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FPMT’S CHILD-FOCUSED ACTIVITIES
By Kathy Graham, Vajrayana Institute communications manager
Vajrayana Institute (VI) is an active FPMT center in Sydney, Australia.
On Tuesday mornings we offer Meditation for Parents & Bubs. This was started around seven years ago, and is currently facilitated by Dana Clarke.
Every Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. parents and grandparents bring their little ones to the small gompa at Vajrayana Institute – a calm, welcoming and supportive space, where it’s okay for babies and toddlers to be unsettled or grizzly. It’s not just the children who benefit from being in such an environment. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for new parents to meet each other, share stories and parenting tips, and practice meditation together.
Here’s some feedback from parents who’ve attended:
“We’re all just there on a Tuesday morning, with our babies, meditating. I feel I can’t say enough and at the same time it’s enough to say it’s been a marker in my week as a new parent. It’s a place and a group of people that enable me to attend to a really important part of myself.” – Emma
“I really value this group as a way for me to connect with like-minded parents. The friendly atmosphere is very refreshing, and when I’m stressed out from work and tantrums, I really appreciate the break and support I get, be it from a conversation with another adult or a cup of tea. I’ve always identified with Buddhism, and this is a great chance for me to learn about it and at the same time, help my son live a compassionate life.” – Alison
“I find this group gives me a much-needed opportunity to quiet my thoughts after a busy week, as well as connect with other like-minded parents. It’s a blessing to be able to spend time just being aware of my breath, while knowing my daughter is being well looked after. Also I love that she’s able to learn about meditation from such a young age. Being at VI has a very calming effect on her – she often sits on my lap throughout the session. But if she doesn’t, it’s good to know no one is bothered!” – Kate
“One word sums up these Tuesday mornings for Jude and I and that word is ‘happiness.’ It makes me happy to see Jude so happy in this beautiful environment.” – Jenny
Dana shares some tips for those wishing to set up their own meditation group for bubs:
- Nothing runs on time when babies are involved. So typically parents spend the first half hour chatting until everyone has arrived.
- Meditation sessions last between 10 and 20 minutes, the maximum length of time most very young children can sit still.
- Meditation sessions vary from week to week and include mindfulness of breath, loving kindness and visualizations.
- It’s very useful to have a second pair of hands to assist during the session. This support might be simply to keep a toddler occupied while his or her parents meditate.
- At the end of the session, the group facilitators can offer parents tea and biscuits, making a point of waiting on them.
Monday afternoons at 4 p.m. we offer Meditation for Kids at VI. These sessions are for children five to 12 years old and are facilitated by Annie Ploughman. They tend to be very relaxed because of Annie’s view that kids who’ve been sitting still for most of the day at school probably won’t respond well to too much structure.
Each session starts off with a chat about the past week. The focus is usually on a topic discussed the week before. This might be mindful eating, mindful showering, being a “kindness detective” or noticing one’s connection to all living things. Children often report acts of kindness they’ve noticed in their friends, their parents and in themselves.
The group uses Dr. Amy Saltzman’s metaphor of a “Still Quiet Place” for their actual meditation practice. Depending on how settled the kids are, they are two meditation sessions lasting between five and 10 minutes. One is mindfulness of breath, the other a loving kindness or a visualization practice.
Every week, the children also practice mindfully eating their afternoon tea and mindfully listening to singing bowls. All the children have a chance to play the bowls themselves at the end of the session. Sometimes, everyone will walk across the road to the park to hug trees and then talk about how that feels.
There’s lots of wonderful feedback. One mother said that when her eight year old was having a fight with his brother, he interrupted the argument by saying that his mind was too full and he needed to go to the “still quiet place” in his room and meditate to calm his thoughts down. Another two brothers have reportedly instructed their parents in the practice of eating mindfully during dinner. One child now uses mindfulness of breath to get to sleep at night. And every parent has commented on how much the children want to spend time in the beautiful gompa at VI.
