go all wrinkly and brown and bits start falling off. What else does that?”

“Mmmmm… Trees?”

“Yes, but what else?”

Then a few other answers might be given before a pair of eyes light up and, bingo – jackpot:

US!!!

YES!” I say. “We start off looking very nice when we’re young. We have smooth and bright skin. But after a few years we start to go all wrinkly and brown and bits start falling off. And then one day we flop over and that’s it! We’ve all seen very old people, haven’t we? But we never think that one day we will be like that. It doesn’t sink in, does it? But that’s what happened to Prince Siddhattha when he saw the old man. It sunk in. Then all of his riches and rooms full of gold meant nothing. He had to look for a way out.”

—-

A rough sketch of a conversation with an older student:

“How do you deal with craving for music?”

I wanted to answer in a way that would cover all questions concerning worldly desires e.g. desire for food, the opposite sex etc.

“What’s the First Noble Truth? – Dukkha. Do you know what that means?” I asked.

“Suffering.” The guy said. Spot on.

“And what’s the cause of suffering?”

“Craving.” He said. Excellent.

“The point in following the Buddhist path is to develop wisdom. When you have wisdom you see that everything is dukkha, that nothing is satisfactory, and craving disappears. That’s how you deal with desire for things.” (Not that I’m there yet, of course!)

—-

I ask the older students sometimes:

“Have you ever seen Auguste Rodin’s – ‘The Thinker?’” (Above)

Some have. I describe it: “It’s that statue of the man hunched over with his elbow on one knee and his chin on his fist. He’s contorted, he straining, he’s off balance, it’s an unnatural pose, he looks uncomfortable and as though he’s going to fall over. Now look at the statue of the Buddha. See the contrast. The Buddha is upright, he’s centred, he’s balanced, he’s stable, he’s comfortable, he’s looking peacefully within. ‘The Thinker’ is symbolic of western man’s ideals. As Buddhists we look to the Buddha.”

—-

“What do you eat?” They say.

“Well, at our monastery we’re vegetarian. Do you know what that means?”

“You don’t eat meat.”

“Yes. Now why wouldn’t we eat meat?”

“Because you love animals.”

“Yes! When you’re sitting in McDonald’s, eating your hamburger, think about where that meat comes from. We don’t think about it, do we? Do you love animals?”

“Yes.”

“But you don’t think about that when you eat your bacon or your ham. That was once an animal. And then someone went up to it and killed it.”

They look thoughtful.

“A pig that is used for meat sometimes spends nearly all its life in a cage. They can’t turn round and they only have about two inches to move backwards and forwards”

They look concerned.

“We should think about this.”

—-

From several years ago:

A question that tripped me up as I wasn’t expecting it from an eleven-year-old:

“Why is it that wisdom cannot be found in books?” (Or something like that.)

I can’t remember my answer.

—-

And finally, a question I often ask the youngans:

“What do you think we wash our robes in?”

“A river?” “Lake?” “Stream?” “Toilet?” (??!!) “Bucket?” “Well?”…….

“A washing machine.”

—-

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I’m going to be on retreat from Thursday so there won’t be a Dhamma Diary entry until The Full Moon Day, Thursday, 17th July. That day is Asalha Puja, when we celebrate the Buddha’s first sermon – the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta – ‘The Setting in Motion of The Wheel of Dhamma.’

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2 Responses to “New Moon Day: Good Answer!”

  1. enjoyable accounts from bright young minds.
    refreshing.thank you.

  2. Mark Arthur said

    lovely anecdotes – cheers!
    and i really like that picture – ‘slow – monks’!
    take care and all the best

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