The first Sunday morning of every month we offer Buddhism (Dharma) for Kids. These sessions are facilitated by Anna Carmody and offer children and their parents, who are often new to Buddhism, an introduction to the stories, principles, values and practices within the Buddhist tradition. Participants learn about meditation, prayer, the importance of an altar and about ritual objects such as thangkas and Buddha rupas (statues). There’s also a discussion every week about an important human value, usually sourced from 16 Guidelines for a Happy Life, after which the children do a bit of craft making. The grown-ups also join in.
For example at a recent meeting, which coincided with Mothers’ Day, the group talked about their own mothers as well as the devotion and care of mothers in the animal realm, and the gratitude often shown to them by their offspring. Afterwards, Anna told the Jataka tale, “The White Elephant and His Blind Mother,” about a young elephant repaying the kindness of his mother. Everyone then made their own mother or grandmother a lotus card with messages of love written in the petals.
Daniel, age 10, said after attending his first session, “It was fun, and I liked the stories.” His mother, Dorota, shared, “It taught Daniel good values.”
Audrey said she brings her three tiny children whenever she can to “plant the seed of compassion.”
And Brett Howard-Butler, 11, says:
“What I get out of Dharma class is hard to put into words. I always look forward to it. I like the teachings and the teachers, Francesca, Tiffany and of course Anna! It’s not very often that you come across a person like Anna. It’s like she’s a part of our family. Not surprising, as I’ve been going to Dharma class now for about five years. I think I’ve become a better person from it. I’ve become more patient, thoughtful, kind and more tolerant. My mum and dad enjoy the teachings too. Lots of Dharma means a life with less drama.”
For more, visit Vajrayana Institute’s website.
You can learn about the 16 Guidelines at 16guidelines.org.
The 2010 Light of the Path retreat was attended by a very special young girl, Maddy Stafford, who, at the age of 10, requested to become a nun and geshema. Merry Colony spoke with Maddy and her mother, Mer Stafford, about Maddy’s strong connection to Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the Dharma, and her future plans.
Merry Colony: You are a bit of a phenomena here at the retreat, Maddy. Tell me about yourself, how and when you met the Dharma.
Maddy: I met the Dharma three years ago when I was seven. I went to see the Ganden Jangtse monks who were making a Chenrezig sand mandala in New Hampshire in a tiny museum. One of the monks (Lobsang Damchö) saw that I was really interested and invited me into the room where they were working. He gave me the implements that the sand comes out of and showed me how to do it. This meeting really made me think and it changed my mind. After that, I decided to become a vegetarian because I didn’t want to kill animals. My Mom and Papa were already vegetarian.
Merry: Where do you live and do you go to a center already?
Maddy: I live in Freeport, Maine on a farm with 30 bats, three cats and chickens. I went to my first teaching at Kurukulla Center with Ani Yeshe. It was an introduction to Buddhism class. It made a lot of sense to me. I then started going to weekly classes there. I go to Geshe Tsulga’s lam-rim teachings on Sunday and Geshe Tenley’s classes on Wednesdays.
Merry: When did you meet Lama Zopa Rinpoche?
Maddy: I met Rinpoche at Milarepa Center just two weeks ago! I took refuge with him and 12 other people. The first thing I said to Lama Zopa is that I want to be a geshema and he told me to memorize the 100,000 Verse Prajñaparamita in Tibetan [a total of 12 volumes]. …
Judith Hunt, a long-time student of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, gave a talk on basic Buddhism to sixth graders at a local Catholic school in Marin County, California – and their appreciation and understanding of the subject took an astute and sometimes surprising turn. Tatiana, 12, believes, “Anyone can be a Buddha. You just have to be close to flawless.” Here are some more of their comments …
Christina: Siddhartha Gautama is the main Buddha. He was a prince whose father didn’t want him to be a spiritual leader so he locked him up in a palace. Many countries study Buddhism and there are many buddhas. In Tibet they were usually not vegetarians because they had no agriculture, but they didn’t kill animals themselves. The Muslims did it for them – it was almost cheating! Buddhism doesn’t revolve around a God; it revolves around getting every bit of stress and bad thoughts and hatred out of your head. Also involved is watching your breath and calming your mind. Buddhism is also about purifying yourself. No one quite knows what the Buddha looked like. People who study Buddhism are all suffering mentally, and besides that we are all each other’s mother.
Rosario: Buddha is not a god in the sky. You have to be enlightened to be a Buddha. We are all suffering and there is no beginning or end. We have all been each other’s mother and animals are almost equal to us. One of the eight steps to enlightenment is that you must not have a job that harms others; for example, you can’t be a butcher. To be enlightened, your body has to be purified as well as your mind. In addition, your mind does not have to be totally empty in order to meditate successfully. When you die your consciousness goes to seek another life. …
By Shyla Bauer
Have you ever received advice from your guru, and then later questioned yourself as to whether you could really fulfill their advice? In 2004 that happened to me.
I was volunteering in the FPMT Mongolia center at the time. I had been there for almost eighteen months, after offering my services to Lama Zopa Rinpoche in 2002. Before that I had been volunteering and traveling in India and Nepal for a few years. Mongolia was an amazing center to be involved in, but I was now twenty-five-years old and wanted to return home to Australia, to my family and friends, the sunshine and beach.
I was fortunate enough to have a meeting with Lama Zopa Rinpoche and I mentioned my plans to return home, saying that I would always be happy to continue helping while I was home. I envisaged helping out at Buddha House and De Tong Ling (my FPMT centers in South Australia), secretly thinking that having offered service in Ulaan Baatar, (the coldest capital city in the world), nothing could be harder than that.
Well, I certainly was wrong!
Rinpoche was in Mongolia teaching at EEC4 [Enlightenment Experience Celebration 4], which I was coordinating. During his teachings Rinpoche mentioned a new organization that he wanted to start for young people, called Loving Kindness Peaceful Youth (LKPY), which would use the tools of Essential Education to teach young people of all religions and countries the principles of the ‘good heart.’
“You teach young people loving kindness, the result is peaceful youth, and as youth are the next generation, the result is a peaceful world,” Rinpoche explained. I heard it briefly while rushing around organizing things and I remember thinking, “Wow, that sounds pretty interesting; it will be amazing when that happens,” but I didn’t give it much more thought, as EEC4 was keeping me very busy.
We’ve given over these pages to the young people who constitute the board of Loving Kindness Peaceful Youth (LKPY), the youth-oriented initiative of Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Mandala June/July 2007, p. 16) which was launched in Melbourne, Australia in June. Clockwise from bottom right they are Shyla Bauer (in striped top), Matt Barker, Ven. Freeman Trebilcock (ordained by Lama Zopa in 2000), Mike Reid, and Poh Lin Lee.
More than 150 people attended the launch dinner. Guest speaker was Jack Heath, founder and executive director of the Inspire Foundation. Heath’s organization inspires young people to create opportunities to change their world, and in particular does fantastic work with the prevention of youth suicide. Jack concluded his speech by leading the audience in a loving kindness meditation.
LKPY’s mission is to create space for young people to engage in developing peace for themselves, their communities, and the world as a whole. It is a non-profit organization run by young people for young people, and is based in Australia, but it has a worldwide scope.
“Peace starts with individuals developing the basis of their own inner peace,” they will tell you. “Just as a waterfall starts from just one drop of water, LKPY believes peace starts from just one person.” …
By Loretta Viscuso
As a design teacher in a public school, the art institute Vittoria in Trento, Italy, I ask myself how to bring my young students closer to values like compassion. My lessons provide the opportunity for them to design a heart-project using their artistic skills. Where better than in actual places where art can improve the quality of life?
This year we have been working on a project to install decorative panels in the surgery ward of the Borgo Roma Hospital in Verona. This allows the students to reflect on suffering and to see first-hand the often private stories of the patients and their families.
A kind and sympathetic doctor helped us to organize a meeting at the hospital so the students could understand the hospital environment and the needs of the patients and staff; and to find a sponsor to pay for the materials. We began lessons at school to discuss how art can help to improve the quality of life in that place. …
By Priscilla Maxwell
Karuna Hospice Service’s desire to encourage a kindness culture in the community was supported by the Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s 2008 “Out of the Box Festival” in Brisbane for children between the ages of three and eight. A series of art workshops under the banner “It’s Cool to be Kind” was held in the foyer of the Lyric Theatre over the six-day festival in June.
In a total of twenty workshops working with 300 children (and their parents), through storytelling, interactive games and artwork the children explored ways of how to be kind to each other. The parents participated in the workshops, and this created an opportunity for kindness conversations between parent and child, and between all the parents and children. …
The title reveals just one of the questions inquisitive children ask at Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London. Brian Richardson reports:
So far this year, Jamyang Buddhist Centre has had visits from ten primary schools and one teacher training college. Altogether, about 350 primary school children have visited the center. In previous years there have been as many as 1,400 children visiting.
Jamyang’s team of volunteers give children and teachers a tour of the building and an explanation of some of the ways Buddha taught on how to live life with a good heart. Jamyang not only contributes to a school’s curriculum, but also offers a positive experience for both kids and teachers, who often speak of the peace and happiness they experience after the meditation session in the gompa. “By teaching children to have a good heart and be kind to others, they grow up to be good human beings,” Lama Zopa Rinpoche has explained. …
By Dr. Particia Jennings
It’s no secret that American schools are facing a crisis. Academically students lag behind their peers in other industrialized nations and the drop-out rate is escalating, as are the numbers who have learning and mental health problems that put them at risk of developing serious disorders. Increasing numbers of educators are exploring the use of contemplative or mindfulness-based methods to reduce teacher and student stress, enhance classroom climate and students’ ability to focus their attention and to promote care and concern for others.
Research shows that gaining competency in focusing attention and maintaining emotional balance increases children’s resilience for meeting life’s challenges. It also improves their academic performance. Recent findings, suggest that meditation practice may provide a simple, drug-free way to support the development of core emotional and social competencies that underlie successful learning and help students and teachers excel. …
FPMT News Around the World
Vajrayana Institute, an FPMT-affiliated center in Sydney, Australia, is celebrating the success of its recent inaugural Young Minds conference. More than 600 delegates converged on the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre to attend the youth-focused event, held June 19-22. Attendees heard presentations by some of the world’s leading speakers (of all ages) on issues concerning the welfare, potential, minds and hearts of today’s young people.
Speakers included Dr. Larry Rosen, Professor and Past Chair of Psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, whose research into the effects of technology on young people shatters some long-held myths; adult and child neurologist Dr. Judy Willis, who explores creative ways to captivate kids in the classroom; teenage sailor Jessica Watson, who captivated the audience with her story of what it took to be the youngest person ever to sail around the world; and Western Buddhist meditation teacher and chant master Lama Surya Das, who hopes to fan into flames the embers of buddha-nature residing in all of us, including our young folk.
Conference organizers received overwhelmingly positive feedback from Young Minds delegates. Attendee comments repeatedly used words like “inspiring” and “affirming,” and “tears” and “laughter.”
For the Young Minds 2013 conference, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has accepted an invitation to speak, marking the fourth time that His Holiness has participated in one of the intitute’s events. “We are very blessed!” write conference organizers. Young Minds 2013 is scheduled for June 19-20, 2013, at the Sydney Town Hall. For more information, visit the Young Minds website.
With 158 centers, projects and services around the globe, there is always news on FPMT activities, teachers and events. Mandala hopes to share as many of these timely stories as possible. If you have news you would like to share, please let us know.
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Be wise. Treat yourself, your mind, sympathetically, with loving kindness. If you are gentle with yourself, you will become gentle with others.
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